"I was a teenage stamp collector, I'd lie on my back and you'd stamp on my face."
It is one of the less talked about pages of late 80s indie lore that the budget was so tight when Cud recorded their debut album, that when they over spent the band elected not to master it and release it in its natural state. This meant that the original release of When in Rome, Kill Me had large amounts of annoying feedback, and other extraneous noises. It wasn’t until 2007 that the appropriate care and attention was spent on the source material, which meant that it was finally mastered and it sounded like it should have sounded in the first place. Of course, there will be those that owned the original unmastered version that feel that the mastering actually diminished the charm of Cud’s debut, and to be fair, they might have a point, but at least the mastered reissue meant that When in Rome, Kill Me was finally available again.
So what’s the mastered version actually like? Well the first half of When in Rome, Kill Me (or side one in old money) is devoted to that most rare of beasts – an indie rock-opera. The story centres around the search for the myopic Bibi, and that’s pretty much all the sense you’re going to make out of it. As concept albums go, it’s not the easiest to follow, as it’s pretty much just a collection of guitar tunes with some slightly odd dialogue linking them. It’s hardly the most linear narrative, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and it boasts two of the albums finest moments in the astonishing “Only A Prawn In Whitby”, and the slightly questionable “Bibi Couldn’t See”. Yes, it was silly stuff, but at least it was entertaining. The second half of the album struggles to maintain the standards of the first half, but it’s still damn good and opens with the splendid “I’ve Had It With Blondes” which starts with one of the most memorable opening lines in the history of popular song.
Musically, When In Rome, Kill Me might not be quite as riff and hook-laden as Cud’s later work would become, but Carl Puttnam’s voice has already developed the rich tones and operatic quality that he would later put to such good use, and Steve Goodwin’s drums are more prominent on When in Rome, Kill Me than on any other Cud album, reminding you just what a shockingly undervalued talent he was. For some Cud fans, When in Rome, Kill Me is still the best album that they ever released, such is the power of its wonky charm, raw unvarnished enthusiasm and joyous tunes.
Despite being obviously recorded on a shoestring budget, When In Rome, Kill Me makes up for it with an ebullience and good-humour sorely lacking in 80s indie. While the rest of the UK indie scene were either moping around in their bed-sits or getting mashed out of their brains on various substances, Cud, along with the similarly unsung Wonder Stuff were providing us with actual proper entertainment and sounding as if they were actually enjoying themselves.