History is written by the winners. In the no man’s land of early Nineties indie music - after Madchester, before Britpop - there were a lot of forgotten heroes. Carter USM were one of them: two blokes from South London in cycling shorts with a drum machine who sang socially conscious, pun-laden pop songs. Airbrushed out of the NME archives with almost Soviet precision, one half of them, Les 'Fruitbat' Carter, has been offered an olive branch by EMI to complete a final cut of this, their number one album.
1992: Remastered takes Carter’s key ingredients - scissoring guitar riffs, artificial bass and synths stolen from the Sim City disks - and ramps them up to levels that could shatter crockery. Opening fanfare ‘1993’ now sounds less like a ringtone and more like the juggernaut it should be, the drum machines, keyboards and guitars drawing the blueprint for the rest of the album. Jim Bob’s voice on single ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’ no longer struggles over the runaway bass line and euphoric, climbing guitars, while on the intimate ‘England’ he’s appropriately quiet, relaying a prostitute’s woes over a cheery accordion melody. The operatic ‘Skywest and Crooked’ swaps the prostitute for some thoughts by Ian Dury, while big blow-out ‘The Impossible Dream’, Carter’s tongue-in-cheek bid for a Christmas number one, now writhes with guitar-charged anger as Jim Bob sneers ”And the world/Will be better for this…”.
Disc two collects live tracks and B-sides, ones with enough oomph to already have received a compilation of their own on EMI (1994’s Starry Eyed and Bollock Naked). All 21 efforts have again been made crisper/louder by Fruitbat, right down to the white noise on ‘Watching the Big Apple Turn Over’, recorded by Jim Bob in the dark of his Manhattan hotel room. Here he blends Pet Shop Boys bass with sad keyboards, and a rendition of Tom Hanks’ basketball chant from Big (”Jimmy Jimmy Coco Pop/Jimmy Jimmy Rolling Rock/Forget about the Alamo, bicarbonate of soda pop/New York, New York/It’s a hell of a place”). ‘Bring On The Girls!’ is a screaming attack on Lionel Richie’s misogynist videos, and now screams even louder, the chugging guitars like Status Quo exposed to crystal meth. But the biggest delight is the inclusion in the main album of ‘After the Watershed’, Carter’s great lost single about runaway children which saw them attack Philip Schofield on live TV after he laughed them off during the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party. It sounds perfect here, its stabbing bass and rowdy chorus wrapping up a time when socially conscious punks were allowed to perform in front of thousands of teenagers.
After 1992 Carter’s luck turned and the music press rounded on them, getting into bed with Britpop. The duo carried on giving the fans what they wanted - roof-raising pop music with biting, compassionate lyrics - but fizzled out in 1997 with not much money and six members to feed. Jim Bob’s now an author, Fruitbat plays in Abdoujaparov and tours around Australia and his local caff in Folkestone, and although the pair now reunite only once a year, for a short time in the Major years they worked their bollocks off, producing annual hit albums that pulled together crowds. 1992: Remastered is the perfect way to remember them; a half hour of dizzying pop from a real life Bill and Ted who had no phone booth, bigger amps and came from Crystal Palace.
9George Bass's Score