Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – 101 Damnations

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Ah, Carter USM. I love this band. I don’t always like what they produce, but I love this band. Two brash punsters who gleefully machine-gunned anyone who offended their sensibilities, Carter (I am not going to write out “the Unstoppable Sex Machine” every time) was a highly moralistic band. Take away the jokes and programmed beats and you end up with vitriolic bile aimed at slumlords, bullies, and warmongers. Fine. With. Me. But the puns and the canned drums were what made them fun – even if I couldn’t unravel a tenth of what I assume are hyper-British references and in-jokes. Carter came from London in 1987, evolving from earlier band Jamie Wednesday, and its core was James “Jim Bob” Morrison and Leslie “Fruitbat” Carter (even though at one point the band had six members, which just seems wrong); Jim Bob sang (and played guitar) and Fruitbat played the guitar mostly and they otherwise relied on keyboards, sequenced bass tracks, and drum machines. As difficult as it is to believe, the distinctive Carter belonged to a music subculture – grebo, as decided by Pop Will Eat Itself – which blended pop, punk, hip-hop, and electronica influences. The legitimacy of grebo as a subgenre is suspect, but it generally includes not only PWEI but Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, the Wonder Stuff, and of course, Gaye Bykers on Acid.

What I Think of This Album

I defy you to identify all the jokes and puns on this disc. Let’s just examine the album and song titles:  101 Damnations; “The Road to Domestos”; “Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill;” and “The Taking of Peckham 123.” If you want to spend the time to go through the lyrics, be my guest, but pack several weeks’ worth of snacks.

Now, I further defy you to identify anything resembling a happy song on here. This album is an unrelenting carnival of poverty, greed, and violence. There is a song about being assaulted (“Midnight On the Murder Mile”); one about a homeless person being set on fire  (“An All American National Sport”); one about divorce (“Good Grief Charlie Brown”); another about suicide (“Everytime a Churchbell Rings”); three about urban decay (“Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill;” “Sheriff Fatman”; and “The Taking of Peckham 123”); and another about war (“G.I. Blues”). But filth, deprivation, despair, and the worst aspects of humanity never sounded so goddamn invigorating.

Some of the most successful songs are the ones with the fastest BPMs. “Sheriff Fatman” is a rapid evisceration of shady landlords, with whiplash-inducing references to Star Trek, Klaus Barbie, and the United Nations. The opening keyboard fanfare is iconic, as are its accompanying handclaps, and Jim Bob’s righteous anger comes through in his emphatic vocals. The energy on this track is pressure-cooker high, with an irresistible beat; this is the best ever dance song about slumlords.

Likewise, “Midnight on the Murder Mile” is a mile-a-minute tale of a dangerous walk through London, with sequencers, keyboards, and drum machines working overtime to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, with Fruitbat chainsawing away in the background. This song samples Elvis Presley (“I Got Stung”), name-checks Wilson Pickett, and references Chuck Berry, and there is probably more that I missed. “Twenty Four Minutes from Tulse Hill” speeds by so fast you almost miss the Little Richard reference being co-opted into a lyric about domestic abuse in a song that grimly details life in a rough neighborhood.

“Good Grief Charlie Brown” is a sad glimpse at the effects of marital disruption on a child, but no less catchy for it, with some nice work by Fruitbat and eventually some frenetic rhythm tracks taking over. And “An All American National Sport” does right by its victim-narrator, expertly sketching his inner life (“And I dreamt I was an artist / Like Toulouse-Lautrec or Manet / Drinking like a bastard / In Madrid”), making his cruel end all the more affecting.

On the slower side of the ledger, “The Taking of Peckham 123” is a clever waltz (1, 2, 3) that grows in intensity as Jim Bob details various violent crimes taking place in a high-rise housing block, while Fruitbat unleashes gritty leads. I don’t love the sample-dense “A Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb” but it does quote both Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (“Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge”) and Eddie Cochran (‘She’s sure fine-lookin’”), and also samples “Great Balls of Fire” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

This is a unique album that creatively marries social consciousness, wit, audacity, and drum machines. Oh, apparently Carter USM wanted to title the album Cunt.

The Best Thing About This Album

I mean, no one can resist “Sheriff Fatman.”

Release Date

January, 1990

The Cover Art

I’m not a fan of the Carter USM logo, but the art sells the pun of the title perfectly.

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