Carter the Unstoppable Smartalecks is more like it. Two of the brightest bulbs ever to hook themselves to a drum machine and let rip, South London’s Fruitbat (Leslie Carter, guitar) and Jim Bob (Morrison, vocals) — veterans of a dozen years together in various obscure bands — seem like the kind of overstimulated chums who would have given teachers fits in school. Their energetic albums employ the clattering drive and sampling inserts of industrial music, the verbosity of rap, the bratty topical posturing of punk’s intellectual wing and the melodies of chart pop. Packed to the gills with product and people names, inverted puns, non-didactic political outrage and persistent rock gripping in its breathless enthusiasm, the runaway sequencer-driven doses of scattershot literate whimsy (shades of Dylan on acid) can be far too chaotic and complicated. But for those raised on Mad magazine and methedrine, Carter is a dream come true, a contact high of instant culture overload. If only the ultra-British records came with footnotes.
“Sheriff Fatman,” a wild hallucinatory biography of a person or persons unknown (“At six foot six and a hundred tons/The undisputed king of the slums/With more aliases than Klaus Barbie/The master butcher of Leigh-on-Sea”), is the key spot on 101 Damnations, a fully realized debut that also contains such resonant ironies as “The Taking of Peckham 123,” “A Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb” (which incorporates the hook from Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”) and “Midnight on the Murder Mile,” which crosses Wilson Pickett and the KLF, quoting the Unit 4+2 and paraphrasing Chuck Berry in what appears to be a narrative about a street beating (“I was marinaded, regurgitated and served up as cold meat…my kingdom for a phone box”). Dedicated to “everyone we’ve ever harangued into a corner,” 101 Damnations is mind-blowing in the most stimulating sense.
Adding the soccer chant “You Fat Bastard!” to the global vernacular, 30 Something opens with the frantic dance instrumental “Surfin’ USM” (thanks to David Bowie) and then moves into “My Second to Last Will and Testament” (“only a rough draft, a handwritten estimate”). The record addresses such eclectic issues as retail (“Shoppers’ Paradise,” with a sampled bit of Clash), drinking (“A Prince in a Pauper’s Grave”), the army (“Bloodsport for All”), drinking (“Anytime Anyplace Anywhere,” title borrowed from the Monkees), the dead-end pathology of hunger (“Billy’s Smart Circus”) and drinking (“The Final Comedown”). Between a mild effort to broaden the band’s stylistic vocabulary — lots of synth horns, a magisterial waltz and a rhythm borrowed from the Fall are among the small innovations — and the disappointing narrowing of its lyrical frame, the not-at-all-bad 30 Something is the most easily overlooked of Carter’s LPs. Bloodsport for All adds five strong studio tracks — including two loopy covers (Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter,” given an Eddie Cochran by way of Sigue Sigue Sputnik treatment, and the Monkees’ “Alternate Title”), the nifty “Re-Educating Rita” and an instrumental (“Randy Sarf Git,” another Monkees reference) — to the titular album cut.
With personally reflective lyrics that are more depressed than amused, Carter unevenly advances its stylistic reach on 1992 The Love Album. Jim Bob and Fruitbat perpetrate a jaunty boulevardier fraud (“England”), camp away at piano pop (“Is Wrestling Fixed?,” a contemplation on happiness) and rustle up both rustic restraint and jazzy sprawl for the urban defunding of “While You Were Out.” The grandiose pop of “Skywest and Crooked” and a dryly serious cover of “The Impossible Dream” are wretched, but “Do Re Me, So Far So Good” kicks with the first album’s vigor, mentioning Elvis while quoting Public Enemy and borrowing its singalong melody from Slade. The easy highlight, which rips a page from the Paul Simon title book, is “The Only Living Boy in New Cross,” which shakes a brightly colored and catchy tailfeather while casting a cynical eye at the current state of London pop society (“The gypsies, the travelers and the thieves / The good, bad, the average and unique / The grebos, the crusties and the goths”).
Post Historic Monsters sends the Carters back to basics, railing in highly amusing dudgeon at fascists, political strife, war, ethnic cleansing, moral collapse, royal celebrations, racists, unnamed people you would have to be English to recognize, pop stars, pop songs and a whole lot more. Other than a few usefully contrasting digressions — acoustic guitar folk (“Suicide Isn’t Painless”), mainstream schmaltz (“Under the Thumb and Over the Moon”), cocktail jazz (“Being Here”) — the Unstoppables keep their music to a safe straight and narrow, slashing at guitars and setting sequencers chattering madly in thick barrages of electronic rock power. When not asking the imponderable in “The Music That Nobody Likes” (“If love is the answer / What was the question / And can it cure my indigestion?”), the duo confronts the truth. In “Commercial Fucking Suicide Part 1,” after calling Michael Jackson a liar and noting that Bono is not “the new messiah,” Jim Bob blurts out, “If you buy this record today / It’s not true what the advertisements say / Your life won’t be greatly improved / But Christ you’ve got nothing to lose / And we’ve got so much to gain.” Honesty — what a sick concept. (Perhaps significantly, the song was added to the US edition and omitted from the UK.)
Straw Donkey…The Singles is a British singles compilation; Starry Eyed and Bollock Naked recapitulates their flipsides. In between all that looking backward, Carter — expanded to a trio with the addition of drummer Wez — walloped out the all-new Worry Bomb (initial CD copies of which came with a full-length bonus live album, the crashingly great and articulate Doma Sportova…Live in Zagreb, 20/5/94). Having duly elected themselves the sardonic social commentators of the 1990s, Fruitbat and Jim Bob have at a staggering variety of topics, usually a couple per feverish non-linear song. “Airplane Food/Airplane Fast Food,” for instance, chronicles two friends who go different emblematic ways before settling into an airborne tray of “Buttered scones that can’t be trusted / Warm blancmange and lumpy custard.” After swearing off drink in the lulling piano introduction to “Cheap’n’Cheesy,” the song bursts into a moan about “I’ve got no family for my family car”; a few tracks later, “Let’s Get Tattoos” has the protagonist getting wrecked and doing dumb stuff, while “Senile Delinquent” raises the possibility of being awarded an Order of the British Empire for “services to serious drinking.” Similarly, contrast the anti-suicide message in “Gas (Man)” with the dispirited whinging of “My Defeatist Attitude,” which throws in the towel with a clever flick of the wrist (“I’d fight the system / But what’s the use / It’s fire resistant / And waterproof”). Multiplying the engrossing confusion of this ace album, the music is broader, more dynamic and imaginative than in the past, suggesting that for all their misery, the boys are getting stronger in their resolve to enjoy it. For their deliciously corrosive and grimly amused outlook, Carter the Unstoppable Senile Delinquent earn the right to print the Martin Amis quote that explains the album’s title.