“The Poison Boyfriend” was successful enough, critically at least, to give Momus considerable autonomy over his next album, which he was to produce himself. (The previous album and EP were produced by Julian Standen) Having moved sonically and spiritually away from cabaret, from folk and from Brel to Serge Gainsbourg and a more erotic mode of expression, it was inevitable that sex, or at least sexuality, would feature prominently on the album. Margaret Thatcher had recently declared an intention to ban content that promoted homosexuality as a “lifestyle”, and anger at this partially fuelled the content of the new songs. The album was going to be called “The Homosexual” until Alan McGee called Momus in to point out that Polygram would not release the album under that name. I should say that if “Momus at Creation Records” was a drinking game, then Alan McGee calling Momus in for a chat about some issue with album content or titles should probably be worth a double shot of vodka, if you don’t need your liver as such.
Momus felt that straight people should support the Gay Pride movement against the Conservative backlash, and this informed the content of the album. The album, released in April 1988, is therefore packed with references to, for instance, Mishima, Ovid, Joe Orton and Bataille. Not for the last time you may feel you need that pile of reference books in order to make sense of it all.
The album sleeve includes a quote from gay playwright Joe Orton: “Give me the ability to rage corectly” (sic, can’t even spell it right) : an exhortation to rebel against orthodoxy in a controlled and sustainable manner.
There is also a quote from Deuteronomy (a final link to Circus Maximus days!) “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart”: which means, do not only be a true follower in your physical appearance, but make yourself divine in your heart.
Momus himself describes this album as his “statement”: looking at the cover, with Momus in front of a Hyde Park tree with blossom at night, related to the lyrics of Bishonen, he is certainly trying to strike a classic and timeless pose. Indicating a devil’s horns, inspired by a photograph of Picasso with bull’s horns taken by Gjon Mili, he is truly saying that he is a demon, and yet depicted as angelic within the album itself. This mass of contradiction is fully in tune with the lyrical and conceptual nature of the album itself. Look at that baggy shirt though! The 80’s were a magical time…
The Angels are Voyeurs
A very synthesized track, with a warm cabaret feel and a catchy keyboard riff during the introduction and rhythm programming by Dean Klevatt. Not as dark or as “rock” as you might expect from the cover and the song titles. We are very much in the territory that – for instance – The Pet Shop Boys or even Depeche Mode could have inhabited at this point.
So: Wim Wenders had recently released the film “Wings of Desire”: which showed angels coming down from heaven to observe human behaviour. This film informs the general theme of the track, except that it is God who is “intoxicated” by our sexual behaviour and our tendency to “tamper with the things we most depend on”, which gives him a “hard-on”. When God is too busy masturbating he sends the angels to view us instead. Of course, the rest of the tracks on the album are stories the angels see as they visit Earth. Which makes this a concept album and maybe even progressive pop…
Love on Ice
I remember very early after first listening to Momus I was in Edinburgh at the festival, and saw the book Lusts of a Moron, The Lyrics of Momus on sale in a bookshop, presumably Waterstones. The young guy behind the counter enthusiastically discussed Momus at me, saying how “Love on Ice” was probably the funniest of his songs and how clever they were and it was great to meet someone else who listened to him and how long was I up in Edinburgh? It was a couple of years though before I actually acquired a CD copy of the relevant album, so the songs on Tender Pervert were just poems to me, to which I imagined bizarre music and arrangements. It is also highly indicative of my character and possible ASD that I have only just realised while typing the above that the guy behind the counter was probably chatting me up. Which highlights, I guess, that the tactic employed on this album – singing about queer issues – was gaining a new audience in that demographic.
What caught my aspiring beau’s attention in this song was the deliberate reversal of orientation in the main characters. The song is about an ice skating couple who win the Olympic Gold medal for their routine, but are afraid to come out of the closet about their sexuality, specifically that he is “only doing it for Christopher” and she is “only doing it for Jane”. Christopher and Jane are their Manager and PR assistant/cocaine provider. It is made very clear that the characters being sung about are NOT Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill who famously won the Olympics with a routine set to Ravel’s Bolero in 1984.
The music is a crazed waltz – time structure with annoying Casio barps and farts over the top. It is pointedly Weill-esque and was originally intended for the BBC album (discussed on The Poison Boyfriend entry).
In the story, the couple eventually lose to a Russian couple who “skated like robots” and rumours about their sexuality lead to their being forced out of the closet. Their collapse continues and in the end they are doing PR and cocaine for Christopher and Jayne. Overall the song is a cynical look at fame and the inherent homophobia of the British press of the time. At the same time, it’s another time capsule song, in that it would be hard to see anyone having to conceal their sexuality in the same way now, and the clichés of the press reports (he has died of Aids, she is on Greenham Common) date it like carbon-14.
I was a Maoist Intellectual
A faux-Brechtian song in which Momus satirises both himself and the music industry in his role as a “Maoist Intellectual” in the plague-pit that is the “Business”. It could almost be autobiographical, and he demonstrates a sense of humour at the pompousness and “pretentiousness” that Momus was often criticised for. The song could also be a parody of left wing musicians of the time, such as Billy Bragg. This noble aim is accompanied by some of the most 80’s Casio keyboard samples you could hope to hear, and clown whistles.
The character in the song is sincere and committed to cultural revolution, but fails to take account of the role fashion plays in the popularity he enjoys, and ends up a marginalised footnote in musical history. In a callback to “Flame into Being” we hear how he burned the midnight oil to “build (a) way of seeing”, in order to tell the public how the way they are living is wrong. Which is always quite annoying, even if you’re right, Greta.
A line which sounds very like a description of Momus’ own pop career describes his downfall from being “three things the working classes hated: agitated, organised and over-educated”. This: “agitate, organise, educate”, is the description given by George Bernard Shaw of the aims of the Fabian Society – a Socialist Organisation in the UK which seeks to advance socialism gradually, rather than in a revolutionary manner.
There is a bitter ending, as the singer ends up working as a doorman, trying to give out his music in its “forgotten format” and having “given up ideology the day I lost my looks”. In the end “the energy released by my frustration was nearly enough for reincarnation”. Essentially the song describes the pointlessness of trying to be a sincere force for intellectual or political change while inside a system run by the upper classes for capitalist gain. It’s a brash and cynical statement, but the self-referential nature of it may be a bit self-defeating and even hypocritical. I mean, clearly the person singing this song on this album is trying for fame of some form.
The putative title track of the album and its conceptual heart. The song describes a war, essentially, between different forms of masculinity: the pre and post modern male, the alpha and beta, the macho and the feminine. A sneering “macho” male derides a more effeminate man for his perceived homosexuality, but behind his back his wife is having an affair with the “queer”. The singer is the effeminate male who is bedding many women “behind their husband’s backs” and making them sing “notes of pleasure their husbands will never hear .. no fucking fear”. It is a story that many men could identify with, I myself have been told many times over thirty years that I am gay, which is news to me, to the extent that you do question yourself. The song is also about that perceived war between the intelligent and the anti-intellectual, the War Against Intelligence that the Fall described and that Pulp hinted at.
Indeed, it is very clear that both Jarvis Cocker and Brett Anderson (Suede) listened closely to this album, and this song in particular. It is snarling, revenge driven and seductive.
Also note, the beeped out/censored “fucked” on The Poison Boyfriend is a thing of the past: this and many songs to come is very much NSFW, and includes moans of pleasure from an unknown German lady. (Much like my gap year).
Further note: the song was based on a true story involving Mike Alway (Founder of él Records) as the perceived “homosexual”.
This is the one: this is Momus’ Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, Mother of Pearl, Five Years, Supper’s Ready…
Bishonen is the quintessential Momus song, the point at which the “Tender Pervert” really comes into focus. The unreliable narrator is now fully in place and we begin to have the real life of Momus / Nicholas Currie dovetailing with the story of the character singing these songs, meaning we cannot know if anything is true or not.
The music of Bishonen is a gentle arpeggiating sequence on synthesizer and guitar which builds and falls away as the narrative demands. There are atmospheric effects to connote the eastern atmosphere, to emphasize the alien nature of the narrative’s locations and to highlight the lack of moral normalcy on display. The musical structure: repetitive but adaptive, was based on Michael Nyman’s formal works and on a pop song written by Douglas Benford called “The Landed Gentry“. The Peter Greenaway film “The Draughtsman’s Contract” which features Nyman’s work, seems to have been an influence, as do the manoeuvres of the vicious courtiers in films like “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”.
Momus has also stated the song to be influenced by “L’Andropause” by George Brassens, a song about male impotence and ageing, and by both Mishima and by a chapter in Ian Buruma’s book “A Japanese Mirror” which discussed him.
The main character describes his life in a spoken, seductive monologue which again sets a template for the work of Pulp and others a few years hence. He is “born in the town of Paisley in early 1960”, so this is Momus himself but describing an alternative world where he was brought up by an “old eternal bachelor” obsessed with Japanese myths and traditions, who trains him to be a Bishonen, a beautiful, sexually ambiguous warrior “doomed to fall like blossom”.
The training involves seduction techniques, sword fighting and oratory.
“The words were to cut down and to kill the muscle-bound
The swords to fell my intellectual enemies
And women should be hated but first impersonated
Charm, he said, is essential to misogyny
He taught me how to woo the girls in order to outdo the girls
And the fun would come when I’d got them to love me”
The old man who raises him clearly has carnal thoughts towards him, but also gives him a retainer (and presumably lover) who goes with him into the world.
“How could I disobey that surreptitious gay
Who brought me up according to a fantasy?
For when the old man stared at me
He drowned in evil beauty
Thinking of the early death in store for me”
The two young men go into the world fighting “bullies”, but are followed by the old man who feels he has been forgotten by the son he has raised to die young.
At 28 years old the young man gives up travelling and goes to work in a bank: ashamed that he has not died young as his stepfather planned. He also marries a girl: completely betraying what was planned for him: a shame which leads him to adopt the same perverse course that his father followed:
“I stay awake some nights when my wife turns off the lights
And starts breathing regularly next to me
And I think of fallen petals and bodies pierced by metal
And how I’ll never now fulfill my destiny
Father spare my shame, let me pass my name
To a boy with greater beauty and more bravery
For if I have a son I’m going to raise him to die young
And lay him in the grave that you prepared for me”.
It’s a fantastic song and considered Momus’ best by many reviewers at the time and since. It perfectly captures the mood and essence of the story that was intended to be told, and while there are several verses, there is no fat to trim, with each couplet perfectly and concisely stating what is needed to both add to the story and convey character development. The music perfectly fits the narrative and theme. It ebbs and flows in perfect conjunction with the narrative.
There is no doubt that with this composition Momus had finally arrived, and found a form of expression that completely suited the character and his talents.
This track is supposed to end side one of the album, but we must address an extra track added into the CD: Right Hand Heart.
Right Hand Heart
An acoustic version of a song which would be re-recorded later for the next album Don’t Stop the Night. This version was recorded at Scarf studio, along with the rest of Tender Pervert, by Momus and Nigel Palmer.
It’s a tale of hatred which disguises self loathing, as a guy meets a girl who has dextrocardia: her heart is on the right hand side of her body – and it repulses him to the extent that he cannot have sex with her, but another boy comes along who can. The guy’s repulsion turns out to be self loathing at himself: he also has a right hand heart. The song centres around acoustic guitar, and sounds somewhat out of place on the mainly electronic album. It’s very slight compared with the songs it follows and precedes.
Momus considers the later, disco version of this song to be the official one, and it isn’t supposed to be on the CD version of this album. The song was released as a free 7″ disc with early copies of the LP version of Tender Pervert with a B-Side of “Poison Boyfriend“, an early Momus demo recorded with Neill Martin of The Happy family during the “Man on Your Street” sessions in 1982.
A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy Parts 17 – 24
A solid and superbly written pop song, with an intro mimicking Blue Monday and full of Pet Shop Boys samples and influence, of all the tracks on this album it was the closest to a single release. Until Alan McGee called Momus into his office (two shots) to explain that the use of the word “sexual” in the title precluded this. It was a very different time.
It is a psycho-sexual tale of a man who is jealous of almost everyone, for different reasons, so insecure that he is jealous even of men his lover will never go to bed with, just for the depth of their desire for her. Equally, he is jealous of the greater hate his enemies hold for him than he does for them.
There is some self-conscious word play here which also hints at greater sexual indiscretion “I’m jealous of the man the man you broke the heart of broke the heart of” suggests a hideously complicated pansexual love triangle / quadrilateral, as does “If looks could kill I’d kill the men whose looks would kill you if looks could kill”, a line which cleverly highlights the narrator’s jealousy while making it clear that he is not physically capable of harming anyone, except with Paddington-esque hard stares.
It’s hard to fathom that the Momus who wrote this song is even the same Momus that released Circus Maximus. This track sounds contemporary (for the time), very commercial and manages to incorporate the psycho-sexual narrative and self analysis in candy covered, glossy pop music. In it Momus comes close to achieving the symbiosis of pop/art which Neil Tennant achieved with, for instance, West End Girls, but perhaps the lyrics are too arch and still too explicit to fully achieve the airplay and chart success so clearly aimed for.
This song is also the subject of possibly the most unlikely cover version in Momus history, when included on the 1996 Soft Vengeance album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This album also includes a cover version of “Nothing Ever Happens” by Del Amitri, whose lead singer and writer is Justin Currie (Nicholas Currie’s cousin)*. “Nothing Ever Happens” got a single release by “The Manns”, but not “Complete History”!
This is a link to a remix of the Mann’s “original” version from 1996. Don’t ask me why it starts off sounding like Forever Autumn. This is a link to another version recorded by Mann for the album “2006”, released in 2004.
*Just try to picture the singalong at Christmas reunions…
There’s a symmetry between this and the previous song. Whereas the narrator of Complete History has a surfeit of jealousy and emotion, the character here is concealing his emotions in order to make his partner work harder to engage him. He is desperate to hide the depth of his feelings from his beloved because he sees “how hard you work to turn a cold man on”. He believes that because they dislike emotional men, if they saw the depth of his feelings: “How long would you stay with me?”
On first hearing this song, the music is surprisingly un-Momus-esque: the verses have a cold, mechanical line running through them with vocals which are remote, aloof and more or less spoken. However the chorus and bridge are warm, soulful and emotional, reflecting the duality of the narrator’s character. The music and vocal style borrows heavily from Prince, and it is clear that Momus’ voice isn’t really up to the job, with the extended vocal range really requiring someone with a more soulful and warmer tone. It’s also a surprisingly un-perverse song: the narrator is basically just playing it cool and being hard to get: tactics that pretty much everyone has engaged in at some time or other with a partner or friend. I can’t help feeling that it’s a song he should maybe have just sold to someone else. In fact, given that Momus is able to write pop of the quality and order of Complete History and Ice King, I wonder why he didn’t write songs for other people. This song in particular is reminiscent of “You have Placed a Chill in my Heart” by the Eurythmics, both thematically and sonically, and from the same year. His own material, as on this album and the next – Don’t Stop the Night – is excellent and musically commercial but containing themes that render them extremely difficult to market – leading to many more office discussions with Mr. McGee. So why did he not write albums for himself and fund them by writing pop songs for others?
Momus would actually follow this course later, writing songs for Japanese pop artists, but it seems not to have been considered as a course of action in the UK market: I think that the team genuinely thought at this point that Momus himself would front these songs into the top ten, and render the Top of the Pops studio into something like the Hospital Church de la Caridad in Story of the Eye, destroying all conventions, and convents. It was not to be.
In the Sanatorium
Another wide-screen, immediately cinematic and atmospheric work, in which sound effects of thunder and rain hang over the tale of a man who is tending his sick girlfriend in a sanatorium. He is using her illness to isolate her, having put cards from other well-wishers “on the fire”. The treatment she receives will make her “well, or weaker still”, and it is made clear that the narrator would prefer her to become weaker, being “half in love with this disease, that keeps you close to me”.
Momus’ vocals are very warm and very close to the microphone, making this an uneasy listening experience. He is invading privacy, personal space and the entire soul of the woman he has imprisoned. While she sleeps he reads her “The Immoralist” by André Gide, a text about the abuse of emotional power which fits the narrative situation.
Finally he falls further into perversion as he molests the almost unconscious woman:
“I wonder, as I watch you sleep
If this possessive streak
Will make me force my love
Or if the trick is cheap
And if you took your drug
And if you’re deep enough asleep”.
The song ends with atmospherics from the storm, half buried eastern singing and a lot of unease. A hanging cadence is used so that there is no resolution to the home key as the sounds fade out, making the sonic layering used more disorienting. You have no doubt that this story is only going to progress, and not improve. As is often the case in Momus’ work, the beauty of the music, the lilting guitar and warm synthesizer washes and soft vocals are dissonant with the perverse and evil nature of the narrator’s wishes, further fuelling tension and discomfort in the listener, all of which makes this one of my favourite of his songs. The music is based on a Gainsbourg song: “Depression au dessus du jardin“, and quotes again the line from The Threepenny Opera which closed Circus Maximus.
The Charm of Innocence
A counterpoint to Bishonen, this song masterfully relates the life story of a character much like Dorian Gray, who finds that whatever activity he engages in, he remains “innocent”, a fact which in some ways he finds a burden. In the opening chorus he describes his immaculate state as both a crown of thorns and an albatross, but also, sometimes, a rabbit’s foot or good luck charm. As in Bishonen, and the album in general, the chorus is a lush soundscape, with the verse a quietly spoken monologue accompanied by plucked guitar. The character in this song goes to a private school, but is aroused by girls he meets at the weekends. However, when able to “corner a stranger with nakedness” – specifically au-pairs paid to look after him, he is ashamed to be naked and considers himself a prude.
These contradictions continue throughout his life, whether photographing women whose veins make them look like “blue cheese”, or finding girls who will “let him try anything just to find out how it felt”. He describes losing his virginity in a room with garish decoration, where “paisley patterns witnessed an abortion”. Momus is of course from Paisley, so this could be a reference to an actual location, this could be autobiographical, but who knows? The narrator joins the army, and thereafter ends up pimping out Algerian prostitutes in the 18th Arrondisement of Paris, which is a distinctly Brel-esque touch.
Following an instrumental break, the character talks of the future, of sitting by a fire and “twitching the lace as the schoolgirls go past”, while reading the Georges Bataille novels which have influenced this song, and waiting to die. He bemoans the way in which his actions have escalated, as he engages in more and more lurid activity hoping it will end his innocence:
“I thought it would end with the first obscene phone call,
the second professional kill
but somehow detached from my actual behaviour
this innocence burdens me still”.
In a direct reference to Oscar Wilde’s only novel, he ends the song in his attic, painting out the blush in his self-portrait and painting in the crow’s feet which he should have.
The Angels are Voyeurs
We zoom out again: watching the angels, invigorated by our stories and our self-destruction, pleasure themselves, with their ejecta forming new celestial bodies.
A quiet end to the album, with a chord sequence very reminiscent of Genesis in my humble opinion (unintentionally!) and rounding the concept off perfectly.
This album gained positive critical reviews and seemed to indicate a turning point for Momus: a critical mass had gathered and a sufficiently commercial release would push the artist into the mainstream. Accordingly, a potential hit single was to follow. This would be “The Hairstyle of the Devil”, Momus’ most well known track and the subject of the next entry.
There are also at least three collections of Demos from this period which were released on Momus’ live journal site at one time.
The downloads are available below.
Amazing Blonde Women https://imomus.livejournal.com/302532.html
BBC1: The Golden Age of Television https://imomus.livejournal.com/304872.html
Between them these demos cover the whole Creation period and before.