Carter USM did a lot of cover versions – most 12″s they released came with at least one, and loads of them were really good too. Highlights include Everybody’s Happy Nowadays by The Buzzcocks, Bedsitter by Soft Cell, Down In The Tube Station At Midnight by The Jam and This Is How It Feels by Inspiral Carpets. Their version of Alternate Title by The Monkees was a personal favourite, but Rent, the B-side to the 1990 single Rubbish, is widely held to be Carter’s classic cover version.
Carter used to cite Pet Shop Boys as one of their key influences, along with The Clash. At one time Carter’s merchandise included a t-shirt featuring a photo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe with the words ‘But Harder’ underneath. Safe to say they had t-shirts that sold a lot better.
Pet Shop Boys’ original version of Rent is a nice enough tune – a lightweight, synth-pop affair with a drum machine sounds that seems dated, even for 1987 – but it’s not up with the best efforts of their heyday like West End Girls, Opportunities and It’s A Sin.
Carter’s cover speeds it up, piles on the guitars and samples and brings it roaring to life, releasing the song’s potential and ramping up the drama of the subject matter. They even play with the lyrics to suit their style; the ‘restaurant on Broadway’ becomes, the ‘restaurant on Fulham Broadway’ – altering the one aspect of the song that doesn’t seem like it’s written for them. It’s an absolutely inspired cover.
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine were the first out-of-town band that I saw at my local music venue. I was 15 and had been going there for a few months, having initially been attracted by the opportunity to exploit the confusion that existed between door staff and bar staff as to whose responsibility it was to check the IDs of drinkers.
I’d never heard them before but their name rang a bell from the gig guide in Melody Maker. This wasn’t long after the release of 101 Damnations, so well before they were getting good coverage. Me and Millhouse took a chance, knowing that if the band were shit we’d be able to get a couple of pints of Skol anyway.
They were really fucking great. There were only two of them on the tiny stage and they were weird looking – one of them was tall and bony with a ponytail at the front of his head; the other wore a cap and shorts, like a Day-Glo Angus Young – but they really went for it. There can’t have been more than 50 people at the gig but they played with total conviction from start to finish, coming to the front of the foot-high stage to sing, then surging backwards in unison, bent-double, slashing away at their sticker-covered guitars.
They had loads of great punk-pop songs, all beefed-up with drum machines and samples. They totally hooked me straight away – not just into their music, but into punk/indie/guitar/live music in general. Carter USM became my new favourite band and remained it for at least a couple of years.
I saw them a lot of times after that – at clubs around the country, high on the bill at festivals and at their spiritual home, The Brixton Academy. And whenever I saw them, these two weird looking guys with their backing track, they always gave a great show like they did from the start.