[sic] Magazine

McCarthy – Complete Albums, Singles and BBC Sessions

McCarthy were stalwarts of the late 80s indie scene. I loved them, as did everyone else who knew of them, (most famously the Manic Street Preachers). The Essex bands modus operandi was high tempo jangle pop coupled with radically socialist lyrics. If that sounds like a whole bunch of Peel-championed acts of that time, well fair enough. However, something set McCarthy apart, both then and looking back now. Whilst many of the C86 crop dealt in ‘right on’, left wing student politics almost because it was fashionable, McCarthy were ‘for real’. There was never any sense with them that they would grow out of it. Musically too they transcended ‘jangly’. There was melancholy, both in the arrangements and in Malcolm Eden‘s vulnerable vocal. There was a shimmering elegance too even early on in songs like ‘Red Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Franz Hals’. No real surprise then that after disbanding in 1990 Tim Gane and girlfriend Lætitia Sadier would go on to found Stereolab. That said, McCarthy’s real staples were always those short, fast paced, anti establishment riffs. The jingle jangle tunesmithery of pieces such as ‘Well Of Loneliness’ and ‘Monetaries’ were every bit the equal of leading genre act The Wedding Present. Yet McCarthy favoured affairs of state over affairs of the heart. They were, to politics, what Gedge and Co were to romance. McCarthy simply didn’t do love songs (See,‘Boy Meets Girl, So What?’) They were capable of subtlety certainly and their portfolio is sprinkled with satire. Yet most of the time Eden was overtly and unswervingly political.

This box set contains the three original studio albums, expanded with peripheral tracks from the relevant era. An inlay booklet with photos and an introduction by Richard Anderson references from where each of the bonus tracks originates. The debut album, I Am A Wallet now runs to 27 tracks and I remember pretty much all of them. The Smiths loom large as a clear musical reference on tracks like ‘Antinature’ and ‘Bad Dreams’ but you can already hear the seeds of McCarthy diverging from the much imitated Marr path. There was nothing ‘shambling’ about McCarthy either. For every speed rant there’s something else crafted and beautiful. I Am A Wallet is worth the admission price here alone. As a set of tight, 2 to 3 minute indie thrashes it is a marvellous collection. ‘The Vision Of Peregrine Worsthorne’ remains a thing of majesty.

The follow up albums continue to surprise and enchant. The Enraged Will Inherit The Earth comes across like …Wallet on steroids. Bass and drums dominate this second outing. McCarthy remain firmly ‘on message’ but the rhythm section is turned up a couple of notches. Your ‘go to’ songs are ‘Keep An Open Mind Or Else’ and ‘Should The Bible Be Banned?’. Let the rest reveal itself with repeat listens.

On Banking, Violence and The Inner Life Today you can hear real development right from the off. The hushed ‘I’m On The Side Of Mankind…’ is breathtaking in its poignancy. There’s a west coast vibe to much of the album. Close your eyes and listen deeply to something like ‘And Tomorrow The Stock Exchange Will BE the Human Race’ and you can hear the influence of Americana and even The Doors. Then again those titles; ‘Iron Hand’, ‘Use A Bank, I’d rather Die, ‘Write To Your MP’, these soon pull us right back to Thatcher’s Britain.

The box set is completed with a fourth disc of BBC Sessions. I think this is the aspect most envied by die-hard McCarthy fans. A word of caution then. For my twopenneth the BBC Session tracks do not differ greatly from their album counterparts. (Maybe in tempo) You’ll have your own word to say of course. At this bargain price it’s a case of buy first, ask questions later. Me, having thrown away my cassettes many years (and house moves) ago, I wanted the original albums again on CD. This re-immersion has been an absolute pleasure. Wallet remains a signature album of the times and I had forgotten how mature and moving Banking was.

Nicky Wire summed up his own feelings thus;

“McCarthy were frail, tragic, romantic idealists. Their songs soothed your body but exercised your brain. They were my education. Politics and pop could be intelligent, could be beautiful.”

They weren’t part of any ‘scene’ really. They overlapped C86 and jangle pop but in the end they were McCarthy, simply – unique, pithy and lovable. We called them radical at the time. Yet all the things they sang, all their predictions, (the banking crisis, etc) they all came spectacularly, awfully true.

McCarthy – Complete is available now via Cherry Red Records.

McCarthy Box at Cherry Red