In 1987, McCarthy released I Am A Wallet. The C86 band's debut album was suitably praised and it's since been re-released and reissued many times in the last 28 years. However, I think it's safe to say that the guitars have never chimed as blissfully as they do on the new vinyl reissue from Optic Nerve Recordings.
Decked out with a generous sampling of singles and EP cuts from the era, this release of I Am A Wallet could very well be the definitive version of this album.
One listen to "The Way of the World" here reveals a band that were hardly strident Marxists. With the benefit of hindsight one can wonder how much of the rhetoric of the lyrics of early McCarthy was genuine. It's probably a better option, in my humble opinion, to think of McCarthy's lyrical content as designed primarily to provoke thought and possibly instigate change, not incite riots. In an era when a band like Easterhouse were taken seriously as Marxists, McCarthy were doing so much more as musicians. It would be unfair to paint them with the same brush and lump them in with the same movement even if there are lyrical concerns that are similar and perspectives that are coming from the same place.
"A Child Soon in Chains" positively rings with truth here. I can't recall ever hearing it sound this clear before and the separation between the instruments is something approaching the miraculous. The folks at Optic Nerve are to be praised to the heavens for making a release that sounds this good. The massed acoustic guitars on "The Wicked Palace Revolution" bring a chill up the spine as Malcolm Eden's vocals make this sound even closer to era-mates The Smiths and The Housemartins than it probably ever did for me before. Hearing this, one hears an era of spectacular music and if The Smiths and The Housemartins were chronicling life at home and the pub, respectively,then McCarthy were chronicling the life of the mind in Britain in 1987. Making highly intellectual music that burned with passion, McCarthy somehow made smart pop that still transcends the limitations of the era of its genesis.
"God Made the Virus" sarcastically addresses the thinking of those on the Right with the sort of acerbic wit sadly lacking in indie rock these days. If the Manics managed to crib from the McCarthy playbook, they never did so with this much cheek. The Manic Street Preachers make smart, intellectual pop too but they are rarely this light of touch when doing it.
There's something gloriously invigorating about the pop rush of "Monetaries" with its buoyant guitar-crash. If you were ever going to use the term jangle rock -- an overused term, I would like to add -- then now's the time to use it. This cut positively chimes as it blazes forward. And for all the serious concerns of the lyrics on this record, "Unfortunately" still sounds as spry as any Housemartins single from the same era.
Even if this edition of I Am A Wallet (1987) didn't sound so great, you could make the case for this being the best version of this LP thanks to what the fine folks at Optic Nerve Recordings have added to this release.
Of the bonus tracks here, of particular note are the 2 versions of "In Purgatory" here including the re-recorded version that was originally released on the It Sells Or It Smells (1987) compilation. There's also the re-recorded version of "Comrade Era" from the "Red Sleeping Beauty" 12 inch release. And if that isn't enough we've also got the 3 tracks from the ultra-rare "In Purgatory" 7 inch single on Wall of Salmon from 1985. The 3 cuts have all been remastered from the original tapes of that legendary single and they all sound fabulous and crystal clear. If you already own I Am A Wallet, you still need to buy this version to get those remastered "In Purgatory" tracks. They are a revelation for a listener.
I Am A Wallet is out this week from Optic Nerve Recordings. It is a spectacular reissue of a spectacular debut. Blessed with the awareness of what the post-C86 years have wrought, the tunes on this first record from McCarthy sound even better now than they probably did in 1987. A large part of that praise is due to whoever remastered this one for Optic Nerve Recordings.
I'd venture to say that McCarthy's place in the jangle pop hierarchy is forever sealed with the cuts here. Forget the consciousness-raising lyrics, however thoughtful they are; no, what makes this record have more currency, and what makes I Am A Wallet by McCarthy a record up there with Meat is Murder is the musicianship here on display. And the musicianship of McCarthy has never been so clearly presented as on this reissue from Optic Nerve Recordings.