While working with Doug Martin at Spike Studio, Momus found himself producing several different types of songs. As previously outlined in the entry on Hippopotamomus, some of these songs were the sexual nursery rhymes that went on that album, some of the songs were more sci-fi related, or verged on transcendental trip-hop, and those songs would be used on the next Creation album Voyager, and still other songs were more Brechtian, music-hall works reminiscent of the earlier material, and narrative heavy. There were also re-workings of songs from the BBC album project. Those songs required an outlet. Given the commercial reception that Hippopotamomus had received generally, Creation was probably not the ideal option. At this point Creation Records was in financial trouble, approaching insolvency. This was at least partly caused by the rumoured £250,000 which was spent producing the album “Loveless” by My Bloody Valentine, a process which involved 19 different studios and several different producers and engineers. To escape this financial mess Alan McGee sold half of Creation Records to Sony, and of course, very shortly afterwards discovered Oasis. Given both these issues, Creation were less and less concerned with Momus.
Mike Alway, of Cherry Red, had recently established a label called Richmond Records, which released old él Records material and other curios. Knowing that Creation’s interest in Momus would only wane as the Sony situation kicked in, he offered to release any archive material Momus had. This was because Momus had an exclusive deal with Creation for any new material. The solution they arrived at was to release a fake “old” live album which actually held new material. Alan McGee got on with Mike Alway enough to allow this, so a new album was subsequently released as The Ultraconformist on Richmond Records Monde imprint.
The subtitle “live whilst out of fashion” can be seen as a clear dig at the critics of his last album, and the Creation situation. The image of Nick on the front and back cover is a still from the documentary film (rather ambitiously described as a “feature” film on the sleeve) “Amongst Women Only” directed by Nicholas Tri-Dis (Triandafyllidis), in which the ins and outs of Hippopotamomus are debated, including contributions from Betty Page, and from flatmates and friends of Momus. We learn from this that Momus is indeed a male chauvinist pig who never does the washing up.
The back cover describes the record as being found in the archives of Richmond Records, and containing a live recording of Momus from 1910 at the Cave of the Golden Calf on Heddon Street. The record’s release was delayed owing to the “vagaries of fashion and taste” and is dedicated to those who follow “other norms”.
The “Cave of the Golden Calf” was a real cabaret set up by Frida Strindberg (wife of August Strindberg) in 1912. It was short lived, and famed for its decadence and iconoclasm. The club was influenced by modernists and the Vorticist movement, who aimed to express the dynamism of the modern world in art and music. The inner CD cover contains quotations from Wyndham Lewis, Osbert Sitwell and Harold B.Segel regarding the club and Frida Strindberg, and a quotation from Witold Gombrowicz (Polish Poet and Playwright), “… the intelligent man depends entirely on his reflection in the soul of whomsoever, even if that soul belongs to a cretin”. Perhaps Momus saw in this quote himself as the intelligent man, and certain critics as the cretins.
The ten pieces of music here are strictly in a Brechtian/Strindbergian mode, ironic, narrative and satirical, and conveyed with all the tropes of music hall of the period. There is crowd noise, clapping and cheering, and laughter, sampled from a Polish cabaret record. It is fair to say that Alan McGee would not have gladly released this material.
Julie Andrews! Dressed as a nun tripping through the Edelweiss on some blasted Austrian mountain!* The 1965 Christmas afternoon snoozefest “The Sound of Music”, based on the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, was a ridiculously big selling soundtrack as well, shifting over 20 million copies and taking the number 1 album spot in the UK various times over the mid sixties. The soundtrack contains any number of famous songs, some of which have been covered by unlikely artists, my favourite being Do-Re-Mi by Sparks, I think. Sparks are another act I have heard every album by, and I admire them: not least for having an album called Hippopotamus with a blue cover…
This opening song features sampled crowd applause and a simple arrangement with synthesized brass and what I am guessing is a xylophone sound. The tune is borrowed from “Favourite Things” which is from the Sound of Music soundtrack, but the lyrics twist the original concept to instead list and define those things which could be said to make up a “classic” Momus song. The lyrics cleverly mirror the original words both thematically and phonetically, although not necessarily in the same order. So “Brown paper packages tied up with string” becomes “Angels caught up in their own puppet strings”. This line also references the themes of Tender Pervert and, by extension, all the influences which led to “The Angels are Voyeurs“. The comparison also draws out the sinister nature of some of the original lyrics, of course: “Brown paper packages tied up with string” could easily be something sinister in a Momus lyric.
The lyrics list some obvious themes of Momus and this album in particular:
“The villains of vaudeville, Young lovers’ quarrels
Pearls before Parliament, Lepers in Laurels”.
“Little red riding hood living in sin”:
These are images which attack authority and mock what is usually revered.
Some references seem to hint at poetic themes:
“The laughter of dockworkers,
Poets who flock through the cities like stockbrokers”
Which could be a reference to T.S Eliot or to Attila the Stockbroker.
Some are references which could be interpreted as you wish:
“The orchid of meat in the cuckoo’s nest growing” could relate to the Carrion Flower or could relate to “Cuckoo’s Meat” which is a form of sorrel, or it could be meaningless.
…”Strumpets and kettledrums, musty old cellars Coffee and stallions, cream and umbrellas” …which may just be a typical Diary entry for Momus at the time.
Ultimately, each stanza ends with the repetition of intent:
“sinister themes in the songs that I sing”. The whole song ends with a simple riddle:
“My first is in eMbers, my second in wOman My third in eMotion, my fourth is in hUman My fifth is in sufferS and also in longS My whole is in Momus and these are my songs”
The song acts as a manifesto for the album, a banner for the Vorticist movement it would have been part of, and is a restatement of Momus’ intent in general. One line references a “Forest where nightmares and nightingales sing”, which I interpret as referring to the duality of Momus’ music: it is a forest where nightmares are sung about and discussed, but often with beautiful lyrics and music: it could also be a philosophical reference to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, and his discussion of the forest and the clearing: the place in the forest of human experience where all is unconcealed and laid bare.
Last of the Window Cleaners
A strident beat with acoustic guitar played as percussion, woodblocks and electric piano accompanies the tale of class war between Window Cleaners and the upper classes, anachronistically set in the “late 20th century”, but using language and tropes from earlier decades. Most UK listeners would be familiar with the singer George Formby and his novelty ukelele hit of 1936: “The Window Cleaner (When I’m Cleaning Windows)“, an innuendo laden ditty about the misadventures of a Window Cleaner, including sexual assault by an old age pensioner:
“An old maid walks around the floor
She’s so fed up, one day I’m sure
She’ll drag me in and lock the door
When I’m cleaning windows”
…and Momus-esque voyeurism:
“The blushing bride, she looks divine
The bridegroom he is doing fine
I’d rather have his job than mine
When I’m cleaning windows”
It is for exactly this sort of peep show that the Window Cleaners in Momus’ song are in trouble. The Upper Classes in Momus’ song no longer appreciate their lack of privacy:
“When windows attain transparency
working class men get a good look in”.
The song uses this as a metaphor for social mobility, breaking the glass ceiling, or in this case, wall. Which, as we have all found out, the upper classes detest.
The situation becomes “worse than the 1930s” – the Great Depression – as the Window Cleaners’ most powerful customers become determined to wipe them out and restore the status quo. In order to do this, a new Window Tax is imposed. Just as in the 1700s, the window tax results in landlords bricking up windows and the poorest in society living in blackness with poor ventilation and typhus. The Window Cleaners persist however and are killed off one by one, their Window Cleaning fingers crushed, until only the narrator remains.
Finally, despite it being the late 20th Century, a horse-drawn hackney cab arrives to take the final Window Cleaner to Limehouse Docks to die. The executioner quotes a traditional English nursery rhyme – Oranges and Lemons – a song which concerns the Church Bells of London, and ends with the threat of removing your head.
The killer spreads his “frock coat” on the ground, reminding us of Jack the Ripper, who famously wore a frock coat, and “tenderly” positions the last Window Cleaner on the floor to kill him, even as the narrator begs for his life and promises to “make concessions”. The final execution is reminiscent of the death of K in Kafka’s “The Trial”, including death by Butcher’s knife, a needless tragedy ending with a useless shout into the dark.
It’s a dark, satiric tale which attacks the insularity of the upper classes and their determination to keep out the masses. The music which accompanies this is simple, insistent in its beat and melody and captures the required music hall atmosphere.
The Ladies Understand
At the time this album was released the UK was just coming out of a craze for Gangster nostalgia. The Krays – starring the Kemp brothers from Spandau Ballet – was released in 1990 and heralded a blaze of interest in the old East End gangs. In addition, Morrissey had a major hit in 1989 with “Last of the Famous International Playboys“, which seemed to idolise the Krays and in 1991 appeared on the Bona Drag compilation, which went top ten in the UK and helped launch his career in America. The English seem to have a fascination – in some cases bordering on worship – of the organised criminal classes – whilst being simultaneously disgusted by the actual things they do. The gangs themselves in this fantasy world seem to have a marvelously perverse sense of morality – murder is fine, rape is fine, domestic abuse is fine as long as you do right by your Mum and your family, and treat your women well when you aren’t slashing them for talking back to you. This is the world our next character belongs to.
Momus sings in a gruff mockney voice attempting to channel a violent pimp and gangster of early 20th Century London, but it’s less a case of “he do the police in different voices” and more “is that the evil Cockney from the Mighty Boosh?”: it must be said that a lot of Momus’ vocal impressions tend to blur into one after a while.
The backing is very similar to the previous track, with an East End pub flovour. The tale begins with a description of his youth, in an institution or boarding house of some kind where his nightly emissions are “lovingly washed away” by ladies he “protected from a world of horrible slaughter”. When a little older he becomes a pimp, declaring “there are worse ways to earn your pay”. The Cockney has been watching Kubrick as he describes “ultraviolent thuggery” as a natural part of the fun to be had in the world. “Give me mass in the morning, the booky’s at noon, the brothel all night long”. The mass in the morning is a reminder of how such people often consider themselves to be deeply religious and moral, burdened by innocence despite their actual behaviour. Which should remind us of a song…
Regardless of any other activities, he will “always be true to the ladies”, because “the ladies understand”: in truth they fear this wretched man whilst in many ways enabling his behaviours. He admits himself that he “treats them like shit”, and describes how he punished one of his girls for running away with a boy.
The Cockney now has a son of his own, who has similarly psychopathic tendencies which his father adores him for. When he slashes a girl to “test his army penknife blade” the brothel girls wash away the blood, for after all he will one day “protect them” just like his father did.
The song nicely conjures the hypocritical, vile world of such gangs and their ridiculous attitudes to women and religion. There is also a tinge of nostalgia for a world of East End thuggery that has faded now, a nostalgia that festered in England at the time of the album.
The next song takes us into the world of a somewhat more colourful gang…
Cape and Stick Gang
Bona Drag also featured a Morrissey single called “Piccadilly Palare”. “Palare” or “Polari” was a slang language used within various subcultures in London, but particularly by gay men in London during the early to mid 20th Century when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, as a secret way of conversing. The Cape and Stick gang described here are gay, and use similar illicit language.
The music is quite electro here, what you might imagine early 80s music to sound like in the early 20th Century, with a growling synthesizer noise backing quite funky bass lines. The chorus is cheerful sounding, at odds with the real menace delivered by the Cape and Stick gang themselves in the lyrics. They are likeable thugs, but still mean business.
There is anachronism again, with the Cape and Sticks communicating via a party line and ringing up phone boxes to leave messages, mixing musical eras as well as they “jitter with the funk” down the evocatively named Bulblight Lane. The phone messages they leave promise that they will “stick it to you” sexually if you hang around.
The chorus has the gang “whistling Lillie Langtry”: She was a British-American actress and socialite of the early 20th Century, famous as a singer and stage actor as well as for her relationships with prominent businessmen and royalty. Today she would be a gay icon and diva, on a par with Kylie or Beyoncé. The Cape and Sticks whistle her tunes and laugh at the girls who “never catch our eye”, because the Capes and Sticks are gay.
We meet a rookie, a potential Cape and Stick, who has “home-made drag” in a polythene bag. This presumably refers to inhaled drugs or solvents if it doesn’t refer to a costume of some kind. The Capes and Sticks pierce his ears forcibly, which he has to laugh off.
The gang then go on a double-decker bus with Lyons Maid ice-creams (another anachronism as this brand was launched in 1925) and seduce a girl, who is described in unflattering terms, to then cut off her braids: suggesting the gang are somewhat misogynistic.
The second chorus takes us to the Second World War, with the gang playing pool during air raids, and there is what must be a reference to Gary Numan’s song Down in the Park as they “Rape Machines in the game arcade”: I am not sure whether in this song there are actually things called “rape machines” or if the gang are “raping” the machines by removing their money: I prefer the first interpretation as it adds a SteamPunk feel to the imagery of the song, and a more menacing aspect to the society depicted in the background of the gang members’ lives.
However it’s also fascinating to imagine what a “rape machine” would actually be like: I am imagining something like the Suicide Booths in Futurama but with less cutting and less eye gouging involved (unless you pay extra).
Everywhere would be spiked mechanical phalluses jutting out of the walls and lubricant spraying down from the ceiling and up from most of the floor, the whole booth vibrating frenetically the whole time and heavy breathing excerpts sampled from Donald Trump’s speeches echoing through the speakers.*
Lovely Prince Andrew would appear in holographic form, not sweating but mysteriously only secreting spermatic fluids from his armpits when confronted with footage archived from the Falklands War, even as the rest of his body symbolically forces itself within you in the form of sentient triangular pizza segments covered in jism, and, worse, pineapple.
Paragons of perversion Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris would be recreated in the booth as lively little sex-worms, wriggling deep into your most sensitive orifices. Malicious in their fury because luckily they weren’t successful enough at paedophilia to get a knighthood, unlike the licentious majority of the royal family. Especially the ones who are not only pederasts, but also kill children (!) on a daily basis to bathe in their fluids and remain young.
I may just be making this up.
Anyway, the next verse reiterates that the gang don’t use knives, they just use the “sticks they keep down the front of their slacks”: the gang are clearly well-endowed and threatening in this area. For a “couple of crowns” (a Crown was five shillings or 60p in pre-decimal UK money) they will dangle you off the top of a gantry and presumably rape you, while whistling. The song is again ambiguous about whether in this scenario it is you who are paying the money for this treatment, or if someone else has paid to have it done to you. It’s punishment or paradise depending entirely on your orientation, which in this case is upside down fifty feet in the air.
The last verse tells us that every man in the gang carries a thermos flask (first sold 1904) containing some unknown substance: “bromide tea”is an anaphrodisiac which urban myth tells us was given to soldiers in WW1 to remove their lust. On the other hand, the flask could contain Ecstasy – which sounds somewhat more likely. Ecstasy was very much in the public eye in 1992 when this album was released and had a strong reputation as both a rave and gay scene drug. It’s not entirely anachronistic either as MDMA was first synthesized in 1912.
The last verse also says “they kiss the girls and make them cry, then they kiss the boys, they’re real bi-guys”, a line I find deeply irritating as we have been told clearly that they are gay several times, and bi-sexuality is not the same thing. While on the subject of irritation, the drum machine cymbal crashes on this song are also incredibly irritating: I hadn’t noticed them too much before, but now I have had to listen to this song several times they are really grating.
The very last line of the last verse is “You follow me?” which I am guessing is a palare line meaning something like, “Are you gay?”. The line appears as an innuendo in Monty Python’s Nudge Nudge Wink Wink sketch. It’s also more or less the first line we hear (from Suggs) on the song “Piccadilly Palare”.
The chorus is sung a couple of times, then the song ends on a repetition of the last line, with instruments dropping out until it ends on, naturally, bloody cymbal crashes. Despite those slight annoyances, this is a funny and catchy song which fully achieves the intent of the album: anachronistic, early 20th Century modern music hall with cynical lyrics.
A statement song for Momus and for the album. By now, Momus has been accused of perversion, of writing vicious and unfriendly songs, of writing songs inciting criminality such as paedophilia and cannibalism, and of not doing the washing up. He is aware of his own nature and also aware of how far from the societal “norm” of a pop singer he is. This song is about that gap, and his simultaneous frustration with the situation and his acceptance of it.
Momus knows and conforms to his own nature, but wishes he could do so while being a “normal guy”: he wishes that society was in time with his own dance steps.
He also has a cynical and warped view of what is considered “normal” and states those criticisms clearly, but ultimately, if he could be himself and be considered “Normal”: if society was more “Momus”: then he would be an “Ultraconformist”: he would absolutely be the Platonic ideal of a normal person.
The gap between what you are and what is considered “normal” is a challenge for many of us: mainly because “normal” is an absolutely meaningless word. I absolutely sympathise and empathise with the lyrics here: like Momus, I also wish it “paid to be straight”. Because it clearly fucking doesn’t.
This song has a flurry of strings to introduce a waltz time structure, with lyrics outlining the perversions the singer enjoys. “I try to be normal, really I do”: seems to be a heartfelt plea from the singer directly, but “I try not to chew on my hat” suggests he isn’t doing very well at it. (c.f “We didn’t BURN him!” from the League of Gentlemen.) Here is the line about being straight if it paid to be straight: he would get it on with a sweet little blonde if he could, but it just isn’t his nature.
The Ultraconformist in the chorus walks through the week in perverse fashion, tongue in pocket, hand in cheek, and desperately wishes he could do all this and be considered an “ordinary guy”, just as we all wish our idiosyncrasies could be considered normal. The cry “loud as the sky” sounds quite sincere and desperate and the singer is reduced to nonsense words to convey their desperate normality. Filla Gorilla today…
The singer attacks the chemically induced sanity of the modern world, deriding the “little blue pills” a psychiatrist would no doubt prescribe. Being an Ultraconformist he sits at his desk, with a gun ready for suicide and on the verge of a heart attack. He would be orderly and calm were it not that the dustbin lids “beg to be banged”. After repetition of the chorus and nonsense verse the song slowly breaks down and ends with fake applause and a pause for side 2.
Yet another song originally intended for the BBC project and re-purposed as a entirely believable music hall ditty. A sinister, spooky keyboard sound with tremolo almost reminiscent of a theremin plays over a straight bass beat. An organ sound brings in chords to back the tale. A plucked acoustic guitar gently plays over the story and emphasises the emotive moments of the song.
The lyrics are delivered by another Momus cockney: this one is a composite character of Billy Cotton, “The Entertainment King” and his son, Bill Cotton.
Billy Cotton was a Dance band leader whose show ran from 1949 – 1968 on BBC radio and later TV. His distinctive opening shout of “Wakey Wakey!” would open each show. This song also opens with a sinister, almost threatening rendition of this catchphrase. The early life of Billy Cotton is retold (although not very accurately, since he did not work for the BBC as an acne scarred teenager as the song states). Alexandra Palace was from 1935 the centre of BBC TV Broadcasting and was still used in some capacity by the BBC until long after WWII. As the song states, a doodlebug did damage the Palace during the war, but did not in fact bring the whole place down. Cotton describes himself as “everyone’s favourite drunken brother-in-law”, using a popular demotic or mode of speaking to entertain the masses. As the public gathered around their radio sets to listen to “their master’s voice” (the motto of HMV – His Master’s Voice – a company which produced gramophones and radio sets) they tuned out of European stations at Rome, Hilversum (Netherlands) and Berlin to listen to Cotton instead. Given later verses, “His Master’s Voice” could also be a way of referring to Satan, and describing broadcast media as Satanic. A conflict with religion is raised and quoted:
“I remember those religious broadcasting blokes
Used to stop me right on Portland Place
And quote me right to my face
‘In the land of the blind the winking man is king’ “
Portland Place is the Headquarters of the BBC since the 1930s. The line Cotton is quoted as saying here is an altered Biblical quotation, and could have been from his shows.
Both verses end by telling us that Billy’s aim is now to entertain “The Mother-in-Law”. Or rather, his “H-aim has been to H-entertain” with the thick accent now presented. In British Humour, the mother of one’s wife – the Mother-In-Law – has long been the subject of humour and derision. They are generally portrayed as bullying, critical and humourless and fit targets for ageist and sexist humour. In this case however, we slowly get the impression that there is something genuinely “wrong” with Billy’s mother-in-law. But he never mentions his wife!
The next two verses move on to be about Billy Cotton’s son in real life – Bill Cotton.
The change in person is explained by the song lyrics as if it is the same person grown older: “Then in the years that followed the war, I was moved from razzmatazz to administration”. Bill Cotton was the Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC from 1970 – 1981, then Head of Television until 1988. He describes his mission as providing entertainment to a “voyeuristic nation”. He also talks about John Logie Baird – the Scottish inventor of Television – whose TV system with 240 lines (per image) was used by the BBC until 1937 when they switched to EMI’s 405 line system. Bill Cotton describes Baird as dropping to his knees and scanning the carpet when asked to describe Television.
The last verse describes where Bill finds himself after he dies: in court with “the entire cast of the Black and White Minstrel Show“. This was a variety show where blacked-up white singers and dancers performed standard show-tunes. By its end in 1978, the racism of this was being severely questioned and by 1992 the show was a dirty stain on the BBC’s history.
Momus allows Bill to get in a sly dig at “new media”:
“Where have I heard that title before?
‘The Day of Judgement’ – must be cable or Channel Four”
Accused of blasphemy and making graven idols, Bill is damned, and “laughs his head off” when fed his final punchline: “The Devil is the Mother of my wife”.
It seems that his personal hell is to spend eternity entertaining his Mother-in-Law, an ironic fate for this lowbrow entertainer, responsible as he is for the fake news, manipulation and elitism the BBC has always been guilty of. (My opinion). The song understandably ends flatly on a minor chord and muted applause. Still, the next track is more cheerful, I suppose…
The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday and festival, usually taking place at the beginning of November, when people remember their departed loved ones and celebrate their families. It is not related to Halloween, although some elements are very similar, including children going from house to house to ask for treats.
La Catrina is a tall female skeleton who wears a feathered hat and rags of once affluent clothing. She has descended from an Aztec Goddess of Death who protected the passage of loved ones into the next world. The Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada is credited with creating the first image of La Calaca Garbancera: a female skeleton who featured in “calaveras”, satirical images and rhymes published by Antonio Arroyo. La Calaca Garbancera became La Catrina, a figure who reminds us that death comes to everyone, no matter how privileged you are or what race you are: Posada used the phrase “Death is Democratic” to describe this. Frida Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera, depicted La Catrina in his mural “Dreams of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”, in which she has the appearance she has today.
This song, slow paced, pretty, based around synthesised bass and piano with a rousing chorus, describes La Catrina as a lady from before the revolution, returned from the dead for a last party. Being a skeleton, she still manages to portray a range of emotions:
“Sometimes she cries
And sometimes she laughs
On her face she wears impossible expressions”
The chorus is La Catrina, commanding us to dance while we still can, while we are alive:
“Dance in the sun, young girl
Dance naked for a man
While you still can
It’s too late when you’re as dead as I am”.
In the second verse Momus is dancing with La Catrina. He is very clear about her status:
“She’s so elegant, so handsome and so dead”.
The middle eight is beautifully delivered, poignant and blessed with dissonance between
the elegance of his melodies and the grotesquery of his lyrics:
“La Catrina is dancing in her skeleton
La Catrina with her mouldy dress and boots still on
On her skull a single strand of hair
Between the pelvic bones thin air
And then she opens up her thighs
And tells me what it’s like to die*
And sings her love song”.
Despite this activity beyond necrophilia, the song is still a celebration of life, as the chorus is repeated and the song ends with an almost questioning repeat of
“Dance your life away…”
The overall message of the song is of hope through adversity, and to celebrate life and loved ones now, because it’s later than you think, essentially.
The Cheque’s in the Post
It’s always a little disarming when a Momus song arrives with virtually no references external to the song, no philosophers quoted at length, or obscure European pop artists name-dropped. I always have a suspicion that I have missed something, which of course I probably have. This is one such example, in that it seems to be a straightforward narrative, an apologia to a girlfriend who has been mistreated.The suspicion I have is that this relates to a real life relationship, in which case it is hardly surprising that Momus lived a somewhat marginal lifestyle, those cheques must have been flying out the door.
Talking of cheques dates the song of course, direct debits and debit cards did exist then but chip and pin was still a decade away.
The music here is a syncopated beat behind a piano note which follows a simple pattern up and down a scale. Electric guitar chord effects punctuate the lyrics, and an accordion sound sweeps behind it all. Momus did not, at this point, own an actual accordion, a fact which you should bear in mind. The song is repetitive and changes very little during its six minutes, devoting all interest to the lyrical content.
The song begins with Momus and his lawyer sitting down to consider the case. I wonder who Momus’ lawyer was at this point: I guess he used Creation’s counsel: they must have dreaded his calls by this point. They consider the wrongs Momus has done to the unknown girl and settle on a figure for reparation.
For general mistreatment, for example, “500 £5 notes in a roll” (£2500). Complaints about weight and punctuality: £2000, For looking at other “younger” women, £1500. We get a running total here of £6350, which includes tax of 5.8% (no idea where he got that figure from). And that is just verse one!
He awards £1797 for attacking her “pantheistic new age religion”, which is rich given his subsequent conversion to Islam. We add £7000 (should be more) for spoiling the ending of a film and bitching about a dress.
The worst actual crime is next, especially if it’s a real story:
“And for passing the pictures I’d taken
Of your body totally naked
Around our friends
Let’s call it a round £9 000″
Naughty boy. That’s body shaming, slut shaming and lord knows what other modern crimes.
The total is now £24 063, which is completely off no matter what EU tax scheme he is on.
The third verse begins with a meta-joke I really like:
“And for my next indiscretion
When we had sex on the floor of the kitchen
I sang it in a song — accept 10 000 — make that 11 000 pounds”
He starts the line by explaining that his next crime is singing the line he is currently singing, and pauses mid-line to acknowledge that fact by increasing the penalty. Lovely!
The next stanza shows his most negative characteristic:
“And for failing to give enough time
To the baby that could have been mine
It’s not that I don’t care
My love it’s just so hard to find a figure”
That he isn’t sure it is even his child says something about his attitude to the girl, and a lack of connection and trust. Another interpretation of the line could be that there was no baby, but if he had spent time on the relationship they could have had one.
His next confession would cause an army of feminists to rage at his door:
“Worst of all I stopped loving your body
Making you feel so low
Though my lawyer says no blame can be apportioned
For circumstances beyond my control”
He finally admits he is going to start the cycle of abusive relationships again:
“I’m going to get another girl in
Under my quilt
And run up
Another massive debt”.
Fully aware of his own character, and unable to change his conditioned behaviour, he still asks for forgiveness, in half remembered prayer.
“Hail Mary, pray for me now
Now and at the hour of my death”.
There’s a long ending to this song, nearly two minutes of Hail Marying and ba-ba-ing. The lack of genuine contrition and the idea that all sins can be paid off is very Catholic, making the prayer used very appropriate. Sinners used to pay “indulgences” to the Catholic Bank, sorry, Church, to have their crimes forgiven in medieval times. The modern equivalent seems to be the super-injunction and out-of-court settlement: vital tools for the loose-lipped satirist.
Spy on the Moon
Caberet performances have a tradition of a final “thank you and goodnight” type song which sends you on your way with a more cheerful outlook: like news of a rabid dog being set loose at a Conservative Party Conference.
This being a Momus album, the cheerful sounding song here masks quite dark and perverse thoughts, lyrics and events: like a normal Conservative Party Conference.
It begins with a fast tom-tom beat from the drum machine, and acoustic guitar chords used percussively to accompany. A swirling sci-fi effect from the synthesizer plays in the background.
After the first chorus (which begins the song) an electric piano and snare kick in and accompany the repetitive but catchy chord sequence that runs through the track.
The opening chorus introduces the “spy on the moon” – a very REM concept! – who is watching us, and glad that he is far away from us.
The spy sees “circles in circles and spirals spinning round”, a reference to the philosophical concept of the “musica universalis”, a reference also to the golden ratio which Da Vinci in particular drew our attention to, and the spiralling movement of celestial bodies. As there is no direction in space the Earth is “flying up or falling down” depending on your viewpoint.
Among this beauty lovers walk on the beach, and their eyes are green or blue or brown – this may be a reference to the New Order song “Temptation”: “Oh, you’ve got green eyes, Oh, You’ve Got blue eyes, Oh, You’ve got grey eyes”.
The next stanza speaks of a “hole in the sky” – perhaps the hole in the ozone layer – “where the love is gone away”.
Momus uses prosaic but oddly sinister imagery to convey the idea of an unknowable threat:
“There is a bump in the road and a creeper on the stair
And somebody is knocking at the door”
The words describe a world which is recognisable but slightly out of kilter:
“There is a queue on the street and an office full of chairs
And people having fantasies in cars
There is a bed in the garden, the moon is shining down
On drunkards drinking Guinesses in bars”.
The impression given is of a world that celebrates even as it hurtles towards an unknown disaster, possibly environmental catastrophe.
“Twenty filter tips at the motorway garage
The sky behind the petrol pumps is green”
Momus must have travelled and toured a great deal at this point: the service station and motorway garage would be a second home to him.
The final couplet zeroes in on the worst event of all, death, possibly by suicide:
“There is a bunk in the shed where a man is lying dead
Murdered by the things he’ll never be”.
A theme which runs through Momus work is that of regret, never for something you have done, but for things that you haven’t done.
The man in the shed was murdered by what he did not achieve or try to achieve, the things that he cannot become. It is possible that on some level that man is Momus himself, following the Hippopotamomus episode commercial success and household fame seemed to slip away into impossibility, and the whole album is a comment on that situation to some extent.
There is an instrumental break, following the same sequence, and a repetition of some stanzas. Some shouting/screaming effects are mixed into the background enhancing the feeling that this is an apocalyptic scenario. The song breaks down for the sampled Polish audience to clap along and Momus says Good Night to them, of course, they clap and cheer for him to come back.
The forest introduced in the first song and discussed above is the theme of this instrumental track – a rarity, in fact the first instrumental track on a Momus album.
A drum roll plays throughout the piece to heighten the tension as we walk into the gloom.
The piano plays a slowly descending sequence of notes, flying back up again in a pattern which is very traditional for the cabaret genre.
Sounds of shrieking/shouting are mixed in to create a sinister atmosphere, reminiscent of a Victorian Freak Show. Peculiar sound effects are mixed in as well, along with bird noise towards the end.The whole track is evocative of the score from the film “The Elephant Man”, in fact, directed by David Lynch. It also reminds me of Withnail’s Theme by David Dundas/Rick Wentworth, from “Withnail and I”, which has its own grotesque characters and descent into madness.
So “The Ultraconformist” ends. It is an excellent album both in terms of the musicality displayed and as a creative exercise. The actual songs are very good as well, pursuing a variety of unusual topics and still being accessible.
Listening to the album you feel that Momus is exorcising some demons and scratching a particular set of itches. It is a direct response to the furore around his last album and also allows the expression of Brechtian cabaret sounds that was not otherwise going to be allowed at Creation.
But as previously outlined, Momus had other interests at the time, including trip-hop, spirituality and what might be termed “sci-fi” romanticism.
Those songs would, ironically enough, include some of his most commercial material of all, and inhabit his next Creation album, Voyager, which was released shortly after The Ultraconformist, later in 1992.
I shall give a mention here to https://ultraconformist.bandcamp.com/album/roses, an electronica musician from Pittsburgh who is named after this album. Mention!
*It’s a challenging wank but quite achievable with perseverance.