Nowadays they’re tagged and filed away (if recognised at all) as "the band
that became Stereolab", which is to my mind a terrible shame. For
before the names Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier were known to 90s hipsters as
purveyors of said Gallic drone-pop, they were once part of
something that was truly unique and wonderful, something you really should
investigate if you’re fond of things like wit, melody, truth and
beauty in your pop music. And as McCarthy’s The Enraged Will Inherit The
Earth album was re-issued on
CD this month to almost deafening indifference from most quarters, I felt
driven to write this appreciation as a
matter of duty, being as I am a self-respecting aesthete.
I first fell in love with McCarthy when I stumbled across the video to
their 1989 single 'Keep An Open Mind
Or Else'. Instantly, I was smitten by the song’s faux-Motown rhythms and
infectious melody, the wall of Tim
Gane’s then ultra-jangly guitars, the choirboy-like helium vocals and
deliciously caustic lyrics of intense-eyed
singer Malcolm Eden, not to mention the homoerotic imagery of the no-budget
video itself. Or is that just me?
Lyrically, they succeeded in being supremely inspired in theory yet ludicrously inappropriate in practice. Malcolm’s hard-left subject matter favoured a mostly sarcastic approach: swinging from knowing, tongue-in-cheek, satirical perspectives of the right-wing such as 'The Home Secretary Briefs The Forces of Law and Order', and 'I Worked Myself Up From Nothing', to more sincere polemic like 'You’ve Got To Put An End To Them' and 'Boy Meets Girl So What'. But it was the jarring combination of such extreme and angry words with such an effete performance that gave McCarthy their unique identity. It was no great surprise when those other renowned exponents of the badly-scanning, non-rhyming political pop lyric, the Manics, covered McCarthy’s 'Charles Windsor' as a b-side in 1993, replacing the original’s fey delivery with a (perhaps more appropriate) gleefully noisy translation.
I implore you to drank deep from the McCarthy well of loneliness, their three albums I Am A Wallet, The Enraged..., and Banking, Violence and the Inner Life Today, and sundry EP tracks now helpfully collated on the three recent Cherry Red Records CDs. Revel in the Thatcher-defiant joys of 'Red Sleeping Beauty' of 1986, through to the token 'baggy' (well, it was 1990) 'Get A Knife Between Your Teeth', their last single. By the time of the latter, McCarthy’s sound had evolved from the anxious, generic indie strummings of 'Should The Bible Be Banned?' into a superior heaven of honed pop hooks, bolstered by the sprinkling of analogue synths and Ms Sadier’s vocals. This later period is tiresomely dismissed by purists of the "I preferred the earlier stuff" school. But they’re wrong and I’m right. Obviously.
Seek and enjoy.