Jim Bob’s new album, his eighth solo work, Goffam, was “out” yesterday. Don’t go looking in the shops, it’s available to buy at his gigs or via the Carter USM website. I don’t think I need to restate my history with Carter USM, but I have known Jim in a part-professional, part-unprofessional manner since I first met he and Fruitbat in 1989, around the time of Sheriff Fatman, which, in three minutes, convinced me I was in the presence of local geniuses for local people. Even though other writers at the NME could lay earlier claim to Carter appreciation (Steve Lamacq, most conspicuously), I bumped into them a lot over the next few years, travelled behind the Iron Curtain with them in the former Czechslovakia and was lucky enough to commission myself to go to New York with them, and EMF, for the Christmas cover story in 1991, a highpoint for any of us connected in some way to the band. Anyway, they split up in 1998, and went their separate but never that separate ways, and I was able to contrive to have both Jim and Les on 6 Music at various points during my time there. (I even smuggled him onto Radio 2 when – for one week only – I deputised for Mark Radcliffe in the old days when the controller of the station liked me.)
When they re-formed Carter two Christmases ago, I was thrilled to be almost “down the front” at Brixton Academy, singing along to every word. Which is why it gives me so much pleasure to report that Jim’s latest album, another loosely conceptual piece forged on the pavements of South London and held together with the bile of an urban malcontent and father-for-justice at a funny age, is another belter. I’ve been hearing the great English songwriters in Jim’s ever more accomplished solo work for a while now – Ian Dury, Ray Davies, Damon Albarn – and Goffam carries that baton forwards with its witty but serious protest songs about crime and the causes of crime. His words have always been sharp and funny, although the tortuous puns of old have given way to something more poetic, less forced. Try this poignant verse from the opener, The Golden Years Of Lonely Old Dears:
The coins I’ve saved
In an old coffee jar
Will light up one bar, one bar of gold
Enough to thaw my old bones out some more
I did not survive a war to die of cold
Goffam is played mostly live, or as-live, with Chris T-T and Johnny Lamb; it’s not as conspicuously arranged as the last album, A Humpty Dumpty Thing (whose Cartoon Dad remains one of my all-time favourites from his solo canon), but the sparser production simply foregrounds Jim’s songwriting confidence. Lonely Cop reminds me of Kevin Coyne, which is anything but faint praise coming from me, and I love the way he tackles one of the thornier issues of the day, knife crime, without sensation or sentimentality on Teenage Body County (“Oh what a world we’ve made for our children/A world to get killed in”). These are London songs, but that doesn’t bar entry to anybody from outside the M25 – the hope and angst are universal. His songs always were 24 hours from Tulse Hill.
He tells me he’s yet to even receive a single play on 6 Music. Can this be true? What has happened to that place?