AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #229 : CARTER USM (2)

ICA 50 was a joint effort by SWC and Badger in which they pulled out a perfect 10 from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. I’ve thought for a while that a Volume 2 is long overdue, but shied away on the basis that so many of the very best tracks had featured first time around. But then again, this is a band that, over a period over much of the 90s managed to record and release six studio albums together with sixteen singles/EPs, meaning that there are still plenty of first-rate options available to compile a further ICA.

I say all this knowing full well that Carter USM are a band that divides opinion. I think much of this is down to the fact that they enjoyed mainstream success for a short while, seen by other bands and their fans of from the era as being too gimmicky, while some of their own long-standing fans turned on them quite viciously with the ‘I much preferred the older stuff and the live shows before they got the hits’.

They were also of their time, and the limitations posed by two men, two guitars and a drum machine making noisy agit-pop was always going to stifle any development in terms of their sound. It was, however, great while it lasted and looking back on it now, you can detect that the duo themselves quickly got bored and tired with the trappings of success and in a sense, they ‘did a Pulp’ and sabotaged their careers by writing and recording tunes that were to all intent and purposes, verging on commercial suicide. But then again, as the songs that make up the middle of this ICA can testify, Carter USM were no strangers to death/murder ballads.

Anyways, with all of that as a preamble, here now is ‘This Is The Sound Of An Electric Guitar – A Second ICA from Jim Bob and Fruitbat’

SIDE 1

1. Rubbish (single, June 1990)

Let’s face it, no Carter USM compilation worth its salt is going to open up with anything other than Surfin’ USM, the opening track from their very best album, 30 Something. SWC and Tim nailed it when they said:-

“This one took us about eight seconds to decide upon. In 1992 I went to see Carter with my friend Rob –it was his first ever gig. To this day I have never seen someone grin as much as he did when that Red Dwarf sample starts up, then the crowd start chanting ‘You Fat Bastard’ at the (starry eyed?) bollock naked guy on stage and then the guitars fire up. This was why we all loved Carter. The amazing lives shows and the sense of belonging you got at one of them.”

With it being otherwise unavailable, I’m going for the first song of theirs that I can recall ever hearing, and it came courtesy of its inclusion on a compilation tape lovingly out together by Jacques. It was the band’s third single, but the first after the release of the debut album 101 Damnations. Fast, furious, funny and fantastic….it provided the template for so many of the earliest songs in which the DIY ethos of manic 100mph punk guitar gets crossed with the Pet Shop Boys on speed with lyrics written and spat out by a South London version of John Cooper Clarke.

2. Rent (b-side, June 1990)

I don’t think I’ve ever had two sides of a single open up an ICA before. Jacques had the decency to have this on the same tape as Rubbish, a deviation from the norm as he never put two songs by one singer/band on the same C90. If you don’t know it, it’s the cover of the rather beautiful single by the Pet Shop Boys. Only it’s nothing like the original.

Neil and Chris sang happily of life being so easy, with the music matching that carefree and chilled feeling. Jim Bob and Fruitbat on the other hand are cracking up under the pressures of modern living, finding it impossible to love a system in which something as basic as having a secure and safe roof over your head becomes a logistical nightmare. It’s an incredible take on the song, and it’s a damning indictment on UK society that nothing has really changed over the past 30 years.

3. The Only Living Boy In New Cross (single, 1992)

Carter USM thrived on puns and lyrics that reflected the late 80s and early 90s culture. Their biggest hit single clearly gave a knowing wink to Simon and Garfunkel’s ballad, The Only Living Boy in New York.

For the uninitiated, New Cross is an area in south-east London, in the community from where Carter USM had emerged. It was on the unfashionable side of the river in the capital, poorly served by public transport and in the late 70s and early 80s had become somewhat notorious as a place where far-right and racist politics were thriving, albeit the majority of local people were appalled by such developments. London is a city which has long inspired songwriters to compose words and music to fit in with their surroundings, but few, if any had previously celebrated life in the SE14 postcode district. Until now.

4. Young Offender’s Mum (single, 1995)

The meteoric rise had been accompanied by near-unanimous positive media. The album 1992 went straight in at #1 which was almost heard of for a band that had such indie-roots. The only problem was that 1992 – The Love Album wasn’t anywhere near as accomplished and realised as its predecessor. The album closed with a cover where, in the past, these had been confined to b-sides. Most of the Carter covers were decent affairs, but not so their take on The Impossible Dream, and to compound matters, the band thought it would be a good wheeze to release it as a single to further promote the new album and to have a stab at landing the Christmas #1. It didn’t work and many long-term fans squirmed in embarrassment. The band never really recovered from this misstep.

Fot the most part, the tracks on Post Historic Monsters (1993), Worry Bomb (1995) and I Blame The Government (1998) aren’t as immediate or memorable as the earlier material, with a sense of weariness creeping in.  This single, lifted from Worry Bomb, was something of a throwback, albeit there’s a touch of the Britpop sound in the tune.

5. Midnight On The Murder Mile (album track 1990)

Down In The Tube Station at Midnight re-imagined and relocated to the streets of South London. Worth mentioning in passing that Carter USM covered The Jam classic as a b-side in 1992.

SIDE 2

1. The Road To Domestos/Everytime a Churchbell Rings (album track, 1990)

The opening track on the debut album. It’s about suicide. It’s quite a heart-wrenching lyric when you listen closely, with tales of young people who decide that there is no longer anything worth living for. AS with the best Carter USM sings, there’s an underlying element of anger about it all.

I’ve just looked up some stats….and I’ve read that in 2017 the UK male suicide rate of 15.5 deaths per 100,000 was the lowest since figures began to be collated in a certain way back in 1981. It certainly doesn’t feel that way with so many tragic stories to be found across social media channels, with friends left behind paying warm and heartfelt tributes.

2. My Second To Last Will and Testament (album track,1991)

I, James Robert Injustice
Being of unsound body and mind
Hereby bequeath all worldly goods
To anyone who wants’ em

The worldly goods consist of debts, arrest warrants, bills and the deadly bullet that led to his demise. There’s also a set of instructions on burial arrangements. It’s all rather fast, furious, funny and fantastic (again!!) and far from serious. Guaranteed to get you sweating profusely down the front at the gigs.

3. After The Watershed (Early Learning The Hard Way) (single,1991)

The summer of 1991 had seen Carter USM reach new heights, with huge acclaim given to the album 30 Something and their live performances, particularly at all the outdoor festivals where they could be booked for a fairly low fee as there were low overheads and in return deliver something that was just different from anyone else at the time. These shows created a sense of almost uncontrolled euphoria and proved to be a real problem for those bands above then on the bill with their performances inevitably feeling leaden, dull and slow-paced in comparison.

The next single was always likely to be a hit. Carter USM decided it would be the one that addressed child abuse, taking a very taboo subject matter into the Top 20, while sampling a lyric from a Rolling Stones song that led to legal action. It was an astonishing, audacious and ambitious thing to do. Don’t ever expect to hear this one covered by anyone on a Saturday evening talent show.

4. Anytime, Anyplace Anywhere (single, 1991)

There were a couple of earlier reference to the Pet Shop Boys and the opening of this always reminds me of the first few notes of It’s A Sin…..

The phrase ‘Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’ had been the advertising slogan of Martini in the 1970s.  Carter USM used it as the title of a hard-edged songs about the perils of alcohol dependency.

Moonshine, Firewater
Captain Morgan, Johnnie Walker
Southern Comfort, Mother’s Ruin
Happy hours of the homeless brewing
Galloways sore throat expectorant
Aftershave and disinfectant
Parazone and Fairy Liquid
If it’s in a glass you’ll drink it….

5. Falling On A Bruise (album track, 1991)

A big big big ballad. One that Mike Skinner of The Streets was surely inspired by……..

Jim Bob and Fruitbat were the most unlikely of pop stars.  They weren’t spring chickens when the hits arrived and they weren’t really well placed to deal with the amount of success that came their way.  They attracted a devoted following, many of whom still go along to Jim Bob’s solo gigs where he is always happy to play songs from the days of old.

Those gigs are, understandably, a tad less subdued than those heydays of the 90s when Carter USM were, without any question, the most exciting live act on the planet.

JC

 

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