It is possible only readers of a certain age will experience any kind of thrill reminiscing Carter USM. It was a band who for the most part consisted of two members, two guitars, a backing tape, a fat bloke who got abused on stage, a ludicrous fringe, more t-shirts than Top Shop, a cycling cap and lots and lots of shorts. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? But this is the band who headlined The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 1992, who took a swing at Philip Schofield, and for a period of about six months in the early 90’s seemed to be the biggest group in the UK. I remember buying their third LP, The Love Album, in Woolies. Both the person before me and the person behind me in the queue to the tills were doing the exact same thing. That, to me, is pretty showbiz.

This greatest hits collection spanning their entire career has two things. Firstly, it has the sort of title that makes it hard to pop on your Christmas list for your mum (would you want your mum to pop into Virgin or Zavvi or whatever the heck its called now and ask for “’You Fat Bastard’, please, can I have a receipt?”. Secondly, it is a two CD set packed with incredible songs, full of intricate lyrics and powerful music.

Yes, the songs, which are real memory stirrers (to me anyway) of wearing stupidly heavy boots to gigs, horrendous short trousers, and shirts with ridiculous slogans. Songs which conjure back memories of a whole raft of excellent, mostly forgotten bands, from Senseless Things to Mega City Four, Scorpio Rising, PWEI, Eat, and even the much maligned Neds Atomic Dustbin. It opens with the sonic rush of “Surfin’ USM”, in a compilation that hops around their whole career. The early stuff shows just how much noise you can make with two guitars, a drum machine, a thesaurus and a bucket of talent – “Midnight on the Murder Mile” and “24 Minutes From Tulse Hill” packed with examples of Jim Bob’s extraordinary gift for word play and dexterity of language.

The second and third albums are the most represented, including b-sides from that era, highlights being the wonderful cover of Inspiral Carpets “This Is How It Feels” and the passionate “Falling on a Bruise”. And then the rally-cry that is “The Only Living Boy in New Cross”, possibly the perfect Carter opus, practically a manifesto of intent.

From fourth album Post Historic Monsters onwards, it is true to say that despite increasing in band members, fandom was on the decline – but they still had the songs. “Lean On Me I Won’t Fall Over” is a rolling melody, heaving song of piano and pregnant pauses, whilst “Lenny and Terence” is sheer class throughout. And it ends, fittingly, with “GI Blues”, always an emotional moment live. Whilst some of the production values here may sound very primitive, this is a band Britain should be very proud of – an outfit that managed to mix intelligent, adroit lyrics with powerful, melodious music. Grunge came along and swept all these bands away in one fell swoop, but I for one miss them (look out for a review of their recent live gig in London this week too – Ed).
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Links
Carter USM [official site]