25 years on – "1992 The Love Album", by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine

May 2017 marks 25 years since Carter USM released “1992 The Love Album”, which was paradoxically both their most successful album and the one that began their sad demise. To mark the anniversary we take a look at Carter’s seminal album and ask ourselves, “is wrestling fixed?”

It certainly doesn’t seem like 25 years. Whilst the music – drum machines, sequencers, guitars turned up to 11 – does sound powerful but a little dated, Jim Bob’s lyrics still sound fresh and visceral, helped in part by the fact that we’re still governed by the same sort of sentient cesspit scum that made everyone’s life a misery in the early 90s.

When the album came out it was a new entry into the album charts at #1, a good showing for a band that only had one top ten single – “The Only Living Boy in New Cross”, the lead single from this very album. Goodness knows what fellow chart dwellers Curtis Stigers, Annie Lennox and Michael Ball thought when this lot exploded onto Top of the Pops in April 1992, when the single was a new entry at #8.

The original release comes in at less than forty minutes long, in large part due to the single “After the Watershed” being missing from the running order. Opulent octogenarians Mick Jagger and Keith Richards objected obdurately to the lyric “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday” from the chorus, which they said bore a strong similarity to the lyric “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday” from their song “Ruby Tuesday”. I can’t see it myself, but you can’t argue with the lawyers, can you? The song was left off the original album release so that they didn’t have to pay the Glimmer Twins any royalties. It was restored for the deluxe version of the album re-released in 2012, and that’s the tracklisting we’re going to use here.

And to give you some sort of idea as to how good the album is, I’m going to give each track a mark – out of 11, naturally. You know why? Because this is my blog, and not yours.

1. “1993”

Who would have thought that an album called ‘1992’ from a band known for their witty lyrics would open with an instrumental called ‘1993’? It actually begins with a short refrain from “The Impossible Dream”, the song that closes the album. When it does start properly, “1993” is pure Carter, sounding for all the world like a classic Carter single sans lyrics with a pessimistic ‘verse’ arrangement and an upbeat ‘chorus’. It’s a brave decision to open an album with an instrumental, like having soup for the starter instead of proper food. Ultimately, “1993” is okay, but it could have been so much more. Mark: 6/11.

2. “Is Wrestling Fixed”

I’ve written about this track before, and here’s what I said:

“Simply, my most quoted Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine song, and a paean for lovers of sarcasm everywhere”.

Huh. Feels like I could have been more expansive in my earlier review. What I said wasn’t wrong, but it’s quite brief, isn’t it? Let’s see if we can expand on it a little. For most of the song it’s just Jim Bob singing what seems to be a (slightly tinny) piano ballad. Then, for the very last chorus the full band (that’ll be Fruitbat then) and all the electronically sequenced instruments come crashing in for a slightly whimsical finale.

Now personally, I fucking love this song. The humour and the sentiment are exactly the sort of things I appreciate. As far as my half-arsed research goes, I believe the song was about a woman with multiple sclerosis who was taken to court for not being able to pay her poll tax. In the context of the album, coming as it does after the instrumental opening track, it’s an odd track to put second. I’d probably have gone with one of the singles here, or at least something more akin to a single, but that doesn’t alter the fact that this song is proper genius. Mark: 10/11.

3. “The Only Living Boy in New Cross”

The quintessential Carter single. The title is a play on the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Only Living Boy in New York” (punning titles were a regular Carter device). This is a song that Jim Bob admits himself is slightly confused, lyrically: “Yeh, I think it’s one of those confused songs that starts out about one thing and then turns into something else and then something else.” Inspired by the scene in The Dewdrop Inn in New Cross, London, by the end it’s an obituary to people who have died from Aids.

If you were going to explain Carter to someone who had never heard of them, this is the song you’d play them by way of explanation. Mark: 11/11.

4. “Suppose You Gave a Funeral and Nobody Came”

I don’t know who the target of Carter’s ire is (pretty sure it’s a politician though) but I imagine that two and a half decades later their ears are still burning. This is another track that contains all the essential Carterisms and could easily have been a single, I reckon. Mark: 9/11.

5. “England”

I always imagine this song to be about a young man who is abused as a child and grows up to be a rent boy, because it’s the only world he knows and the state, the country, hasn’t lifted a finger to help. It’s not that we believe that the state owes him a living; it’s that the state both failed to protect him to begin with and then failed to help him when the damage was done. And when I said that what was in 1992 is still so in 2017, this is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to. I hope the young girls in Rotherham and Rochdale get better help than the victim in “England”. I fear they will not. Mark: 9/11.

6. “Do Re Me So Far So Good”

The second single from ‘1992’ reached a barnstorming number 22 in the hit parade, their fifth top 40 single in a row. If I was going to hazard a guess at what this one was about – and I appreciate that in a Roland Barthes, death of the author way my interpretation is just as valid as anyone else’s, including the writers’ –  I’d say it was about washed up rock stars prolonging their careers by rehashing their old music and turning up at any event that paid a PA fee. Essentially, they foretold U2’s career as it is today. Mark: 7/11.

7. “After the Watershed (Early Learning the Hard Way)”

We’ve spoken about the passing, unintentional similarity between this and the Stones’ record. We could talk about this song being a Carter rant about the 9pm watershed. Or, we could the single being performed at the 1991 Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party, when Fruitbat rugby tackles fulsomely smarmy Phillip Schofield. Guess which we’re going to do! Mark: 9/10.

8. “Look Mum, No Hands”

The chorus is a play on the title of a 19th century song called “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”. I assume therefore that the only reason they weren’t sued for this track too was because the copyright has expired. Or never existed. The song is okay; just not as good as some of the others on the album. Mark: 7/11.

9. “While You Were Out”

Here’s another songs with borrowed – let’s say ‘recycled’ – lyrics. “You picked a fine time to leave me” could have been taken from the Kenny Rogers song “Lucille”. The rest of the lyrics however, not so much. This is another shouty Carter song about the state of the nation and now we’ve had several in a row, this might have been a better time to insert one of the first two songs on the album – a slower song or instrumental might have broken up the flow a little and helped maintain interest. Mark: 7/11.

10. “Skywest and Crooked”

At this point we do get to a slower song. We also get to the point of the album where it doesn’t just go off the rails a bit – it says, “see them rails over there? Fuck them rails. I’m going this way.” The song itself is a fairly dramatic if slightly unremarkable slower Carter rant, with a guest monologue from none other than rock royalty in the form of chief Blockhead Sir Ian of Dury. He closes the song out with a rather sombre monologue taken from “Man of La Mancha”.  Mark: 6/11.

11. “The Impossible Dream”

And as if the closing monologue of the previous song wasn’t enough, Carter decide to fully embrace “Man of La Mancha” with a cover version of the most famous song from said Broadway production. It’s not that it’s especially bad or anything; it’s just pointless. It was Carter’s attempt to play the establishment at their own poptastic game and released with the hope/intention of being the Christmas number one. It came very close too; just another 20 places up the chart were all that were needed. Mark: 6/11.

Deluxe version bonus tracks

  1. “The 90s Revival”
  2. “A Nation of Shoplifters”
  3. “This is How it Feels”
  4. “Panic”
  5. “Watching the Big Apple Turn Over”
  6. “King Rocker”
  7. “Mannequin”
  8. “Down in the Tube Station At Midnight”
  9. “Turn On, Tune In and Switch Off”
  10. “When Thesauruses Ruled the Earth”
  11. “Bring on the Girls”
  12. “Another Brick in the Wall”
  13. “Look Mum, No Hands (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  14. “Anytime Anyplace Anywhere (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  15. “Sheriff Fatman (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  16. “A Prince in a Pauper’s Grave (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  17. “While You Were Out (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  18. “Shopper’s Paradise (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  19. “After the Watershed (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  20. “Bloodsport for All (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”
  21. “A Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb (Live at the Feile Festival, 31 July 1992)”

Final verdict

It’s a brilliant album, capturing the zeitgeist perfectly through a very specific lens – the young, the disenfranchised, the fucked-over-by-the-system… the grebos, the crusties, and the goths. However there are issues with the album and they bookend it. You could live with the instrumental opener if the album ended on a high, or at least ended with a point.

When you look at some of the amazing tracks that only made b-sides – especially the clever and melodic “Watching the Big Apple Turn Over” and the fantastic, raucous, Lionel Ritchie attacking “Bring on the Girls” – you could easily replace the last two tracks with much better material, and that would have improved the album no end.

But, like some of my other favourite bands (Suede and Pet Shop Boys are two that spring immediately to mind) they seem perfectly happy to put out A-rated material as B-sides of singles and not have it on an album at all. And that’s their choice, of course.

However, and whether this is linked is open to question, Carter never replicated the giddy heights of 1992 and “1992” following their bid for the Xmas number 1. Follow-up “Post Historic Monsters” reached #5 the following year, but had only one moderately successful single – “Lean On Me…” reached #16 whilst “Lenny and Terence” managed only #40. Next album “Worry Bomb” reached #9, but neither single from that bothered compilers of the top twenty-nine single. After that, they had one single which was an extra track on the 1995 “Straw Donkey” singles album, and that was their last single to chart even though they released nine albums of various types after that.

But the legacy and subsequent releases shouldn’t mar what is an excellent and very enjoyable album. If you’re a Carter fan, you’ll love it; if you’re not a Carter fan, this is the best album to serve as an introduction. Make sure you get the deluxe version, because then you get not only the amazing b-sides, but also some blistering live tracks too – the best of Carter in one album.

Final mark: 87/121

 

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