We had one of those big royal wedding things here this week. 2018 1537 enjoys the spectacle and pageantry of it all, wishes them well; 1988 1537 wouldn’t have. I was never the type of republican who wanted to take the ‘French solution’ but I would have been all for them having to go and get proper jobs*. I still get queasy at any mass displays of patriotism away from a rugby context and so the mass waving of flags caused me to retreat to my record collection looking for an antidote.
I found one.
‘Charles Windsor’ is a perky high-energy jaunty tune about guillotining the heir to the throne for the social and political good of the nation.
Charles Windsor, who’s at the door
At such an hour, who’s at the door
In the back of an old green Cortina
You’re on your way to the guillotine
Here the rabble comes
The kind you hoped were dead
They’ve come to chop, to chop off your head
It’s all sung so sweetly and happily it creates a very pleasurable cognitive dissonance with the rather gruesome subject matter**.
So welcome back to 1987 and McCarthy I Am A Wallet. An album described by no less a 1537 hero than Nicky Wire as being ‘like the Communist Party Manifesto with really good tunes’, indeed the Manic Street Preachers have covered ‘Charles Windsor’ as well as several other McCarthy tracks. I picked this up for £2 in a charity shop in Belsize Park about 5 years ago which was an absolute bargain.
First thing’s first, I would have absolutely hated I Am A Wallet, musically, if I had somehow heard it in 1987, if it wasn’t Queen or AC/DC I wasn’t interested. I was a hormone addled rocker, what use did I have for literate, politically astute, Byrds and Big Star influenced indie? I mean singer Malcolm Eden didn’t even bellow and roar, he sings^ in a bit of a deliberately wussy fashion – I am happy to report he is far closer in voice to Lloyd Cole rather than a certain bequiffed gladioli toting monstrosity. Tim Gane, the lead guitarist gets his jangle on perfectly throughout^^. You want some catchy song titles? well check out and take away ‘The Vision of Peregrine Worsthorne’, ‘The Wicked Palace Revolution’ and ‘The Procession of Popular capitalism’ (not to be confused with the Faster Pussycat tune of the same name^*).
As a child of the left, literally, I find McCarthy’s Marxist politics mostly sympathetic and warmly nostalgic in these brasher less idealistic times. There are tunes here like the brilliant closer ‘The Procession Of Popular Capitalism’ that capture a moment in British politics so well, when the Thatcher government was selling council houses and privatizing public utilities for profit and political gain. Eden parodies the swelling popularism of the time as a march of grotesques, every bit the deliriously red urban hell of the George Grosz picture they use as cover art. Clocking in at an epic 3:07, the pill is sugared by a good tune and the interlacing viola passages that creep in towards the end.
The closest McCarthy get to Johnny Marr’s old band, a hazard for 1980’s British indie bands, is the scathing ‘God Made The Virus’ an attack on all those who saw AIDS as a judgment on gay men and the permissive society at large. It is made much more effective by being sung in the first person as it lays the callous bigotry bare to an extent that an outright condemnation would not.
The sixties was an evil time
Everybody took drugs and had sex all the time
On the darkest night was the day to them
But a sun arose to kill them
Though you’ve slaughtered the foe of the family
This holy disease wastes the enemy
If you’d only send a special death
For the lesbians and the communists
There are lots more where this came from I am fond of the sweetly sung tune to an odious public servant spewing out blandishments on ‘An MP Speaks’ and the anti-Thatcher parable of ‘The Wicked Palace Revolution’, not least because it referenced a band of joyous Welshmen and because it makes the point obliquely that it isn’t worthwhile focusing on one personality, it is the system that is morally rotten and if you displace a figurehead another will adroitly take their place. Political nuance and complexity in a song? wow. I have barely scratched the surface of the album here.
I find that I Am A Wallet rewards careful and repeated listens, it is easy to tap your toes*^ and enjoy the guitar jangle if you want it on that level as their evil leftist bile seeps in and infects your soul, but to get the full hit you need to engage with it fully. That may sound like an effort but when the prize is a song as good as ‘The Well of Loneliness’, (about the ruling class’ desire to promote political apathy, muthafuckas!) it is mental exercise well worth taking.
Fire up the Cortina Robespierre!
PS: I stole the post’s title from an LP by 25th Of May, I couldn’t think of a better one. if only some idiot hadn’t blown ‘Rock And Prole’ on a bloody Saxon post.
*okay so I have always loved the history of it all, but what’s the point of history, I would smugly have pointed out, if it isn’t to be learned from, to fuel our social evolution?
**they get double 1537 bonus points for mentioning a Ford Cortina in the lyrics. There just isn’t enough of that in music.
^for fuck’s sake! Sings?! What’s that all about then?
^^he played with McCarthy until they split in 1990 before forming 1537 faves Stereolab with Lætitia Sadier.
*^apparently this is what you should do when you can’t headbang to a tune.