Whether via the address kindly given in the CD insert for Hippopotamomus, or via Creation Records, Momus received and devoured fan mail. In a diary entry from the early 90s he reported: “A couple of girlish peans give me a stiffy as I sit on the loo reading it”. A Select magazine interview with Miranda Sawyer revealed that one of these very poems was his first contact with Shazna Nessa, who would eventually become his wife.
The barriers to this union were numerous. The first elephant (or hippo) in the room was her age: Shazna was 14 when she first wrote to Momus. It is hardly surprising therefore that her parents were extremely set against her relationship with him: it is perfectly reasonable to object to finding your 14 year old daughter is in intimate correspondence with a) a stranger who is b) 31 years old and c) a “pop” star who d) has written songs such as “The Homosexual” and e)”The Guitar Lesson” and f) albums called “The Poison Boyfriend” and “Tender Pervert”.
Earlier in his career, Nick was accused of wanting to copy Serge Gainsbourg in having young lovers, and the defense for this and any other accusations related to “Guitar Lesson” style-content was that it was all fantasy, that the images thus presented were not real. This defence is somewhat blown out of the water by the fact that he then started to engage in intimate correspondence with a child. However, in an interview with the Daily Record, after the fact, in 1994, Nick did say: “It was just an innocent friendship. We both liked the same books and could really talk and make each other laugh. For a long time we were only friends.” At any rate, Nick’s love for a physically and emotionally mature girl such as Shazna at 16 makes him an Ephebophile, and not the other thing.
Their relationship became serious when Shazna turned 16 in 1993 and she was forced to meet Nick in secret while at a private school. Her parents wanted her to marry a 21 year old boy from a wealthy Bangladeshi family, and this fiancé became violent when he found out about Nick. For a while they ran away to Nick’s family in Scotland. While there, on the telephone her father seemed finally to give permission for her and Nick to marry, but when she returned to London she was effectively imprisoned, then tricked into returning home to Bangladesh to see her Grandfather, where she was confined to the family home and displayed to a string of suitors.
Nick, having converted to Islam, had changed his life and outlook for Shazna, and he continued to fight for her freedom. This included complaints to social services and to the British High Commission in Bangladesh. Human rights campaigners in the country effectively spied on Shazna’s house and reported on her situation. When Shazna went to Dhaka to renew her passport, an envelope from Nick was passed to her which contained valid open tickets home and a letter explaining that relevant travel documentation could be issued by the British High Commission as long as she could reach the building. But for a long time it seemed as if this would not happen, and the couple remained separated.
Momus remained alone in Cleveland Street and was working on material for a new album. Technology had marched on and he now had an Apple DuoDock 230 and an internet connection with CompuServe, invaluable for email communications with his lawyer in Bangladesh. Songs written in his home studio around this time included “The End of History” and “London 1888″ and perhaps not surprisingly represented a more romantic sound. However he was commissioned to co-write and produce an album for the Japanese artist The Poison Girlfriend, which was released that year as Shyness. Several of the songs he was writing were moved to this project, including “The End of History”, “Nobody” and “Pure Selfishness“(my favourite on that album).
The new Momus album became leaner and more focused as a result, it became a hymn to Shazna and their “forbidden” love, and was intended as a love letter to her, a beacon of hope which she could hear and take solace in, and on which he could project his own torments. This made Timelord extremely dark, melancholy, and in his own words an album which “shot itself in the foot” in terms of actual commercial or critical impact. On the other hand, for once there was a minimal sense of irony or caricature, narrative or pastiche, this was an honest and sincere album from an artist hardly known for being straightforward. This risked alienating literally everyone, fans of “classic” Momus, fans of the more commercial Momus of Voyager, and the label bosses. In addition it gave critics ammunition they hardly needed. The completed album came out late in 1993 and Creation seemed to give no effort whatsoever to promotion. The first notice I had that there was a new album was seeing it in the Canterbury music shop where I had purchased Monsters of Love. There were reviews, of course, which were muted, and fairly disinterested for the most part, and can be sampled here. By the way, one of those reviews mentions his contribution to Derek Jarman’s film Blue – composing music for the song “Cocksucking Lesbian Man” with lyrics by Jarman and co-performed and produced by Simon Fisher-Turner. Blue is a film consisting of a single frame of blue colour for 90 minutes or so, with words and music overlaid telling Derek Jarman’s story in the context of his battle with AIDS, and his encroaching blindness.*
One advantage of Momus recording at home and engineering and producing everything himself was that money was saved in recording expenses. For Timelord this enabled him to budget £3000 to procure the services of Pierre et Gilles – iconic French artists and photographers – to take the cover photograph for the album. They had previously photographed Marc Almond, among many others. In the end Creation refused to pay for the shoot, claiming not to have authorised it. Momus advised Pierre et Gilles to sue, but they never did.
Here, Momus is shown as if in a Renaissance painting, as a knight perhaps, a conquistador, certainly a romantic figure, peeling fruit with his outsized blade, in armour and with fruit bowls to either side, the image itself framed by metal plate and discs with heart and star shapes. The backdrop is light and airy reminiscent of a blue sky, with some white clouds, and red drapes frame the image. Momus seems a tiny figure to be inhabiting that armour. He is very serious, alone and forlorn with his fruit. His hair is shorn, which at once indicates some kind of religious fervour or intent, but is perhaps at odds with the conversion to Islam we were told about, he is clean shaven. It is a beautifully composed and framed shot, whatever the implied message, here we have an interesting take on the title “Timelord”, given the out of time nature of the image.
The back cover of the CD lists the tracks in an italic serif font, gives the artist and title in the same calligraphic font, and also has a hand-drawn image of a cherry with a crown and face, and the inscription “This record is for Shazna Nessa, The Queen of Cherries”, and the initials W.A.G.T.B.T, which stand for “We Are Going To Be Together”. The record was a message to Shazna, and the S.W.A.L.K style message one of hope.
The inlay credits Creation Records, but distribution is by Pinnacle and the album is published by Rhythm King Music and Complete Music. The inlay design is by Anthony Sweeney and there are also thanks to Pierre et Gilles, Hanna Puttonen, Rafael Jiminez and Takao Homma (of Nippon Columbia). The inlay also includes all song lyrics, and everything is against a black background. The CD disc has a reversal of the cherry image, drawn in black on a cerise background. The album title is also included on a clear sticker on the front cover. Overall the image of the cover design is romantic, framed in the Renaissance and quite serious. It is clear that this album is going to sound very different.
According to Nick, the instruments used on this album include:
“a Gibson semi-acoustic guitar (not much, though, I think it’s just on Platinum), a Kawai K4 synth, a Casio CZ101, a Technics KN600, and an Akai S2800 sampler. Sequencing is via C-LAB Notator running on a Atari STE1040 (ie Logic, as it became)”. He also used a VTL CR-3A microphone.
One thing the album title certainly does NOT refer to is “Doctor Who”: the best known character who is a “Timelord”. That TV series was not even playing in 1993 having been cancelled in 1989 and would not resurface until a TV movie starring Paul McGann in 1996. But ideas of travelling through time, or potentially between dimensions, do arise here. The general theme seems to be that of an astronaut travelling alone far away from his home and all he knows, hearing snatches of his previous life and memories, and imagining how things could have worked out if he had made different decisions.
The album fades in with swirling noise as if capturing radio transmissions from a lost empire. It’s slightly reminiscent of the opening of U2’s Zooropa with its forest of commercial voices. Here, however, the sounds are redolent of the past. The first voice is a recording of Nick Currie’s grandfather, recorded asking a young Nicholas how often you need to renew the valves in the Sony TV they had. “There are no valves, it’s transistorised”, is Nick’s response, baffling to his Grandad, a Timelord himself, sounding lost at that point. There are then clips from the Nic Roeg film “The Man Who Fell to Earth” starring David Bowie, and excerpts from interviews with Nick Currie including the question “Who is the REAL Nick Currie?”, unanswerable and symbolic again of the idea of being lost in time, and identity. Momus fades in singing “Timelord.” (It sounds like “Time Out” to me) in harmony with himself and a beat, sampled from a lost Japanese CD, kicks in. It’s a good beat too, driving the song along with its French Chanson sounding chord sequence playing underneath, those two major influences linked again. The beat and melody are stop/start perhaps representing the journey of life and the flow of time. The whole track on the original album seems to be sped up a beat resulting in Nick’s voice when it comes in sounding higher and reedier than usual, not so far back in the mix as on Voyager, but sounding distant all the same, the voice of an old traveller across space and time. The lyrics are instantly melancholic and wishful.
“If I told the truth I’d like to live my life again
Walk around my youth in somebody else’s skin
One life’s not enough for all that we contain
Nothing’s going to save us now”.
The eternal return: the plea to go back and re-run/change our lives as we would prefer to have lived them, which is an illusory ambition as once one thing were changed, everything else would fall away too. On the second verse a pedal note comes in, as an organ sound, almost church-religious, is balanced by an accordion sound in the upper register, emphasising how French the whole song sounds. The key lyric is here, with the sci-fi concept literally outlined:
“Take me to the place where my decisions are relived
Give me answers to the question
‘What would have happened if…’
Beyond the third dimension, beyond the fourth and fifth
In a parallel universe”.
The regret and sadness implicit in such a statement are clear. The past is awful, we need to go back and change it, not celebrate it:
“Hey DJ you’ve got it all wrong
No more golden greats, no more platinum songs
Put these frozen moments in the fridge where they belong
Nothing’s going to save us now”.
Momus’ lack of commercial success has led to some bitterness against DJs and the radio system, Momus being quite happy to “fridge” those other more successful artists, and indeed to “fridge” those periods of time when greatness had been promised to him.
Interestingly, in the next verse, Momus seems at pains to tell us that he isn’t being optimistic here, which seems quite obvious:
“I don’t say that life’s not sad and death is not the end
Looks like you got typecast by a double-crossing friend”.
But he believes we will return, not in reincarnation, but in a parallel universe: where everything we achieved in this universe is gone, good or bad:
“Gone the crimes that you committed, gone the things you made”.
He then sings about the connections we make with other people, the “parallel” possibilities that exist in their lives, and bemoans the fact that to further our own ambitions we may stop others achieving what they could: lines which are at once positive and heartbreaking.
“Walk the city streets with me and cross a thousand lives
Count the possibilities that shine in people’s eyes
Ask how many dreams we kill to keep our dreams alive”.
Momus then addresses the issue of his own fame, or lack of it, and “thanks” the public for giving him the situation he is in:
“Thank you for the memory, the curse you laid on me
Like a shooting star I burst into obscurity
Live this second first because the rest is history
nothing’s going to save us now”.
He repeats the chorus, this time describing the “golden greats” as “little shits”, and also repeats the first stanza of the song.
This is a very depressive song, the kind of regret and hatred for one’s own past that surfaces in the small hours of the morning, buoyed by some minor feeling of optimism that perhaps things went better in a parallel universe, and perhaps that place could be accessed somehow. All that is available to the narrator is to “live the hallelujah now”: to make the best of things, to live the best spiritual life you can. “Hallelujah” means to hail God, and to be one with the spiritual world. So.. as an introduction to the dark world of Timelord, “Platinum” at least has a good pace and a quirky melody. An improved version, slowed down a little, is available on the Forbidden Software Timemachine compilation that would be released in 2003.
Having a serious relationship with a young woman must have brought home to Momus the years of promiscuity and abandonment that had preceded it, as he chose
to have a test for the HIV virus. In 1993 having a positive result to a test for HIV was still more or less a death sentence, and although the utter hysteria and paranoia around the disease in the 1980s had dissipated somewhat, to go for an “AIDS Test” was still a dark and terrifying process. This song plays around the notion of “Enlightenment”: the coming into being of knowledge, in this case, the knowledge of your test result. “Enlightenment” also refers to the scientific renaissance of the 18th Century, and to the battle between diseases such as AIDS and the scientific method. Finally, “Enlightenment” is a spiritual awakening or calling, such as Momus was experiencing both in his relationship with Shazna and in his shifting ideologies.
The music is slower paced and begins with echoing percussion and beats, as if we are shuffling along in a hospital corridor to a waiting room. There is a sample from Pizzicato 5 buried in the mix. There’s a Japanese influence to the backing and melody. The lyrics talk about the irony of our hard won sexual freedom leading to our doom:
“In the 1970s
When everyone could do just what they wanted to
Sex was like a handshake between friends
But now that life and death and destiny
Are in you when you’re next to me
Tell me that you’ll love me till the end”
The consequence of the test result could completely change the nature of the patient’s relationship with his partner, with his doctor, and with society.
In this situation, any person would want to know that their partner, lover and confidante would still be with them no matter what the news and how bad things get.
The chorus makes this concern explicit, an AIDS related update of “When I’m Sixty-Four”:
“And tell me you’ll be there
If I ever find
I’ve only got one kidney left
And tell me you’ll be there
When I’ve only got one eye
And say that you’ll be there to care for me
When a wheelchair is my chair
You’ll be there upon the day I die”
The fact is that all we have is this moment, and Momus talks about what we would now call mindfulness: gaining insights in the discrete moment you live in.
“Enlightenment in the nowness of now
All we have is the nowness of now”.
I have to draw attention here to the line “when I’ve only got one eye”, which is prophetic, and spooky, and unfortunate, since it now reads as if intentional. But it wasn’t at the time, it was intended to be one of the worst consequences that could occur as a result of infection. Nevertheless, as a result of infection, Momus did go on to lose an eye several years later, and this particular song must creep him out immensely now. I am only regretful that he wasn’t writing other accurate predictions at the time, such as Donald Trump dying in a freak escalator accident, or Nigel Farage being crushed to death by cows.
The second verse talks about waiting for the results of the test, and the tension this brings:
“Still I do this willingly
Because I want to know what I don’t want to know
Unthinkable thoughts are thoughts we have to try”.
This captures perfectly the doublethink we have to go through when taking such tests: we don’t want to know, but we must know and need to know.
“Unthinkable thoughts” are precisely the stock in trade of Momus’ previous albums, and thinking them is his entire philosophy to date.
The chorus again describes horrendous things that might happen if the result is positive – “When I’m paralytic will you still be true?”.
The scientific Enlightenment is then discussed, with the optimism of the 18th Century attacked by Momus: we were supposed to know all that there is to know by now, but various facts of nature, such as quantum physics, issues with mathematics, and the creation of many devastating new diseases, meant that we never conquered nature.
“In the eighteenth century they said
‘We’ll shortly know all there is to know
All things will be clear to us one day’
Well I’m sick to death of optimism
Sick to death of the shit it drops us in
Will they find a cure for hope? No-one can say.”
This is contrasted with the chorus, and more things that can happen to Momus. The vocals are double tracked now and the chorus starts to sound messier and more out of control, as things would be in this scenario. He asks if we will be there when his swansong fades,
“And when a life support machine
Supports me in a coma you’ll be there
And when I’m just a cabbage
Save me from the spade”.
Not the most politically correct description of a coma patient, but this is a Momus album after all! The song builds in intensity for a repeat of the chorus two more times, with the eye sequence repeated, and the final plea:
“And tell me you’ll still be my baby
When my guts are on the floor
And when I’m catatonic
I’ll still be your man”.
The song fades out with the imprecations continuing, perhaps forever..
In the end, Momus’ result was negative.
This is not the strongest song on the album – that is probably Rhetoric – but it is my favourite, the match of scientific endeavour against the natural world is a subject of interest to me, and the lyrics of Enlightenment work with those of Platinum to highlight the anger and bitterness that he seems to feel against the modern world at this point. There is a struggle between the desire for spiritual calm and the issues that the world throws upon you, that can lead to freedom or to darkness and despair, and at this point, it seemed on a knife edge which way Momus would go.
Probably the slightest song on the album, it is interesting to compare this to similarly presented work on Voyager such as “Vocation” or “Virtual Reality”. The optimism displayed on those earlier songs has gone, and we now see the ghosts of the past when in a new relationship. It’s a bouncy, oddly structured piece which seems to change time signature and skip beats to disorientate the listener. The singer is with his new girlfriend when he meets his ex with her new lover.
“Me and her and the ghost of you
You and him and the ghost of me
Two plus one is three and two plus a ghost is three
I guess there must be six of us now”.
If the “ghost” of his ex haunts his current relationship he certainly has problems. He is not being arrogant in assuming he also “haunts” his ex, she has been telling him about it:
“I remember you telling me
That even though you loved him like a brother
There’ll always be another hanging over you
The ghost of your ex-lover
There are six of us”
Her current lover, damned by the faint praise of being loved “like a brother”, has heard a great deal about him. Momus has a very pragmatic and pessimistic view of the situation:
“Don’t get possessive, it’s melodramatic
It’s not love, it’s mathematics
There are six of us now”.
There is a nostalgia and pining for the relationship they enjoyed before, even the negative aspects of it which must have caused the end are viewed as a loss:
“You’ve changed and I’m looking at your face
But the feelings that I feel are in another time and place
You’ve changed, you’re more vulnerable now
But the arrogance you had was beautiful somehow”.
The song seems to mirror older work such as “Hairstyle of the Devil” in its fascination with threesomes, and the jealousy of the “other lover”:
“You’ve changed and your boyfriend hangs about
He wants to know if I’m the one he’s heard so much about”.
In the end, although he longs to kiss her, he knows that he cannot, because they have both changed, and nothing in the past can be recaptured.
It’s an odd sounding song for Momus, very uncertain and quite difficult to listen to. There’s that choppy piano again, from early 90s dance music, still plugging away. The constant time changes, unnecessary stop-start nature and repetition make it actually rather irritating to me.
However, the idea of the permanence of loss and the impossibility of return – however much we would like to believe in time travel and alternate dimensions – is also the theme of the next, and more interesting, song.
Based on a very old song idea from 1983 and included as a demo on the “BBC – Golden Age of Television” demos, this is the simple tale of an astronaut searching for his lost lover on the moon, criss-crossing the landscape in a lunar rover. There are echoes of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” in the concept, there’s a bit of Kubrick in the idea of a protagonist silently searching across the arid landscape, similar to shots in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There’s a strong echo of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris in the concept of being lost in an alien landscape as well, and of Ray Bradbury’s short stories such as No Particular Night or Morning, which could be a key text in terms of the whole concept of Timelord.
The song has a sampled beat and is driven by a bass line representing the turning wheels of the Landrover. Momus’ vocals are double tracked and he describes his journey across the lunar surface in very practical detail. This story of travel in a futuristic craft is quite similar to Donald Fagen’s song cycle Kamakiriad which was released the same year and includes a similar song concept in “On the Dunes “.
In the chorus of Momus’ song he states he will drive until he finds his lost love or the Landrover breaks down, which would of course be a death sentence.
Following the chorus there is an interesting spoken section in which the astronaut reads from his diary, describing prosaic detail such as saline levels and visibility.
We know it is October when he is searching, and she disappeared during the year. He could have been searching for a long time: now it is Autumn and the shadows are gathering, as indeed they are across the whole album. He again reads from his diary, and things are going badly:
“Strange emotional pattern recorded at 300 and again towards dawn… foreboding… Log discontinued”
Following a further chorus the music slows and a sinister high pitched synth line comes in, minor and discordant. The song fades out with Momus reciting a list of things that represent either the relationship he has lost, or things he is afraid of finding:
The face of the waters
Trial by jury
The god of the crossroads
Perhaps it is the same Service Station he visited in Spy on the Moon? Perhaps this guy IS the Spy on the Moon. It is an unsettling lyric and sound, and I think this song is very successful in giving a sense of alienation, of loss and of the insanity that can come with it: clearly this astronaut will one day be found dead in his Landrover, having failed in his mission. The album only descends into darkness from here.
Opening with sci-fi sounds and a descending note inspired by Vangelis’ Blade Runner, slow chords against a simple beat and sample accompany what is on the face of it a straightforward love song with a very pretty chord sequence and melody. Rightly, this is the only song from Timelord which is still performed by Momus regularly, was eventually played at his wedding, and may even play at his funeral.
The weakness of his voice here, regularly cracking with emotion, works well and to the benefit of the song. Each lyric is simply structured: “I’ll love you till they figure out the way that life began..”
The surrealism of his earlier writing for Voyager resurfaces a little:
“I’ll love you till the reaper comes to wake me with his gun
I’ll love you till the melting clocks have chimed a melting hour”
The sci-fi elements remain and there is also a slightly sinister aspect to some of the aspirations:
“I’ll love you till the razorblades are held against my neck
I’ll love you till the sea glows purple and the sky goes black”.
There’s a straightforward beauty and Japanese poetic influence to some of the lines:
“The lovely owl upon the bough is swooping down for me
The brambles tangle round and round far as the eye can see”.
In the end his love for Shazna almost outstrips that for his beloved Fiat 500:
“I love you like the engine of a little blue machine
I love you like the bee that dies, dies astride a queen”.
I’m not sure that’s how bees work. But we’ll allow some entomological infelicities for such a beautiful song and premise. This song has a simple structure which loops and eventually fades out, its sounds more or less merging into the subsequent song.
Following from Rhetoric with similar sci-fi sounds and an eerie mournfulness, this slower song, with bass but no drums or percussion, describes the fate of a couple no longer allowed to be together, and unable to behave as the world demands:
“We were lovers We never knew how to act “
This song is clearly about the relationship between Momus and Shazna and the way in which they were pulled apart by her family and circumstance. The music started as a cover version of a song called “The Uncertainty of Identity” by a songwriter’s alter ego called Alexander Mann, and the atmosphere of the piece was inspired by David Sylvian’s brief eulogy to sadness “September“.
There is no future or place for these lovers in the world they are forced to inhabit.
“Where in the world is there space For the beauty we shared?”
As in the previous song, nature is used as a comparator:
“Remember the herons and cranes
But as they have flown, so must we go”.
The lovers have determined to be destroyed rather than separated:
“We were lovers
We made a suicide pact
We let sleep steal across us
In the snow where we sat”.
They watch a meteor shower and the Aurora Borealis, further comparisons between the majesty of the universe and the smallness of their concerns and indicative of the lack of interest the universe has in their problems. The suicidal nature of their thoughts is pressed home by a desire to be gone before the world turns:
“Where in the world is there time
For the love we have shared?
Deep in the forest
Remember the acorns and cones
Before they have grown we must be gone”.
The sadness is there even as they travel, maybe together, and to their deaths:
“From the 747
Remember the shapes of the clouds
But when we are gone they’ll be our shrouds”.
This is as depressed as the album gets, as downbeat as any Momus song gets really, and if it is an indication of his state of mind at the time, not a healthy one. Fortunately there’s a mince pie in the oven.
Christmas on Earth
A mechanical sounding loop introduces the voice of the astronaut as he spins through space in his capsule, talking about Christmas and how meaningless and hellish such occasions are when you are adrift in time and apart from the ones you love.
“And I know that on Earth it is Christmas now…”
Of course, he can’t possibly know that as time would be irrelevant at this point, but the astronaut clings to these traditions for comfort. He hopes there will be “days in the snow”.. and an echo is placed on his voice, making his words sound more expansive, despite the claustrophobia of his situation. He acknowledges that by the time he returns everything will be gone:
“And I hope there’ll be days in the snow
When I return many light years on
Though my friends will have died long ago”.
We must excuse the use of “light years” to apparently refer to a length of time and not distance, perhaps he is on his way to complete the Kessel Run.
He describes the beauty he is seeing, worlds made of ice and asteroids: despite there being no-one there to hear him. A sound reminiscent of jingle bells fades in as the song continues, and in the background we hear snatches of old songs, particularly “Try to Remember” from the musical “The Fantasticks”, a song specifically about nostalgia and our inability to remember the past in clear detail. Momus channeling Bing Crosby channeling Thomas Jerome Newton.
He is so far from Earth that he is picking up ancient broadcasts:
“I’m receiving transmissions they broadcast long ago
They remind me of things I have seen
All the people and cities and crowds”.
The next section serves as a chorus and has the clearest Christmas message, multi-tracked and almost festive, with a similar demand to that made by The Darkness:
“Ring the bells, ring the bells, ring them
Ring the bells, ring the bells, I can still hear them
Here on the way to the stars”
This is still melancholy though, as he is far from any true celebration, driven home by the next verse.
“About now back on earth it is Christmas time
There’ll be logs in the grate, they will burn
I’m alone tape recording memories
For it all will have changed when I return”.
He sings again about the beauty he is seeing and which he cannot communicate to anyone:
“And the rain is so strange in the Milky Way
I see cloudscapes of purple and green
Candelabras are shooting off firework displays
And I’m writing the things I have seen
People shopping and sparks from a train”.
As he is travelling so fast, he will age a small amount compared to the amount of time that passes on Earth: everyone he knows will indeed be dead when he returns: a storyline prefiguring Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar.
“But in space time goes by so slow
At the speed of light one single night
Is a year to the people back home”.
Again, don’t look too closely at the facts and figures here. I do wonder where he got his degree in astrophysics.
Anyway, this is the tragedy of his situation: he cannot communicate with anyone as any messages he sends will only reach dead people, and nothing of his old life will remain when he returns: if he returns. This is a specific statement of the alienation sung about by David Bowie in Space Oddity and even in Blackstar, with its image of a dead astronaut floating in space, which Momus’ character will eventually become.
The main theme is now played on a keyboard, and the song fades out with its pretty, melancholy theme, the word “follow” from “Try to Remember” echoing in the background. But no-one can follow, our man is alone out there. Is there no optimism left?
Yes and No.
“Timelord” has been very uncharacteristic of the Momus sound, and this track, perhaps more than any other, departs from our usual expectations.
Neil Young was once sued by his record company – Geffen – for producing two albums “uncharacteristic” of Neil Young’s sound – the only artist ever to be sued for not sounding like himself. Perhaps if Creation were bothered about Momus’ output at this point they may have raised similar objections. The “perversion”, the humour, the narrative strands, even the more commercial output of Voyager, are all absent. This song, in particular, is romantic, heartfelt and as far from cynical criticism as our Classical God of Mockery could get.
It is a message to Shazna, of course, and an attempt to bring some optimism to proceedings, despite the fact that “hope disappeared long ago”. It depicts the aftermath of a happy reunion, with the lover aware that things may get worse, but he is “over the moon for now”.
The song starts with a snare and kick drum beat and comes in as a cheesy, cruise ship bar band playing a show tune. It could have been a dance hall tune from the forties, one from a remix album by The Caretaker perhaps, or playing in the main hall in the Overlook Hotel.
It sounds louder, somehow, than the other songs on the album, and Momus’ voice a little more certain, more emotive. There’s no chorus as such, but a sequence of verses interrupted by a saxophone effect playing a solo. The final verse ends abruptly, with that final suggestion of hope.
The lyrics emphasise the feeling that things are fine for now, both romantic and erotic:
“Soft is the flesh I cling to
Warm the caress of your mouth
Silk is my touch as I swing you
Over the moon for now”
Even this happiness is fleeting and nothing good is on the horizon:
“Though there are no happy endings
Though hope disappeared long ago
There are clouds at the end of the rainbows
Over the moon for now”.
Finally, aware he may never see his lover again, he must simply remember her as she was:
“Your starring role is forever
If only you’ll stay as you are
Breathless at the threshold of pleasure
Over the moon for now”.
The song ends abruptly at this point, and the album dies with it.
Timelord could have been the last album released as Momus. There’s a sense of finality to the album, the artwork and to the surrounding story. It’s easy to imagine an alternative world where Nick went away to write songs for others, or declined into heroin abuse, or worse yet went into Scottish politics. Certainly it led to the persona being put on hold for a while, and many would say the next “proper” Momus album is Ping Pong in 1997, with 1995’s The Philosophy of Momus being a little scattershot in approach and retaining the romantic elements of Timelord, and Slender Sherbet and 20 Vodka Jellies being compilations. You may disagree.
The misery of separation under duress continued for Nick and Shazna for some time.
Then, in June 1994, in Dhaka, Shazna took action. Under the pretense of delivering library books to a friend, she escaped her parents and got a rickshaw and a taxi to the British High Commission.
There, she was recognised and welcomed in. Having called Nick she was then driven to the airport, with her father who was waiting at the door of the Commission making one last attempt to appeal to her. She didn’t look back though, and arriving in London, Nick and Shazna went to Glasgow, as under Scottish law they could marry without her parents’ consent at age 17. Which they did, with Rhetoric playing as accompaniment. Following this romantic elopement, they might have considered themselves safe, but that was not entirely the case.
Shazna’s ex-fiancé came to find her, accompanied by her brothers. Fortunately the days of Momus leaving his home address on his album covers were behind him, and the gang sent to find him had only Creation’s address to go by. They arrived at Creation wielding machetes and convinced that Momus was sleeping there, according to Tim Abbott, a Creation employee of the time.
This led to Alan McGee contacting Momus by phone – not for a meeting in his office, sadly (so put that shot glass down), but for one last conversation. According to Nick (quoted by Richard King in “How Soon Is Now?: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music 1975 – 2005“):
‘…Alan phoned me up, he said, “Listen, we had these extremely scary people coming in to the office demanding your address and we didn’t give it to them, but this just can’t happen and we were seriously thinking of getting in the very heavy drug people Primal Scream deal with to protect the office and the staff. So, sorry, but we’re not going to work with you any more.”‘
In other words, several years after Primal Scream finding him so boring they wanted to (anecdotally) abandon him in Berlin in no-mans land, Momus had now out-rock-and-rolled Creation’s supremo, to the extent that he couldn’t handle him anymore. His time with Creation was over.
This left him free to re-sign with Cherry Red, a much more appropriate fit, which he did, and began in the background to prepare material for a new album.
In the meantime, Nick and Shazna left London and moved to Paris, where he continued writing for Kahimi Karie and others, content in his new life, fitter, happier…
His success in Japan led to the release of a compilation on Nippon Columbia in March 1994 called “Learning to be Human“. This was a 17 track compilation of Creation era material which most notably contained “Poison Boyfriend” from 1982, previously released as the B-Side to “Right Hand Heart“, a free 7″single included with early copies of Tender Pervert, and also included in the Creation compilation Pensioners on Ecstasy in 1990.
The fruits of Momus’ work would now mainly be heard in Japan, but some of those songs written for Japanese ladies would find their way as demos and reworked versions onto subsequent albums and compilations. The next Momus album released in the UK was The Philosophy of Momus, released in May 1995 and preceded by, of all things, a CDM: compact disc maxi-single. This would be Momus’ first album truly of the internet age, and the first recorded and programmed purely for CD, with no vinyl release, and is the subject of the next entry in this blog. After that, we will be listening to Slender Sherbet, also released in 1995, which is a set of reworkings of “classic” Momus tracks: clearly an attempt to draw a line under that preceding ten years and move onto new technologies, and lives.
*Yes, I know. Momus’ life seems to use the literary device known as “foreshadowing” to an alarming extent. See, well, this album.