Punk and English music hall tradition join in Carter USM
CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE
By SANDE CHEN
CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX Machine is a band which strives to combine punk and English music hall tradition. As strange as this may seem, they succeed wholeheartedly. Their debut album, 101 Damnations, and their follow-up, 30 Something, which is now available in the US, have both been wildly popular on the UK indie front.
Jim Bob (who dislikes being called by his real name, Jim Morrison) and Fruit Bat (Les Carter, a guy with big ears and bad eyesight) first started performing on the streets of South London, playing Buzzcocks covers and songs from the 1940s. They formed Carter USM in 1987, and soon after the Rough Trade release of 101 Damnations in early 1990, the band was touring with openers EMF in Europe. 101 Damnations went to fifth place on the UK indie charts and ninth place on the 1990 New Musical Express Readers Poll, which also listed Carter USM as one of the best new bands of the year.
From their beginning, Carter USM has been difficult for music critics to define. One British critic from The Guardian tried, calling Carter USM "the Pet Shop Boys, eaten alive by The Clash." Certainly, Carter's UK mega-hit "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere" aptly fits this description with its orchestral swells and acerbic vocals. Carter even has their own shopping song, "Shoppers' Paradise," complete with "Chemi-kaze killers, little Hitlers and Napoleons," `a la "Shopping" by the Pet Shop Boys and The Clash's "Lost in a Supermarket."
But it is Carter's elusiveness that makes them unique. There is an unexpected explosive and brash quality connected to this music. At times, the group's performance is feverish, and their lyrics are prone to fits of yelling. Elsewhere, their tone is morose and sedate, and still other songs show the group's music hall origins.
Carter's first single from 30 Something, "Bloodsport For All," concerned racism in the British army and was banned from radio stations during the Gulf War. Despite this, "Bloodsport For All" went to second on the UK indie singles chart in February 1991, and within a month 30 Something was the top indie album in the UK.
Carter's lyrics hint at the hopelessness of human tragedies and the grim realities of domestic violence, murder, alcoholism and war. In "Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere," Jim Bob reminds us, "There's no such thing as Dr. Seuss" while describing solace found in the bottle as "Galloway's sore throat expectorant, after-shave and disinfectant / If it's in a glass you'll drink it." In the energetic "Everytime a Churchbell Rings," the group talks about suicide, and in "G.I. Blues" and "Say It With Flowers," they depict the aftermath of war.
Yet, even when Carter USM discusses violence on the streets, as in "Midnight on the Murder Mile," or homelessness, as in "An American National Sport," they do so with wit. Jim Bob calls heaven "that great high-rise block in the sky" in "The Taking of Peckham 123," and in "My Second to Last Will and Testament," a song about James Robert Injustice, of unsound mind and body, he asks, "Are you prepared to meet your maker and ask for your money back?" Other notable songs include "Shoppers' Paradise" and "Good Grief Charlie Brown."
In the future, Carter USM plans to tour America promoting their two albums. They're sure to make a lasting impression.