Voyager – the next release on Creation Records – came out a couple of months after The Ultraconformist and housed the tracks that were more influenced by the current dance / trip-hop / acid scene, or more to the point, the disintegrating music scene of the time as it merged into different genres. It carries musical influence from Massive Attack, PM Dawn and the ilk, along with the Pet Shop Boys, Shamen and other chart orientated material.
Lyrically the album addresses the pseudo-philosophical new-age direction of those musical genres, and also has a feel something like retro-futurism, nostalgic science fiction.
There were important events in Momus’ own life and career at this point too.
In 1990 he saw a play by Yukio Mishima (based on a short story by Kan’ami Kiyotsugu) in which an old lady, retelling her life story, seems to travel into those memories. This along with the Mishima novel Spring Snow is an influence on the album, particularly the song Summer Holiday 1999.
That song, based on a 1988 film of the same name directed by Shusuke Kaneko, was written in 1990 for a compilation album called Fab Gear. This compilation contained tracks by a Japanese band called Flipper’s Guitar, which featured a young Keigo Oyamada (later known as Cornelius), along with tracks by selected artists – Momus being one of these. The compilation helped form the basis of a popular indie-music and cultural movement in Japan known as Shibuya-Kei.
1992 saw Momus’ first tour of Japan, a relevatory moment for him as he discovered that while his popular career in the UK may have faded, he was a relatively big star there. Signed to Nippon Columbia and with the backing of Oyamada, on his first foray into Tokyo he found a display for an artist called “Poison Girlfriend”, after his second album. He would later work with this artist, write songs for Oyamada’s girlfriend Kahimi Karie and others and achieve – as a writer at least – chart success that eluded him in the West.
At this time as well Momus was with Shazna Nessa – a 14 year old girl (in 1991) who wrote to him and with whom he developed a friendship, which developed into a romantic relationship once she was 16. This relationship was somewhat complicated by her family*, leading indirectly to the end of his time with Creation, and directly to Momus marrying and relocating to Paris the following year. It also informed the content of the Timelord album, which is where I will more fully discuss that relationship.
In 1992 he also wrote a pivotal essay called Pop Stars? Nein Danke! which seems to foretell the rise of social media stars and the fragmentation of the “pop industry” into a million individual content creators operating at marginal cost, where every “pop star” will be famous for fifteen people**: a world, in short, more agreeable to artists such as himself. It celebrates the probabilities of technology increasing accessibility to the machinery required to make music, to track its popularity with different demographics and to download albums. It’s a very forward thinking piece, seeing the digital music marketplace as operating like the ponds in C.S. Lewis’ sixth Narnia Chronicle, The Magician’s Nephew.
“The feeling I get when I walk into a record shop is not that there is a battle of titans ‘clashing for the number one spot’. That is the model of the old monopoly capitalism. Entering a record shop now, a good one like Tower or the Virgin Megastore, is like standing in C.S. Lewis’s Wood Between the Worlds, where you can pick a pond and enter one of an infinite number of worlds at different stages of their evolution.”
(Which also now puts me in mind of the lighthouses in Bioshock Infinite‘s twisty conclusion.)
Obviously these stores are long gone, and replaced by new monoliths such as Amazon, but independent sites such as Darla more accurately demonstrate the spirit of his words.
All of these events, ideas and influences must be borne in mind as we investigate Voyager.
The album cover is a design by Rafaél Jiménez and Claudia Casagrande, who also designed the cover for his lyrics book “Lusts of a Moron“. The palette of warm oranges, yellows and greens accurately mirrors the warmth and nature of the music within, and the sci-fi romanticism. The close-up photos on the CD inlay of a model’s face and eye, and of a flower, highlight the spiritual and philosophical nature of the lyrics, and the drift towards an eastern sensibility. The photography is again by Thomi Wroblewski, as for Tender Pervert.
A japanese translator – Chiharu Watabe – is credited for work on the lyrics – on Summer Holiday 1999. Production and programming are credited to Momus and engineering to Doug Martin. Both Momus and Voyager are rendered lower case, and the cover as a whole feels minimalist, which is at odds with the maximal musical content, but fits the philosophy and overall influences perfectly. Momus himself is on the front cover in what seems a huge coat and several layers – which was the style at the time – and oversize sunglasses, clearly dressed up warm for the Siberian tundra. I can’t ignore, however, what this photograph and pose have conspired to do to his chin, which seems frankly deformed in this image. It draws the eye magnetically, a chin for our times, a chin for all seasons…
Straight from the beginning of the first track, it is clear that the sound and intent of this album veers towards the positive rather than the cynical, towards transport and exploration rather than cynicism or mockery. That exploration is both external, of the world, and internal, of the spirit. Or as Barbara Ellen of the NME put it:
“To get in the right mood for this album, one would have to spend an entire weekend swapping Star Trek bubblegum cards and Out Of Body experiences with the likes of William Orbit, Mick Fleetwood and David Icke, pausing only occasionally to sacrifice a Cyber-virgin or re-light the Yin-Yang candle. Even then, if you’re not a fan of the Pet Shop Boys’ most-binnable moments, forget it. 2/10“
Missing the point, as the critics tended to from here on in, only the William Orbit and Pet Shop Boys references are in any way valid. An increasing interest in technology and the still virginal fields of the internet is clearly there. What is true is that the entire philosophical thrust of this album is different to anything Momus has posited before. The arrangement and sound of the album are different as well, and ironically the most commercial sounding album yet released by him, without I believe any real intention to be so. Momus’ voice, the most iconic and recognisable aspect of his music, and the narrative storytelling that is synonymous with the brand, are just not there, or not recognisable. The voice is further back in the mix than we are used to, and almost merges with the sounds, so it drifts subliminally into your subconscious. It is hard sometimes to concentrate on the lyrics, they are more “stream of consciousness” than has hitherto been the case, more internally descriptive than narratively descriptive.
The opening of Cibachrome Blue is lush, panoramic, widescreen, sounding something like a train setting off, or a plane taxiing, and setting us on our travels, always and symbolically to the East. The beat is pure trip-hop, reminiscent of – sampled from? – “Unfinished Sympathy”.
Momus’ vocals over this are calm, quiet, introspective and quite pure: a million miles away from the showmanship of The Ultraconformist or the outré garishness of Don’t Stop the Night. They are in delivery influenced by the style of various artists including the seductive romanticism of Dirk Bogarde. The track includes samples indebted to his work as here: https://youtu.be/AsJqxLZdAuM?t=943 These lyrics are optimistic about technology in a way that permeated the early 90s. With the rise of the internet and virtual reality, anything seemed possible, despite the obvious limitations of the hardware available at the time. Virtual Reality was touted as a new frontier to establish even BEFORE realistic CGI was possible, before Jurassic Park. We tried to run before we even knew what the word meant. There were game shows based on (simulated) VR whilst simultaneously the height of sophistication on a webpage was a GIF of a flying toaster, and no-one saw a disconnect there.
Just as in the 1960s and 1970s, where the rise of computing was linked to the Love Generation, to hippie mysticism and the drug-culture of the time (Bill Gates was clearly a stoner and still advocates the use of LSD in micro-doses), so the rise of the internet and virtual technology in the 90s was linked to new-age spirituality and mysticism. Momus sees this period of his music as a signpost to his later conversion to Islam, as well as an opening up to higher levels of consciousness.
We voyage through the heart of darkness, not to kill as in Conrad’s novel or Apocalypse Now, but to discover. We take a sleeper train, because in a different state of consciousness we will discover more, in sleep and dreams we can access our subconscious potentiality. The prefix trans- is used often: transatlantic, transpacific, we travel across and through different times, cultures and mentalities. We amplify, exaggerate and rise, exultant.
Paul at Damascus and Christopher Columbus are travellers, in different ways: Paul travelled trans-belief systems, Columbus trans-atlantic. Both found what they already knew: by closing our eyes: by travelling within, as we should too. We were in the process of mapping the human genome at the time, in the swirling syllables of RNA and DNA (Gattaca for instance) there was a belief we could save and change the nature of man, and echoes of Gematria in the belief that by reading the whole genome we might speak the name of God. But “in a post-ethical age, nothing is true”: moving beyond narrow ideas of Good and Evil means that no-one is true, no-one is false.
So we do not speak of God, we speak of the “originator man”, the bootstrap service of the universe, to make a sun “in the palm of your hand”, which flowers/deflowers and comes and goes out of fashion (much like Momus).
Conflict with the universe is highlighted in the following stanza:
“(Sunshine in the darkness)
I guess I’ve come to throw some shade
(Moving in the aftershock)
This time I’ve come to pull some weight
(Forwards through the crossfire)”
We have hands outstretched: a Messianic image: in our own Passion-Play, as we move through our lives, carbon based life forms born in exploding stars, which is true. The elements we are made of were created in supernovae, the death of stars making our lives possible: creation through destruction. And through the destruction we create our “Four minutes and 33 seconds of love”: roughly the length of the song, or possibly the average romantic encounter with its creator, who knows. Other than John Cage, obviously.
A prophet (Nostradamus? Mohammed?) predicted a space probe, i.e. Voyager that predicted the start of a world. In the 1979 film Star Trek – The Motion Picture, the space probe Voyager having encountered an alien civilisation, is altered to become sentient, and spends centuries searching for its creator, creating a world around itself in the process. Equally it is to be hoped that in our voyage of self discovery, we will create a world of knowledge and godhood.
“A flash of the dice in the game of chance
Played by a lonely young girl”
This could be a reference to Mary, the original virginal bride. Maybe it is Shazna’s letter to Momus, asking for advice. Anyway, a series of Messiah’s follow. Momus is partly referring to his own heroes here, such as Bowie, with these references which are both clear and oblique:
“Signal to noise, boys will be boys
And girls will be boys”
As in many gnostic faiths and new-age philosophies, opposites are required and paired, there is no superior “side”: in fact, opposites are treated as equal: “Increment is decrement, Christ is anti-Christ And so on and so on – to cry is to laugh There are multiplications and variations There is no true path”
In technology terms this could refer to fuzzy logic, where the value of a digital storage location is not simply 0 to mean False, or 1 to mean True, but can adopt any value between 0 and 1, and therefore any level of Truth. Quantum technology which we are now developing takes this a further step and allows elements known as qubits to contain a potential spin value of 1 or 0 simultaneously.
Another name for the “originator” is the “Oyster Man”, who dives for pearls but then throws them back, seeing what the effect is, experimenting with the creation of possible worlds, in Cibachrome Blue – Cibachrome itself referring to an analogue photographic process, the whole referring to a particular colour filter: and filtering is what this song does, and talks about, filtering experiences and desires through the universe, travelling through the void, filtering input like a whale filters out seawater to consume plankton.
The final stanzas repeat lines from the song, and there is a call-back to the “Song in Contravention“
“Ragamuffin boy, Sheherezade
A commonplace book of styles
Lying in the olive grove God smiles”
The music builds towards the end with sampled female backing vocals, then fades out with the circling pattern of bells and trip-hop beats that have played throughout the song in the foreground. You are given the sense of a never-ending piece of music, travelling on through the stars forever, in transit to find a new way of seeing. Limahl’s “NeverEnding Story“, of course, does much the same thing.
The awakening of the digital age is very much the focus of this song, ostensibly quite a simple, Pet Shop Boys inspired update of the Everly Brothers song “All I have to do is dream”, in which dreaming is compared to Virtual Reality, a scenario in which the object of his affections and love is ever present when he needs them.
The optimism with regard to technology is very clear:
“You can have whatever you want in
virtual reality All you’ve got to do is dream”
We are even told “Just do it!” which is a Nike slogan.
And at the time we were dreaming of the future, of VR and what would eventually be called AR and Artificial Intelligence. Multimedia, and interactive entertainment such as CD ROMs, was considered to be the future of information storage. Mathematical ideas around chaos theory and fractals informed artwork, clothing and posters across college dorms everywhere. My own terrible BA thesis was around Virtual Reality and compared its impact to that of “L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat“, and suggested that VR cinemas were coming. Notably I still thought people would physically go to a building together to then wear VR sets. The idea of people staying in their homes and partaking did not occur because the technology to stream such content or even deliver it to a house did not exist.
The music is very much Pet Shop Boys, with orchestral hits, and big sound effects to emphasise the widescreen dreaming taking place. It’s bouncy and catchy, and very commercial sounding. The main keyboard riff does sound quite like Domino Dancing, as critics noted, but that is more pastiche than anything else.
Despite the optimism, there are warning notes in the lyrics: this couplet warns against the disconnect between fantasy and reality, and hints at the possibility of subsequently rejecting reality:
“This is just like the real thing, only better
It’s reality only better”
And again in this middle section:
“What’s real to me, what’s make-believe
I don’t even care any more”
The possibility of addiction to VR is being laid out, but at the moment the singer doesn’t care. The philosophical question here is of course, if the VR was identical to reality, DOES it matter which one you are in? This is the big recurring question in Momus’ work of the time, discussed at length on the previous album.
It is also worth noting that “have virtually anything” could also be interpreted as “have nothing, in reality”, and invites the listener to consider the value, if any, of something “virtually” held. (My pitiful and daily-less-valuable tenth of a Bitcoin comes to mind).
Finally, if you are thinking Momus has lost his bite here with optimistic sloganeering and chirpy dance beats, bear in mind that “In moments when I want you so, All I’ve got to do is dream” is basically referring to masturbation, as did the original Everly Brothers song. I am fairly certain that within about five minutes of creating the first VR systems, teledildonic devices were being designed on a napkin. Or, more likely, a soiled tissue.
Virtual Reality breaks down at the end with sweeping synthesizer chords, and a bird-like fluttering, as well as a metallic rippling sound like the far off train heard from a subway station. These effects continue at the beginning of Vocation with swathes of sci-fi sounding synth: clearly a reference throughout the album to Vangelis’ work for Blade Runner and a touch of Tangerine Dream.
The song kicks in with a pumping bassline and bass/snare combo making this both catchy and quite slight. The verse and chorus repeat four times, additional sounds and instruments joining on each iteration. A funky keyboard sound – clavinette – joins on the third verse, for instance. After four verses the song breaks down for an instrumental break, repeats the chorus and then breaks down again to return to the sweeping chords which opened the song.
A vocation is a calling, an occupation which insists on you taking it. Momus now claims a Vocation to a higher destination, a need to be “in the right place at the right time doing the right thing”. This is an elevation to a higher plane of living, which is to be celebrated by “reeling round in spirit celebration”. The song celebrates the joy of finding one’s place in the spiritual world. He is moving around like a “pern in a gyre”. This is a phrase from Yeat’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium” and “pern” probably means spinning like the spindle holding thread on a sewing machine. There is some argument over this however, as discussed in excellent detail on this page.
A gyre, by the way, definitely means a swirling vortex, as referenced in another poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming“, which includes one of my favourite openings and verses in all poetry, and a verse that is massively appropriate for the current climate in the UK:
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Conquistadores were the knights, soldiers, explorers and conquerors of the Spanish and Portuguese empires, who colonized many regions, including South America, and defeated the Aztecs and Mayans. But beyond their conquest, and subsequent fame, what did they really achieve? You could conquer the world, but without love, without human connection, you have gained nothing. Or alternatively, what if you created a fantastic sonic empire, with many of the most innovative modern artists signed to you, and then sold half of it to an American multinational, and, just to be clear, your name was Alan?
This is a huge pop song, with a very recognisable beat and sound of the time, clearly techno and dance orientated touches in the keyboard riffs and motifs, sampled from Isaac Hayes. The singer has found themselves one of the disappeared, “slipped away” from a relationship, or possibly from the public eye. Ironically, if this album had come out mid to late eighties it could easily have gained airplay and made Momus a bigger chart star, but for most people he had gone, with the reaction of most being “a shrug of the shoulders”.
In the relationship the song is supposedly about, the abandoned lover “buys a coat against the cold”, this being enough to replace him, now that “love has left the arena”. Is this arena a place of display or, with the Conquistador motif, a place of battle? The use of the word is reminiscent of a song by another Scottish act, Altered Images, from their first album and called “Sentimental“: where Clare Grogan sings:
“Enter the vast arena, arena
Where do you, where do you, where do you go from here?
Can’t you see? Don’t you know? Don’t you know the way?
Forget the past and it’ll go away, away, away”.
Which has a similar theme of forgetting the past and moving on. Sadly for Momus in Conquistador he has no one to take up the country park, his erstwhile lover has found compensations, “maybe it’s money, maybe it’s drugs”.
The song has a gorgeous method of adding instruments, and building to a supposedly triumphant climax in the middle eight, where the following lines billow upwards to a peak of achievement, followed by the let down that reaching your dreams can bring:
“This world is spectacular
With many diversions
You can ski down a mountain In a dayglo suit
You can build up an empire
You can be a conquistador
And when you’ve won What’ll you do?”
Which brings us back to the point at the start. And again, love has left the arena. This blunt statement is repeated with samples and keyboard riffs following around it. The song breaks down towards the end with a final sample loop cutting short abruptly. This leads in very appropriately to the following song “Spacewalk”.
A sample from Deee Lite’s single “What is love” introduces a slightly more cynical take on the optimism and positivity of the culture and music of the time.
There’s a great growling bass line that comes in after the opening sample, then Momus tells us that although we may be on a spacewalk, riding the soul train and hearing the bass talk, that it is saying nothing. All the positivity, the summer of love culture, the rave, is meaningless. In an affecting chorus, dryly and almost hopelessly, Momus says:
“I want to see you.
I want to feel you.
I want to touch you
I want to be with you”.
He is begging for human contact again, tired of spiritual enlightenment that now feels hollow. For the second verse a great new riff kicks in to join the growling, and Momus declares “We’re getting out of our heads, were we ever in them at all?”: all the drugs, the LSD, the ecstasy that supposedly bring enlightenment, how can they help us when we had nothing to start with? He goes on to highlight the pointlessness of narcotics in this context:
“We take the smart drug
So we can think straight
We take the empathy drug
And get on great”.
The drugs have the effect intended, but so what? It changes nothing essential within us.
There is a Jonathan Coulton song called “I Feel Fantastic” with a similar theme, of over reliance on pharmaceuticals that change only our superficial affect and not our central nature:
“All I know is the steak tastes better when I take my steak tastes better pill…”
“Spacewalk”, like “Conquistador” is another song that works by building layers of sound, intended for a club or dance song, and to highlight the building and removal of emotions.
The weather themes of the album resurface:
“And in the wintertime
It feels like summer time
And in the summertime
It feels so strange”
and the cynical appropriation of other and older cultures by this new-age and mainly white movement is attacked:
“We ride the soul train
Just like the brothers
We dance to dead men –
Marley, Marvin, Otis and many others”
The narrator has attempted to internalise his search for meaning, but it is inside himself that his problems originated, and now he cannot make the human connection he needs:
“We’re on a spacewalk
We’re walking inside
That’s where the space is
That’s where the love died
I want to see you
I want to feel you
I want to touch you
I want to be with you”.
As the last two lines are repeated it is with increasing passion and desperation.
The accompanying effects now include a portamento swirl upwards and the keyboards accompanying become more emphatic. The song breaks down similarly to Conquistador and ends with a held chord.
This is the song which most excited Alan McGee when he heard Voyager, and accordingly it actually got a release on 12″ in September of 1992. This featured an extended version of Spacewalk and remix credited to Deja Vu. There was also a mix of Conquistador by Lovecut DB (Douglas Benford), and the track Momutation 3, which was an instrumental mix of Conquistador. It did no business commercially, of course, and was the last Momus single on Creation.
Summer Holiday 1999
Summer Holiday 1999 is a 1988 Japanese film directed by Shusuke Kaneko based on a manga. It is about a group of schoolboys who are spending the summer vacation at a remote boarding school. A boy has killed himself, for reasons that are unpicked during the film by detective work including reading his diaries: it transpires he was in love with one of his classmates. Another boy arrives at the school who is the double of the boy who died. The boys investigate what happened and deal with the suspicion that they are being haunted. Being set in the future, the film has science-fictional qualities but is at the same time imbued with a sense of nostalgia. There is nothing in the scenery or set design which was not around then, the computer monitors have no surrounds, but otherwise there are few “futuristic” touches. As in Godard’s Alphaville, the angularity of modern architecture and public transport stands in for a vision of the future. Notably, the film cleverly casts teenage girls as the schoolboys, making the film a transgender text and adding to the necessary androgyny of the main characters.
Momus’ track re-recorded from the compilation album version for Flipper’s Guitar, is probably the strongest composition on this album. Opening with the main theme played as on a glockenspiel, and accompanied by futuristic, animalistic sounding effects, again suggesting movement or travel, in this case upwards, the main beat kicks in with a more forceful riff on keyboard and with a little bass hook between each repeat of that riff.
A Japanese voice speaks during the song, reading words from a love letter from Momus’ first Japanese girlfriend, translated by Chiharu Watabe. The opening verse slows down from the opening salvo but maintains the beat, and Momus’ lyrics deftly outline the narrative of the film.
“Pine trees in the playgrounds
Around the empty school
A diary full of diagrams
A boy, perhaps a girl”
The unrequited love is described, and the reason for suicide: The music rises to a dramatic outpouring of grief:
“Is there any reason not to die,
if this love I feel must always be denied”.
The chorus follows a rush of drums, and emphatically describes the desires the narrator feels.
The chorus describes the wish to live, but rush to die, that teenage love and angst provide:
“This purity, as cold as spring snow
In the wind on the island of Hokkaido”
This is a reference to Mishima’s work in Spring Snow, and a prediction of Momus’ own location some years hence.
There is a further quote from the love letter and a translation into English:
“I long to see your face
From every angle all at once
Just like the faces in a Cubist composition”
The lyrics then directly reference science-fiction: I am not sure which film is referred to here but let’s hope Charlie Brooker doesn’t steal this idea for Black Mirror now he’s milked Karl Pilkington dry:
“I remember in a film I saw
they scanned somebody’s brain
With a machine that let you feel all his emotion
Well I know that that was only science fiction
But I’m dying to make you feel the way I feel”.
That is a beautiful sentiment that we have all felt, particularly when young and wishing the object of our affections would reciprocate our emotions.
The song ends with a repeat of the key line in verse one: purity as cold as spring snow…
This is a very affecting song, with an emotive throughline about “forbidden love” and a subtext about transgenderism, but comprehensible to anyone who loved anyone hopelessly when they were young. It’s clearly the strongest song on the album, having been rewritten and re-recorded with the album’s themes front and centre. It perfectly captures the nostalgic science-fiction, the retro-futurism that was Momus’ concern at the time of recording.
So as some voyage to other worlds – both internal and external – to find “other ways of living”, then there must be others on those worlds who do the same and travel to ours. In addition, you could imagine those dying from this world as travelling to another, and those who are newly born to this world being travellers as well. As our world is relatively old, you may regard those who are newly born and newly arrived to this world as suffering from a disadvantage, arriving here too late to change anything.
Such is the philosophy behind this slow, lazily delivered rap over a PM Dawn influenced beat and effects. An electric piano plays alongside a slow bass line, and synth effects give the impression of muzak played over an aiport lounge’s PA system. Ethereal guitar and synth chords sound in the background, in the style of Eno’s Music for Airports, giving the sensation of flight. The arrivals are so late to the party that they are described as joining the “Afterglow”: what happens after the fire has died.
“We welcome to the world” not only new people but also those who previously left to find other states of mind but have returned, “for they are the returning generation”: the hippies of the sixties, the ravers of the late 80s. The idealism and optimism of the 60s which led
to the technology boom of the 70s, and returned in some spirit in the second summer of love, is linked to the present day by the following:
“Welcome to the world
Where shares can go down as well as up
Where ‘Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup’
Plays on a remastered CD somewhere in Los Angeles
While seagulls wheel and the index drops”
The quotation is from “Across the Universe” by The Beatles, or rather, John Lennon, and a key text of the 60s era. The quotation is sung rather than rapped to emphasise its beauty and contrast with the following lines, where the synths drop out and the beat is accompanied by the the sound of something like a large tap dripping. This is more disturbing and seems to relate to the cynicism which has replaced the hippy dream.
The music resumes in full for the next stanza, which seems to reject materialism;
“Never mind what’s relevant and never mind selling it”: as the narrator comes up with ideas in “research and development”.
“While the power drains from the mainframes
I’m surfing on the brainwaves
Singing free the slaves, Jesus saves
And other bullshit literature
Washed down in the rainstorm”.
How cute and dated to sing about a computer “mainframe” nowadays, at any rate this is another reference to new technology, and we go internet “surfing” listening to the ridiculous ideas that all these arrivals have, until they are washed away by another weather metaphor.
Hey, chicks D.I.G them.
The new arrivals: the children: at Gate 17 are debriefed and given the following User’s Guide to existence:
“We eat, we sleep, we shit and fuck and die
We speak, we hope, we learn, we try”.
The song was originally intended as a “Welcome to the World” for young people, or rather, a young person, or rather, Shazna, the adolescent with whom Momus had developed a relationship. For she was young, and therefore arrived “too late to enjoy it”: “it” being the First or Second summers of love.
The first few stanzas are restated for the benefit of Shazna, and the song then breaks down again with the dripping tap, and as it fades out Momus raps:
“Too late to enjoy it
Too soon to destroy it
Too dumb to invent it
Too smart to end it”
Suggesting those new arrivals are too late to enjoy, but too soon to destroy the world. They are either too dumb to invent anything, or the world is too dumb to be invented were you to start from fresh. Finally they are too smart to end the world, or the world is too smart to be destroyed, it still has value.
You may interpret these lines as you wish: it’s your revolution.
Kraftwerk had their Trans-Europe Express in 1977, but this journey goes much further, and describes in detail the myths and legends of the lands it speeds through, speaking of travel, conflict and death in the wastelands. It feels like a journey through an alien landscape and images from films by Andrei Tarkovsky arise in my head as accompaniment. It could be describing Earth as imagined by an outsider through a filter of tribal tales and aural tradition.
It starts with the sound of a distant train horn and the snare and kick drums come in, programmed to simulate a train on its tracks. There’s a vocal sample from a dance record and metallic keyboard chords accompany the slow rap: similar in feel to the previous track.
Momus raps of a journey to desolation, to death:
“in language looted and compressed
abandon this world for the next”.
We should forget the cities and statues of the world, where life is only short:
“Leave your burden with the rest,
watch the sleepers phosphoresce”.
The “sleepers” being the sleepers of the tracks but also those who died and were abandoned on the way, cast from the train of existence.
To travel on this express means to leave everything precious to you:
“Rich man leave your wealthiness
Wanderer, your solemn dress
Seafarer, the sea’s caress
Beowulf, your angriness”.
Beowulf is the hero of Anglo-Saxon poetry who killed Grendel the monster, the son of Cain and a snake: legendarily angry in his execution of both Grendel and his mother, and no doubt angry for his depiction by Ray Winstone covered in those ping-pong balls special-effects technicians are obsessed by.
A piano comes in on the second stanza with more keyboards, dropping out again for the third. The chorus is sung rather than rapped, with a further keyboard sound mixed in, which remains for some further stanzas.
The chorus returns to a theme of the previous song.
“The world is long, there is no consolation
For those who join at the end of the line”.
The young who join the world at the end, are without consolation for their loss.
Again the song builds slowly adding sounds as it progresses, but dropping sounds out for some stanzas to emphasise their drama. The train journeys through winds such as the sirocco, past Stalag Camps with captives on Death Row – conflating the Russian death camps in Siberia with their German equivalents, and satellites: acknowledging Russia’s place in the Space Race.
The sense of folk horror, of dark stories told under arctic skies, is well illustrated:
“The skulls of reindeer in the snow,
the longboat drifts, the dead float slow.”
There is a reference to Ben Bulben, in County Sligo, Ireland: a rock formation under which a band of warriors is said to sleep.
The snow of Siberia is referenced as
“Drifts are shifted by the plough
like waves that break against the prow”:
the train is like a ship, ploughing through waves of snow.
There is a call back here to “Lucky Like St.Sebastian” as again Momus quotes e e cummings “Buffalo Bill”:
“How do you like your blue-eyed boy now, Mr. Death?”
Momus now talks about times before modern history: before nature as we know it clothed the steppes: we hear that Jack Frost “screamed, his voice so hoarse”: with ferocious weather that blew signalmen from the railway back into history, past Attila, the Visigoths and Norsemen. Perhaps they then witnessed the next stanza: that of even older myths of Ancient Greece, with shaman and priest discussing the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, or even older myths such as those in the Dead Sea Scrolls, or even back to the Epic of Gilgamesh (possibly the oldest significant piece of literature, from Sumeria in maybe 2000 B.C.) Having gone so far back in history the narrator is lost, deliberately. There is also a suggestion that these stories have all inspired each other, that they are part of a chain of creation. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance, is a major source of the legends which were later associated with Jesus Christ.
There is an instrumental break where the click drums come in even more, emphasising the train’s speed and progress.
In the final verse he says that the person he is both leaving and searching for should not miss him:
“Don’t cry for me I never cried for you
Just left without the name
Of the place I’m going to”.
Having betrayed them with absence, returning is a long voyage of itself:
“I’m travelling to forget you
And to find you”
The instruments and drums slowly drop out at the end, leaving Momus singing “end of the line…” repeatedly to fade.
This track is the centrepiece of the album’s theme of travel and desolation, quite dark and cynical in its attitude to life, as we voyage towards death and destruction, and containing dark themes from historical sagas and legends. With each track, this album feels less and less the optimistic and commercial festival it initially seemed to be… In fact, this track literally inspired a murder, committed by Stuart M. Kaminsky in his novel Murder on the Trans-Siberian Express.
What we need now is a big slice of pop to cheer us up, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Unlike the other songs on this album, Voyager was “written”, on guitar, in a more traditional manner, rather than being assembled from samples and atmospherics. In fact a later version was recorded with the guitar part restored in 2006.
The narrator of this song is afraid of love, afraid of commitment, perhaps having abandoned his hedonistic and promiscuous ways, the idea of a committed relationship is frightening for him. So having looked outwards at travel and voyaged in various ways, he is now looking inwards, trapped in his own personality and mind, watching old films on a loop and afraid to move anywhere in case too much changes. God make me pure.. but not yet, essentially. As in the other songs in this set, the indecision is given an excuse based on the weather that is used as a metaphor for his internal landscape: the narrator cannot do anything because “the weather’s wrong”.
This is a huge pop landscape musically. Crisp hi-hat and cymbals open the song which samples the voice and strings from Love Unlimited’s 1972 track “Walking in the Rain with the one I love“.
The song features the choppy piano riffing we associate with dance music of the time, and a cool beat maintained in the bass line to accompany the vocal track.
The lyrics open with Momus in his garden, with the motorway jammed, doing “predictable things”. He watches leaves as they fall, and satellite pictures on his tv.
“The moon is hot, I can’t do anything”, he opines, giving excuse after excuse to do nothing.
He watches Voyager, the space probes (there was a Voyager 1 and a Voyager 2) as they fly. Both had left the solar system by this point, and were indeed flying blind through unimaginable space and time, and still are: certainly doing more than he is.
He watches TV on his Sony Watchman (a small portable TV sold at the time), watching old films and feeling emotional, but he does not know why. He reads a newspaper and is bemused by the news being good (not a line which would work in 2019), looks at his reflection in the pond, but the trees have died so he goes inside again.
The inaction and lack of motivation of the narrator are symptoms of his inner decay, his inability to process or accept love. His state of mind is spelled out in the middle eight:
“Hold me love I cannot catch my breath
This fear of love is choking me to death
I can’t live without you I can’t live with you
I wriggle and I turn
Tell me when will I ever learn?”
The end of this middle eight segues into a dramatic and climactic instrumental break, with a screaming sound effect in the background mimicking the strings as they strain upwards. This fades out and into the final verse: feeling sorry for the flowers, he brings them inside.
“And my love for you is so new”
Is this Momus’ love for Shazna which is being referenced?
“And there’s so much left to do
But there are thunderstorms
And the weather’s wrong”
Again he cannot act, immobilised by his own inability to feel love. Because, at the end of the day, “Everyone’s trying to get in out of the rain”.
The strings repeatedly try to swirl upwards to a climax, but are not allowed. On an earlier Momus album, we would assume this was a guarded reference to orgasm or something equally filthy, but here it is about being unable to reach happiness, to express love, and to “get out of the rain”.
He repeats the middle eight again, saying again that he wriggles and turns, and with the realisation that he will never ever learn, the strings are finally allowed upwards to completion, which, when it comes, sounds sinister and more like a clip from a horror film. What has he let himself in for by allowing love into his heart? The song breaks down and ends with just the hi-hat and cymbals again, which stop abruptly and lead neatly like a match cut into the final track.
This title track is a huge pop song, and Momus seems to prefer the pared down 2006 version. It is highly reminiscent of the more widescreen work of the Pet Shop Boys and the production maybe overbears the message, but take the opportunity to hear a big production from Momus, as it won’t happen very often again after this album.
A remix of elements from the song “Conquistador” by Douglas Benford (Lovecut db)
It is short, dancy and quite fun but adds little to the original song or to the album. It is, however, only the second instrumental track to appear on a Momus album following “Forests” on The Ultraconformist.
Overall, Voyager is hugely entertaining. At the time I was shocked by the change in direction, not appreciating the reasons for it. With hindsight it is clear how things were progressing. Ironically it is at this point, as Momus frees himself from any concern about “being commercial” that he releases what is, on the face of it, a hugely commercial sounding album.
It would be some time before the next album was released in Autumn of 1993, and important events in Momus’ personal life were unfolding. These would also impinge on his relationship with Creation, and alter the direction of Momus’ career and interest in music for some time to come. In particular, Japan was calling. It was hardly surprising that Momus would soon prefer to keep the company of, and work with, a culture that had respect for him, rather than describing him as “a creative leper trying to re-dress his sores with the bandage of technology”, which comes from Barbara Ellen’s Voyager review in the NME.
Becoming global, but with a limited audience, was the route he intended to take. To this end this year saw his first discussion of the internet, and the very earliest texts from his first web-pages date from this period, however he would not launch a website until 1995.
The next entry should cover Timelord – his last album for Creation, and in many ways the most sombre.
* The word “understatement” is often thrown around and used hyperbolically for comic effect. This is not such an occasion.
** A restating of Andy Warhol’s famous slogan: “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”, from a 1968 Stockholm exhibition of his work.