Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine

30 Something

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Arguably, nothing really changed from 101 Damnations to 30 Something; the Carter formula was already well-established, so the duo just kept right at it. The difference lies in -- whisper it -- a growing sophistication that fleshed out both sound and lyrics. That may seem deeply bemusing to those who will note the typical Carter trappings still running rampant: puns explode everywhere without restraint, musical and lyrical references creep in from the Clash and David Bowie to traditional football chants, and so forth. More than once a lack of context can be a problem to anyone not born in the sceptr'd isle -- a "Glasgow kiss" (as referred to in the title of "Sealed with A...," a harrowing picture of domestic abuse) is a fierce headbutting, not a smooch. But while there's that, and the still cheap-and-cheery sound of the band's keyboards, drum machines, and more, Carter as a band seem a little more comfortable in the studio here. The two are able to whip up their surging numbers to a higher level -- the group's stated fondness for Queen actually makes a little more sense here, while "Billy's Smart Circus" is flawless in its soaring, anthemic power. Meanwhile, their bluer moods get more gently evocative accompaniment, often addressing getting addicted to the bottle and the unfortunate results. Everything kicks off with a great one-two punch, like the nutty instrumental "Surfin' USM," which kicks off with a great snippet about what growing old really means, and "My Second to Last Will and Testament." This has Jim Bob settling affairs all around, down to organ donation: "They can take my lungs and kidneys/But my heart belongs to Daphne." Other strong cuts include the Gary Glitter-in-hell stomp of "Bloodsport for All," a bitter vivisection of Army racism, and the end-of-the-social-drama movie music and feel of "Falling on a Bruise."

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