IF YOU’RE an old-skool, proper indie kid (and full disclosure, I count myself among that number), with campaign medals from the C86 wars – you saw action on the Creation, Midnight Music, 53rd & 3rd and Subway front lines, clutched fanzines with the finest, sipped snakebite during a set by Mighty Mighty – then Optic Nerve Recordings is a label that’ll get you all misty eyed.
Based in Preston, Optic Nerve has a catalogue of current vinyl reissues to make you gasp. Razorcuts, The Loft, Revolving Paint Dream, Primitives … rilly? In 2020 … ?
And the latest LP to be given new life in an majorly expanded edition by the label is Barking guitar polemicists McCarthy’s The Enraged Will Inherit the Earth.
Coming out of the Essex-East London hinterlands in 1985, McCarthy stood apart from many of their 80s’ indiepop peers by virtue of an absolutely rigorous political stance and lyricism, all delivered in the sweet chorister tones of Malcolm Eden; future Stereolabber Tim Gane providing complex, spindly guitar figures in support.
Track titles such as “The Procession of Popular Capitalism” and “The Drinking Song of the Merchant Bankers” didn’t really hide their left-leaning light under a bushel. Debut full-length outing I Am A Wallet in 1987 was followed by The Enraged Will Inherit the Earth in 1989; and it is this set that is the final of McCarthy’s three to get the deluxe Optic Nerve treatment.
Opener “Boy Meets Girl, So What?” sets the stall out. A loping, chiming guitar opens out before Eden sardonically intones, “The first day I met you the sun began to shine / The world turned for the first time when I made you mine” (but … so what?)”. Later, the romance sours, and “the sun ceased to shine … and London fell down into the Thames.” We’re not going to be tripping thru the flowers here.
“You know to be able to run a government you need a bloody good brain”, Eden informs us on the second track, “Governing Takes Brain”, perhaps all too presciently. But for all the lyrical grit (and gritted teeth), this song has one of the sweetest indiepop choruses you could wish for. “Hands Off Or Die” examines the grasping at the heart of capitalist inequalities. “Keep An Open Mind Or Else” is beautifully, classically McCarthy: exhortation shifting along on a northern soul stomp, with premiere jangling guitars.
The snappily titled “The Home Secretary Briefs the Foreign Secretary on Law and Order” is, in hindsight, one of the earliest McCarthy tracks in which you can see the acorn of Stereolab. It has that guitar motorik from Tim Gane, an organ groove, and a real percussive propulsion. Over all of it, Eden picks out syllables with that trademark leftfield scansion, lines rolling on across bars.
“I’m Not A Patriot But …” is another track with a scary aptitude in these days of populism, Malcolm Eden trillng with that lightness of his, “Differences? Don’t bother me with differences / Just let me think of it / I’m not a patriot, but ..”, set in swing time with a distinct mitteleuropan folk flavour.
Optic Nerve’s limited edition set contains the remastered original LP on coloured vinyl, as well as a ten-track bonus LP, containing the sweetly fratricidal, headlong pop rush of “Should The Bible Be Banned”, the mournful and synth-tinged ache of “This Nelson Rockefeller”, B-sides, and more; and if that wasn’t enough, you also get a 7” containing a further two unreleased tracks.
Sold yet? Hang on, leave one for me, if you would.