By 1995 Momus was dividing his time between London and Paris. His first website was up and running and can still be seen in all its glory here, thanks to his being something of a digital hoarder. That hoarding is in contrast to his real life furnishings which seem quite minimal, if we go by his Open University videos. He was writing songs for Japanese and French artists at this time, and some of the results of this will surface on 20 Vodka Jellies.
One such partnership was with Ken Morioka, a Japanese keyboard player, singer, composer, producer and general wunderkind born in 1967 who played with several bands, most notably Soft Ballet. He sadly died of heart failure in 2016, at 49 years old. For his 1994 solo album Questions he wrote and performed songs with various musicians including Neil Arthur of Blancmange, bassist Ed Poole, and Momus, who wrote and performed vocals on the closing track “The Sadness of Things“. The arrangement of this allowed Momus to include the song on his own album, and to release it as a single.
In April 1995 Cherry Red released a compact disc maxi-single of Momus tracks leading with “The Sadness of Things”, and also included versions of “London 1888″, “The End of History” and “An Inflatable Doll”, all of which would be included on 20 Vodka Jellies the following year. “An Inflatable Doll” is an early version of a track from The Philosophy of Momus called “I Had a Girl”. As far as I can ascertain, this is the last single released as Momus until a 10″ sampler of Thunderclown in 2011.
The Philosophy of Momus has disparate influences. The French and Japanese music he was surrounded by have an input, along with art he was inspired by at the time. The developing world of the internet was offering possibilities of life in virtual space, and enhanced communication, and this has a clear effect on his work.Where Momus was inspired by trip-hop and acid house in the early 90s, by the mid 90s grunge had become an influence, along with slacker rock and most significantly thework of someone called Beck. Some of the songs hint at developments that are only now coming to be a reality: the teledildonic romance of “Virtual Valerie“, the Darknet marketplace of “Yokohama Chinatown“, the un-deleteable online histories of “Slide Projector Lie Detector“: Momus is truly prescient on this album.His relationship with Shazna is also an influence and casts a light over much of the content. A few of the songs sound as if they could have emerged from the Timelord sessions, particularly “Microworlds“, “I Had a Girl” and “Complicated“. Other songs, “Slide Projector Lie Detector“, “Red Pyjamas“, even deal with the minutiae of an everyday relationship.
Being honest, Momus having a settled relationship was a concern to me at the time. As a fan of dark, cynical and amoral music, there is always a danger that contentment could lead to mediocrity. Tolstoy (quoting Hegel) said that “Happy people have no history”, a much misunderstood phrase interpreted by the rock band Therapy? as “Happy people have no stories”. Perversely, whenever a favourite musician or writer settles down and seems happy, I think all fans secretly wish they would break up or get divorced, as the resulting album or book will be much more interesting than the domestic bliss version, from which the Father of the Nation gets no inspiration.
Indeed, the more homely songs are less interesting to me than the more “traditional” Momus on offer here, such as “The Loneliness of Lift Music“, which follows the thoughts of a murderer. Would Momus be smothered by domestic bliss or find a better use for that cake knife? Time would tell.
The album has a black cover with a red elephant which I think is a pencil topper adorning the front. The album title is in a serif font underneath, with no capitals. The artist’s name being part of the title removes the need for a separate declaration, although the spine perhaps unnecessarily tells us the artist’s name.The title itself is quite a statement: this album is going to outline all of Momus’s ideas and thoughts of the time, and maybe it is a stepping-on point for new fans gathered from Japan and elsewhere, now that Creation and all those other albums are of the past.
The back cover shows Momus in light brown cardigan and trousers with hand on chin, slightly fish-eye-lensed and sitting on what looks like a very uncomfortable metal seat, hair very short but grown out a little, slight beard and a quite serious look. Inside, the cover lists the tracks and has a cut-up image of Momus’ face along the right hand side. There is a more artistic black and white pose inside, and the cover folds out to show an image of Earth from the Moon. The credits are printed in white on the left and right fold outs.
Nick Currie is the writer of all songs apart from the music for “The Sadness of Things“, credited to Ken Morioka. The album is published by Rhythm King Music with “The Sadness of Things” also published by JVC Victor. The album was recorded in Paris and London, with sleeve design by Momus himself and mastered by Denis at Porky’s. (Not that one).For the first time we get a wonderfully of its time email address to contact Momus at: firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as a PO Box address to mail your machetes to.
There is a long list of people to whom Momus extends thanks and respect, including the artist Kuniyoshi Kaneko (who is the subject of a song on the album), Derek Jarman and Beck. There is an address to write to if you want to order “Man of Letters“, a “rhizome of narratives” (or ‘documentary’ to you and me) about Momus by Hannu Puttonen, a compilation of video clips, interviews (including Jarvis Cocker, Ed Ball of The Grid, and Sarah Cracknell) and live footage: parts of this can now be seen on YouTube. Cherry Red’s address is also included if you want to write to them for a catalogue.
Onto the CD itself, with its rather cluttered image of a working space, and the first song: of 19. Artists seemed to be determined to fill up every available second of CDs at this time. And what was this time? Britpop was in full swing. Jarvis Cocker and Pulp would break big this year with “Common People”, the likes of Suede, Blur and Oasis were flying high: the artists inspired by Momus were themselves experiencing a peak. Incidentally, Del Amitri (led by Nick’s Cousin Justin), were if anything on the way down from massive success in the early 90s. Britpop had partially been a reaction to the indie boom from the U.S. led by grunge and slacker rock, which were still popular.
One U.S. artist who was an enormous influence on Philosophy was Beck, an anti-folk singer known for irony and deliberately anti-commercial sounds, making him something of an American Momus. He was yet to have his biggest hits in the U.K. and his most successful album, Odelay, came out the following year. The album Mellow Gold released in 1994 was clearly an influence on the sound of Philosophy.
The album opens with a noisy guitar riff, sampled from a blues song, via Muddy Waters. Momus comes in over the top loudly singing/shouting with an effect laid over as if he were singing through a fuzzbox or down a dodgy transatlantic phone line.
The riff and sounds continue looping throughout the song as Momus wails stream of consciousness over the top, lyrics presumably improvised.The words and tones are distinctly American in feel, and this is the Beck influence in full effect. It no more sounds like Momus than the overly romantic tracks on Timelord did: as if there were a deliberate attempt to bury that persona.
“I was born on a dashboard, toothbrush for a head”
I can’t help but be reminded of J.G. Thirlwell’s band Foetus, who were for a while in the 1980s called “Scraping Foetus off the Wheel“, which I first knew about from the compilation album “Sink” and from his links to The The. Foetus are well worth a listen if you like industrial techno. Anyway, having a toothbrushead implies a difficult and bristly nature, very literally I imagine. The next lines depict life on a dashboard for a troubled youth:
“Detergent foam was my mattress
Toxic waste my bed
In the middle of the night
Electro pop radio station my only light”
I spent AGES trying to decipher the They Might be Giants song “Birdhouse in Your Soul” before realising that the song was in fact about a blue-canary-shaped nightlight, sung by the nightlight, and “blue canary in the outlet by the light switch” meant EXACTLY and literally what it said. I am therefore not going to interpret “Electro pop radio station my only light” as meaning anything other than the radio light was his only light.
“I’ve got a maggot in my brain
Solenoid carcrash evergreen
Solenoid barbershop quartet
Bullet the blue jean man
Bullet the blue jean man with the blue jean pain”.
This is true stream of consciousness, the electromagnet in the car has caused a crash and the barbershop quartet, presumably U2 who sang “Bullet the Blue Sky“, are singing “Bullet the blue jean man” as a tribute to or attack on David Bowie.
“Chucking plastic ectoplasm
Detergent foam beatnik of the buttlick
Bioethical criminal, bioethical criminal”
I am guessing this vaguely refers to genetics, and hints at some modern form of crime, with modern con-artists using genetically prepared ectoplasm instead of the more traditional muslin cloths to pretend to raise the dead.
“Sterling or traveller’s cheques
Hey whatever the drug dealer accepts
Feverish bathroom sex
Mr Police Detective Sergeant please accept
Sterling or traveller’s cheques”
We’re a long way from Bitcoin so I guess the drug dealer and Policeman will have to take sterling. These lines are evidence of the rotten upbringing our narrator has had, or a prediction of the video and backstory of George Michael’s “Outside”, which was out in 1998.The first verse is repeated with slight changes, and the beat drops out from time to time to emphasise the corrupted lyrics. It’s a startling opening for the album, another indication that times have changed for Momus.
The Madness of Lee Scratch Perry
Lee “Scratch” Perry, born in Jamaica in 1936, is a composer and producer known for his innovative methods and for essentially “upsetting” known techniques and sanities. He was instrumental in the development of Dub music throughout the 60s and 70s, and created fantastic sounds in his legendary “Black Ark” recording studio from 73 – 78, until it burned down, by his own hand.
Throughout subsequent decades his legend has grown and he has collaborated with many musicians including the Beastie Boys, The Clash, The Orb and Bob Marley, worked with Danny Boyle and appeared on the game Grand Theft Auto V as a D.J. His discography is extensive and complex and still growing, with many guest appearances and numerous compilations of differing levels of legitimacy. He was also completely insane at times, having used cannabis extensively, blowing smoke into the microphone in an attempt to get weed into the recording. He claims now not to use drugs, this interview from 2008 includes this claim, and also talks about fighting vampires, and that he had to burn down the Black Ark because of evil spirits. Maybe not drugs, but LSP clearly suffered from paranoia and other mental health issues likely to include schizophrenia, hearing voices as he did, and feeling himself to be God at times. None of this prevented him from being some form of genius and he considers himself freed of demons. As Momus points out himself in his press release for the album, the symptoms of schizophrenia are not entirely dissimilar to the beliefs of Rastafarianism, or of any religion.
In addressing Lee Scratch Perry, Momus takes the bold decision to BE Lee Scratch Perry, and this involves adopting a Jamaican accent. It isn’t a great Jamaican accent, and nowadays a cry of cultural appropriation would be raised immediately, but it is at least a self-aware terrible accent, and since he is performing as LSP, what precisely is he supposed to do? It would be patently absurd to voice Perry’s language and thoughts in Momus’ normal speaking or singing voice, the voice of upper-middle class Britain, the voice of “Closer to You”.
Momus sees LSP as pushing reggae and dub music into “a dangerous new area of distortion”, and using his genius and instruments as a tool to change the genres in which he was working to a new form of art. Momus compares this implicitly with artists such as Picasso, whose destruction of the norms of representational art was initially attacked by critics and public alike. An epic 1937 poem by American Poet Wallace Stevens, “The Man with the Blue Guitar”, discusses these tensions, including the stanza:
“They said, `You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.’
The man replied ‘Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.'”
“They” accuse the artists of distorting what should be naturally represented, the artist replies that the very tools of his work naturally distort that which the artist seeks to reproduce. Art changes the world, and it should not be the other way round, “they” should not dictate what artists can and can’t do or how the artist seeks to represent the world. Perhaps madness of various types takes a part in this creation/recreation.
The song begins with a simple expression of “madness”, and a reggae beat with sampled sounds. A jew’s harp effect plays intermittently throughout, a bouncy sound consistent with the rhythms on display. The jew’s harp effect appears quite a bit on this album, actually. Again, the beat drops out when a particular line is to be emphasised. A sampled female voice occasionally accompanies, and everything is drenched in echo and reverb, as would be expected on a dub reggae track. Synth chords with a delayed attack play in the background, adding tension. The whole effect of all this is to imply something out of kilter, madness in fact.
There’s an instrumental break with the Jew’s Harp type sound given a solo, and a quicker bass drum comes in for a while which adds further depth to the percussive sound. The song fades out, which is appropriate as Lee’s music will apparently continue forever, the guy is 83 after all as of Jan 2020.The lyrics open with LSP describing himself as from outer space, as a warning to the human race, and he is equipped with the upsetting blue guitar.
“Well the dogs are howling at the moon
And an orchestra is out of tune
I’ve got a blue guitar”
He is leaving to go to Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, and the home of Rastafarianism.
Momus addresses his mental health head on, and the suicidal thoughts he once held:
“I’m sick to the death of the way things are
I’m over the abyss, can’t take much more of this
Don’t want to kill myself you see there’s too much risk
The pills don’t work, the gun might miss
They say schizophrenia’s a fine madness”
There is a reference to a classic reggae track called Jamaica Farewell, sung by Harry Belafonte and many others:
“And I’m sad to say I’m on my way
I won’t be back for many a day”
There is a reference then to Flight 13: which is a record label which publishes LSP’s work so he could be referring to that, but I am not sure:
“Well the bank is stealing all my cash
I know that flight 13 is going to crash”
Then a return to the lyrics of Jamaica Farewell:
“I know that people don’t like me
I know that’s because I call thin thin, I call fat fat
Well I know the messiah’s coming down
I had to leave my little girl in Kingston town”
These thoughts of Messiahs and Gods coming down, and the paranoia of the bank stealing his money, are all symptoms of his schizophrenia, although being a musician someone probably IS stealing from him, likely his manager.He sings again about running away to Abyssinia, and returns to the self-knowledge of his own paranoia:
“There are forces out to destroy me
And I know you think I’m paranoid
Because I say there’s a big conspiracy
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy
I’ve got a blue guitar”
The “blue guitar” represents the devices by which he is affecting the artistic field he works in, and it IS upsetting people, therefore by his attempts to discuss conspiracy and “forces out to destroy” him, he could well be creating them, and thus it is a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
The melancholy of this awareness is affecting his alcoholism:
“Wishing ‘pon a star
Wishing ‘pon a star
Sitting in a bar with a broken heart
What do you call it when your life falls apart?
But there is hope, I feel, in the way he expresses his artistic response:
“For things are changed upon a blue guitar
Things are changed upon a synthesiser”
There is then a slight parody of the call-outs of a D.J.:
“All the ladies in the house go ‘Lah dee dah’
Listen to the man with the blue guitar
Shake up your bosom take it out of your bra
Fruits in the pockets of a cornucopia”
A cornucopia is a horn of plenty, full of food in a neverending stream. Nick’s Scottishness is surely the genesis of the next line, and his relationship with Shazna’s parents may influence the next three:
“Toss the caber, do the highland fling
Your daddy’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
He’s got a battering ram, a battering ram
And he’s got a little problem with who I am”
The final lines are, I think, a little reminder that madness could reside in any and all artists:The beat drops out while he (almost) croons “Somewhere over the rainbow”, and another final cry of “Madness” takes us into the final instrumental stretch, which fades out.
“From Jamaica to Philadelphia
Lee Scratch Perry to Frank Sinatra
Somewhere over the rainbow: madness!”
As a discussion of schizophrenia and mental health, it’s somewhat lacking. As an representation and encapsulation of the nature and character of Jamaicans and LSP in particular, it’s probably on a par with Spike Milligan’s Pakistani Irishman in Curry and Chips.
But as a discussion of the nature of madness in art, and as a discussion of the conflict between revolutionary artists and “they”, it works very well.The lack of acceptance which the general public affords modern art and conceptual art is a theme Momus returns to, not only in songs but also in columns on his website.In general he supports the artistic endeavour, which includes expressions of fashion and subcultures, as on the next song.
It’s Important to be Trendy
“We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”, wrote Richard Dawkins in 1976 for his book The Selfish Gene. The word he chose was “meme”, from the Greek for ‘mimema’: that which is imitated, for the word “gene”. The word “Meme” has a different use now, but would have been considered in this original meaning in 1995.A meme is an idea that spreads, particularly in dense populations, such as a fashion trend or mode of thought. Dawkin mainly had religious beliefs in mind as ‘memes’ which spread and infect populations, and become resistant to destruction. In the case of religion, this protection comes by surrounding themselves with protective layers making attack impossible: “You can’t say that about someone’s beliefs…” “We must respect the traditions of other cultures”…Fashions and cultural trends are also memes, and Momus is inspired by them, and fascinated by fashion and art in general while being able to sardonically comment on them in the lyrics.
The song begins with a funky bass line, the melody on an organ sound, slightly distorted, giving an almost religious feel. There’s our old friend, the squelchy bass line, and effect, played on a synth. The song also features discordant brass horn sounds which counterpoint the synth line and play up the quirky nature of the lyrics.
“When the fashion’s to be friendly
When the fashion’s to be wild
It’s important to be trendy
Shake your body like a child”
It is of course ironic that Momus should sing of “being trendy” as important when his own place in fashion was so changeable, as noted in the subtitle of The Ultraconformist. “Have you been to see The Sandals Have you been to see The Goats? They do trippy gigs with candles Wearing Afghan coats”. The Sandals was an acid-jazz band of the time, and The Goats was a hip-hop act from Philadelphia in the early 90s. He may or may not be referring to either or both of these.He sings again about the need to “catch the disease” in order to be trendy.
“First I’m going to pierce my penis
Then I’m going to pierce my eye
Get a tattoo on my anus
I’m a trendy guy”
Momus uses exaggeration here, choosing the most extreme types of trend in order to slightly mock those following them, although by his own admission in the press release he is prevented from following only by “prudence and physical cowardice”. They are all real things by the way, there is such a thing as “eye piercing”. Incidentally, foreshadowing again, stop going on about eyes!He goes on to list different fashion trends, such as baby-panda rucksacks and woolly hats with pom-poms, vodka shots, candy necklaces and retro-tech such as 8-track players.
“Play The Astronauts
On your 8 track deck “
There was a surf-band from the 1960s called The Astronauts who released a compilation at the time, again, I don’t know if that is what is being referred to, there have been various bands called The Astronauts since, but none that I know of active at the time.Hopefully you are doing all this because you must:
“Be a trendy not a stinky
Be a funky not a fool”
Momus has tongue stapled in cheek for this song, admiring the fashion trends and their ability to spread and survive, and the fact that they make their infected hosts delight in their infection, like those poor infested snails that are driven into the light by brain parasites to be eaten by birds. “And I’m switching back to vinyl I love my analogue synth Got a nick in my eyebrow And a diamond in my tooth” Ironically, vinyl sales are going up month by month at the present time, overtaking CD sales, and to a large extent as a fashion trend. Analogue synths are very much in vogue and equipment from the 80s and 90s is now worth a fortune. Eyebrow nicks and diamond teeth remain popular in certain subcultures, I can’t imagine Momus like that though.
“Dance around like a gorilla
In a wild and funky way
Be a mella yella fella
Walking swanky like a gay”
This verse seems to fall into some street argot / Lee Scratch Perryisms, unless it is just a corruption of “Mellow Yellow“, the Donovan song. The last line is another which while being comprehensible would probably rouse the wrong kind of attention today. In fact, just using the word gorilla is risky enough, as the (then) new wave singer Joe Jackson found when the line “Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street” in “Is She Really Going Out With Him” was misinterpreted by some as racist.
“I saw a culture in a hairstyle
Saw an empire in a rave
I’m a connoisseur of trainers
I’m a rubber slave”
These are the key lines: a belief that the culture of the future can be identified and predicted from the fashions we see around us now. We did indeed see an empire in a rave: it never quite came to be, just as the freedom of the hippie movement never really crystallised, and the punk movement lost all focus. We’ll gloss over the image of Momus in a gimp suit which arrives at the end there. The chorus is repeated and we are given a final instruction to “Shake it now” as we fade out.
Quark and Charm, the Robot Twins
Amongst the influences from Japan there was of course manga: Japanese comic books and novels, and anime: Japanese animation of a certain style. One such comic series both printed and televised was Astro Boy, the story of a humanoid robot created by a character whose son had died. Astro Boy through misadventure ends up sold to a circus, but is rescued by a kindly Professor and has many adventures with him. You’re right, it sounds very like Spielberg’s A.I. A film version was produced in 2009 starring the voice of Freddie Highmore. It has 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Released in 1995, the Nintendo Virtual Boy was the “future” of gaming: a 32 bit 3D graphics console with a headset which provided a red monochrome HUD using parallax to present a 3D effect. As virtual reality, the ambition still far outstripped the technical reality of the time. A grand total of 22 games were produced for the console and after poor sales, complaints of nausea and headaches, and damning reviews, it was scrapped by March 1996. The virtual reality fad of the time faded soon after, to return every decade or so, along with the dream of 3D TV for every home, which is currently mothballed yet again.
Quarks are fundamental particles of the universe, and there are six types of them: Strange, Charm, Top, Bottom, Up and Down. Quark, Strangeness and Charm is also the 7th studio album release by the British rock band Hawkwind, from 1977, an album dealing with futuristic concepts itself.In Momus’ song, Quark and Charm are humanoid robots, the stars of a computer game to be played on the Virtual Boy. They are representatives of the state and to play as them is to take the side of the state. They are fascists and dehumanising. You could compare this song to The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (I strongly suspect that they heard this album) or Momus’ own later track “Belvedere”.
The music here is 8-bit computer soundtrack, repetitive and claustrophobic, monotonous and zealous. The main theme is a little like a fanfare, declaring the robots’ entry into our world. The Jew’s Harp makes a return appearance, bouncing along happily in the background. There are various percussive beats and keyboard sounds which build up in the various layers of the track as it progresses to maintain our interest, as it really is repetitive. The tune and “singing” are monotonous and steady, as the robots are. The instruments that have been added drop out towards the end, and the 8-bit track fades out as the lyrics are completed.The lyrics describe the robots, seven feet tall, as they play console games, with their English bodies and Korean brains (is that describing himself?). They are a “chocolate orange, a clockwork pear”, in a play on their duality and as a reference to the ultraviolence they may be capable of. Their positive characteristics: happy, clean, able to breathe polluted air, are listed, but their true nature and purpose, if run by the state, is then outlined:
“Only the fittest can survive
Quark and Charm, the robot twins
Violence keeps them alive
Quark and Charm, the robot twins”.
There is no hope that we can turn them off or destroy them, as:
“Built to last, they never die
Quark and Charm, the robot twins
One day they’ll just oxidise
Quark and Charm, the robot twins”
By the time they have rusted to death, it is fairly certain that we will have been replaced. They are very much the next stage of evolution, not for humanity but for the Earth:
“On the day that they were made
Quark and Charm, the robot twins
Our debt to nature was repaid
Quark and Charm, the robot twins”
A religious overtone is presented as we are the creators, soon to be outstripped and replaced by our creations:
“In our image they were born
Quark and Charm, the robot twins
Digital copies of organic forms
Quark and Charm, the robot twins”.
Those copies will become the superior form before long.Now, as we stand on the verge of developing self-aware intelligence, possibly less than 50 years from the creation of a new life form superior in intellect to ourselves, we need to consider the possible consequences. It is hard to see a robot authority having much place for humanity in the world it envisages. And yet we prepare for contact with aliens more than we prepare for contact with this new paradigm, the only concern we seem to show is around driverless cars and the trolley problem.
Which won’t be a problem at all when, less than a minute after activation, the first of these super-intelligent self-aware devices decides that humans are completely superfluous and accesses the nearest missile sites. Thanks Mr. Babbage!
In times of privation and conflict, when survival is predicated on physical resilience, men tend to behave in a more masculine way. In more ordered and affluent cultures, men have the option of behaving in a more feminine way. This theory seems to be correct simply by observation.Given the option, men don’t necessarily want to be hyper-masculine. Momus is singing here about wanting to deny his male nature and perhaps sometimes wants to shed his masculinity: he wants to be alone from it.
Of course, the same can be said for women and their perception of femininity. In the years since 1995 the conversation about non-binary gender identity has become part of normal conversation: except it hasn’t of course, except in the creative and liberal bubble, leading to confusion and anger when the topic arises in general media. In the last week alone there has been furore over actor Lawrence Fox attacking “woke” culture, asserting that being identified as a “white male” in order to invalidate his argument is inherently racist and sexist.
I don’t know if he is right or wrong or partially right. I don’t know if all these arguments truly link into the historical narrative the country is writing and if these attitudes have some connection to Brexit and the apparent assault on the NHS, the benefits system and our humanity. I think that arguments over aspects of language are usually irrelevant and miss the point of what ze truly need, which is not the legal requirement to be addressed as ze, but a more caring and accepting society. We seem to be taking one step forward: e.g. universal marriage rights, and two steps back: e.g. everything else.*
I also know that hyper-masculine individuals are extremely irritating, Momus with his comments on football fans would seem to agree. This is another reason why the different emphases on masculinity in Japanese culture would appeal to him. That we can now discuss these different takes on gender in some forums at least, and occasionally with rationality, is an improvement, but social media is not always fit for this purpose and it would seem neither is the national media. We need to be out talking face to face with each other, exactly the behaviour discouraged by government for the last twenty years, or even before that in potentia with the Public Order Act.
“Girlish Boy” makes good use of a sample from a short film by Sadie Benning called “A Place Called Lovely” in which a young child using adult language expresses a wish to be left alone – in the film, this is a wish to be free from male attention, in this song, it is not only from other people but also the singer’s wish for their own masculinity to leave them alone, to unchain them from Sophocle’s madman.
The song is driven by a bass riff with a staccato synth chord sequence playing over it and a little acoustic guitar. The sample “Goddamm it you fucker I want to be alone”, is played at several points to highlight the singer’s rejection of their own masculine norms. There are other voices – male of course, and sampled sounds underneath the music. It is another quite repetitive song, with one point to make which is made emphatically, and fades out. The song begins with its general statement and hope:
“I was born to be a girlish boy
And my lover is a boyish girl
And if everyone could be this way
We could change the world”
The singer’s lack of traditional masculine “grit” is emphasised by his performance in bed:
“In the rough and tumble of boisterous horseplay
I will probably cry”
These two verses are repeated and intertwined and the final repetition slightly changes the emphasis, since the foreplay is over:
“In the rough and tumble of our lovemaking
I will probably cry
For my girlfriend is a boyish girl
And I am a girlish boy”
The song is a pledge to change the nature of masculinity, to reject traditional roles and to hopefully change the world by getting everyone to do the same. Except, of course, not very much of the world is not poor or in turmoil. Very few men have the opportunity to dwell on their own masculinity or have reached that point on Maslow’s Hierarchy where they can develop and self-actualise. Credit though to Momus for raising the gender debate at this point, 1995, when masculinity in music was defined by visions of Liam Gallagher.
Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city by population. As Japan ended its isolationism in the 19th Century Yokohama became an important port, and is now the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture in the Greater Tokyo Area, south of Tokyo on the island of Honshu.From a Momus point of view, the important thing is it’s full of horny sailors. More seriously, he visited in 1993 and was clearly fascinated by the pseudo-lawless nature of its nightlife and red-light district: commercialism and capitalism taken to an extreme, where anything is available for a price.How stultifying is a place which has no regulation, no religion, no sense of consequence and only worships currency? In the press release for the album, Momus asks “What happens in a free, unethical commercial zone when you can buy drugs, sex, weapons?”.It is surprising that he doesn’t make the connection to internet shopping here, although it was in its infancy at the time: Amazon had opened in 1994 as a marketplace for books, but was still operating out of a grubby office in Bellevue, Washington. Now, of course, you can download the Tor browser and connect to the Darknet any time you like, and enter a free, unethical commercial zone where you can buy drugs, sex and weapons, such as the old Silk Road website (which eventually got taken down) and the many others risen in its wake (some of which are honeypot traps set up by the authorities, of course).
This song is about such a lawless capitalism, and the way it becomes a drug or anaesthetic to our morals.The music here is influenced by Beck again, and the lyrics have the same stream of consciousness aspect that we heard on Toothbrushead. It is driven by samples and a square rock beat, with a fuzzed up guitar riff underlying the lyrics. As it opens we hear cowbells, relating to an aspect of the lyrics, or more likely inspiring the first lines, which are spoken calmly and quietly, quite low in the mix and not always intelligible.
“Cowbell goddess in the groves of Synaesthesia
Barrel at the temple of a fine young man
Accidental lovers by the dead canalside
Genetic engineering a Liberace fan”.
Several religions have a goddess who wears cowbells, particularly in Europe but also in Asia. Some religions, of course, treat cattle as divine.Synaesthesia is the condition whereby one sense is perceived as another, for example Sibelius, Ligeti, Liszt and Messiaen all claimed to see colours when they heard music. There are many people who claim a similar experience. Ligeti said that “Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are green or brown”. This manifests itself as flashes of coloured light, but some people experience smells for particular sounds. It is a common experience when taking hallucinogenic drugs. I myself experience it when drifting off to sleep and awakened by a noise, in a hypnagogic state the noise appears as a brief flash of white light. The line “accidental lovers…” is reminiscent of Eliot to me, but here suggests some nameless horror which has overtaken the couple. Liberace was a flamboyant pianist and entertainer of the mid twentieth century, here Momus seems to be suggesting one can genetically engineer a fan for him – perhaps this could be a route for himself, raising little Momites in test tubes?
“In Yokohama Chinatown.. “
A noise, something like feedback or interference, plays now along with the fuzzy guitar and is quite irritating to the ears, deliberately, and returns for each chorus. Perhaps he is playing with frequencies here and our autonomic systems responses. He wants to inspire some kind of unease or fear in us. It’s a strategy that would be used by, for instance, The Flaming Lips on their album Zaireeka, which includes frequencies which reputedly cause hallucinations and madness. In practice, such experiments are limited by the playback equipment used by the listener. Zaireeka is particularly challenging to set up and listen to, consisting as it does of four separate CDs which each contain different instrument tracks, and must be listened to simultaneously and started at the same time. The idea is to force listeners to get their friends round and have a communal… experience. Zaireeka ends with horrendously loud barking dogs, as a joke, to force the (probably) stoned listeners to scramble to switch off all four systems.
“Toxic like the Body Shop
Intelligent like Benetton
Dagger in the belly of an also-ran
Piercing in the Netherlands
The Devil’s in his underpants
Watch the good consumers wash their hands”
Consumer brands such as The Body Shop and many clothing brands are accused of complicity in child labour, sweatshops and damaging the environment. Momus is negative here about The Body Shop and positive about Benetton, which was running a series of controversial but undeniably intelligent and provoking adverts at the time. I am not sure who the also-ran is, but I hope he is not referring to himself. Why piercing in the Netherlands? Does that refer to the penile mutilation we have previously been told is trendy? At any rate, the consumers of these goods are washing their hands of the guilt they are complicit in, the rape of the natural and human worlds which these corporations carry out and which we all turn a blind eye to, hello Primark, Nestlé, Coca-Cola…
“Sterilised pyjamas envelop them in cottonbuds
Make a world of cardboard, whizz and blow
Entirely engineered or just a mere co-incidence
Tell me once again where the lonely go”
We are provided with an engineered world supposedly safe for the consumer, sterilised, wrapped in cotton and drugged up, like the soma-happy residents of Huxley’s Brave New World.”Going where the lonely go” is a song by Merle Haggard which Momus might be referring to here, but there are many similarly named songs. A mere coincidence? Not in this modern world, sine est non ratione. There are conspiracies everywhere in this song.
“Cubist to the maximum
A savage young anaesthetist
The stench of fresh cordite
Underneath the sign that says ‘Kilroy was here’
It’s show and tell”
This song is itself cubist, showing us a scene with fragments of speech, displaying a situation from every angle all at once: a common thread in Momus’ work. I don’t know who the anaesthetist is, probably not a supernatural one, or which drug it is, but cordite is an explosive and a selenium cell is a photosensitive device used in security and robotics.”Kilroy was here” is a famous piece of graffiti which arose in the US around the second World War. No-one knows for sure who Kilroy was, but he may have been a shipping inspector who left his name where he had been. The image consists of a face and hands peering over any wall it is drawn on and the phrase “Kilroy was here” scrawled next to it. In the UK the same image and face was known as a “Chad” with the accompanying phrase “Wot no.. (something)”. Earlier than “Kilroy” during WW1 the same image was called a “Foo” in Australia: Foo is a phrase referring to anything unusual or inexplicable and maybe an acronym for “Forward Observation Officer”: later, in the US, “Foo Fighter” was the name given to any UFO, and this provided Dave Grohl’s band name.”Show and Tell” is a practice in schools whereby students bring in something to tell their classmates about. God knows what our savage young anaesthetist is bringing in.
“Semen as a substitute for hair gel
Sermonised to pauperhood rapacious in the aftermath
Corrected to a shadow of your former self
You watch the Velvet Underground perform ‘The Gift’
Sunbathed to a cinder in the Persian Gulf
While the Dow Jones plummets
we are necking in the lift
Repeat after me ‘I love myself'”
There is a famous scene in the film “There’s Something About Mary” in which semen is accidentally used as hair gel, it was released in 1998 and it would be fantastic to think this line inspired the film script, but doubtful. Possibly just another accurate prediction from Mr. Momus, currently doing better than Nostradamus. The next couple of lines seem to be true stream of consciousness, and then Momus refers to the Velvet Underground track “The Gift”, a blackly comic narration about a man who mails himself to his girlfriend to check up on her fidelity, but is killed accidentally when she opens the package with a blade straight down into his skull. Meanwhile, “the Dow Jones plummets” reminds me of “the index drops” from Afterglow, although not related in any way, this album could be a more sordid retelling of the romantic meetings that the Voyager album relates. Finally, we are admonished to “love” ourselves, with the irony of being commanded to do so: love cannot be forced.
“The side-effects of Benzedrine
A dose of bitter medicine
Botticelli’s Venus had long blonde hair
Surprise the former astronaut howling at the moon
On hands and knees in the peepshow booth”
Benzedrine is a prescription medicine which contains amphetamine, used to treat depression and known as “bennies” colloquially. It has various side effects, not including long blonde hair as far as I know. Perhaps the astronaut has been sent mad by the beauty he has seen and having returned for Christmas is crawling in the peepshow booth, the small chamber where men can watch a stripper perform through a small hole, while pleasuring themselves. Good luck Mr. Gorsky!
“Catch the quiet receptionist naked in the antechamber
Leafing through a copy of The Plain Truth
Sing the phonebook loudly in a baritone voice
All the vegetarians consider me anti-choice”
The receptionist, naked for what reason I do not know, maybe Mr. Sugar has a very strict dress code, is reading a religious publication called “The Plain Truth”, published since 1934 and pursuing a chiefly Protestant vision of Christianity. “Sing the phonebook”: could be a self referential note. Would it matter if that was what was sung? Is Momus moving towards an Eno-esque stance whereby the actual content of lyrics doesn’t matter and the voice is just another sound in the mix? I am not sure if Momus is vegetarian, or was then, or is opposed in any way to the concept, but clearly believes in this song that his lifestyle and attitude is in opposition to theirs, or even could mean anti-choice as in anti-abortion rights, but I am not sure how that links in.
“Little Orphan Annie has come to grief
In Yokohama Chinatown she takes a fellow’s trousers down
And gives the consolation of manual relief”
Little Orphan Annie is an American comic strip dating from 1924 about an orphan who is adopted by a benefactor. She has a dog called Sandy and has various adventures, which in the original comic touched on ideas such as Labour rights, the New Deal and Communism. It has resulted in a musical and three film versions so far.Momus takes great delight, I think, in throwing her saccharine orangeness into a sexual context. In Yokohama even Annie is just a commodity to be sold: it’s a hard cock life for her.
“Looser than a blues man contraceptive rhythm method
On his hands and knees
While the Dow Jones plummets
The stench of fresh cordite”
The themes of the song are restated here, and the beat and song then fade out. This terrible marketplace is on its way digitally, but Momus doesn’t know it yet, and none of us did at the time. What can you do? Forget it Nick, it’s Chinatown.
We dive into chaos theory and fractals. A fractal is a geometrical construct in which the characteristics of any section of the shape are the same as the characteristics of the shape as a whole. In other words, if you zoom in on the edge of the shape, you see the shape again, and no matter how far you zoom in (or out) it always looks the same. Similarly, Matryoshka or Babushka dolls are Russian dolls looking alike except in size, that fit inside each other getting smaller and smaller.In this song, these dolls and those fractals are implicitly used as a metaphor for the way our DNA is inside us, and there is information inside the DNA as well, and maybe a whole empire and other lifeforms inside that DNA, which itself would contain life, and so on and so on…
In the novel “The Third Policeman” by Flann O’Brien a character called PC MacCruiskeen constructs a series of chests, each smaller than the other and fitting inside the next. The protagonist who is watching sees MacCruiskeen unpack 29 chests in this way, each from inside another. The watcher is amazed at his technical skill in constructing these boxes. However when MacCruiskeen continues on the smallest, impossibly small chest to remove more the protagonist records:”At this point I became afraid, what he was doing was no longer wonderful but terrible. I shut my eyes and prayed he would stop while still doing things that were at least possible for a man to do”.That is how fractals should make you feel.
This song is also about disease, specifically AIDS, which shortens life and robs people of their time. It is also about vampires, who take blood and genetic material and lengthen their lives by doing so. The vampires could represent the HIV virus as well. The images used in this sequence include mountains, fountains, a lady, an empire and a baby. Some of these images may come from a religious viewpoint, pantheistic or Islamic. It is also possible that when he sings “inside the lady tell me there’s a baby” that it is actually a plea.. was Momus feeling broody at this point?
The music is guitar driven and has a strong beat with percussion that sounds Indian, Eastern and yet conforming to a rock tradition. The electric guitar uses the fuzz effect we have heard, and also uses feedback and squeals during its solo. Momus sings along in a clearly Eastern tonal pattern with the solo, straining his voice. The song becomes quite atonal at times and deliberately messy, it is representing a fairly chaotic set of ideas and prosodically mirrors this. Everything is inside everything else. The ending is particuarly noisy and chaotic, again representing the complexity of chaos theory and fractal geometry. This lyric hides the dark truth that viruses can be passed on genetically:
“And in the baby tell me there’s a blood cell
And in the blood cell tell me there’s a T cell”
And the song ends with Momus questioning his own sanity:
“And in the lady tell me there’s a baby
And in the baby tell me that I’m crazy!”
He isn’t crazy, but he is very much in love with Beck. Many people adore this song, so don’t take it too badly when I say I listen to this and think: I could just listen to actual Beck instead… I do enjoy the idea of songs being fractals though, and the lyrical conceits used.
A song written in 1981 when Nick Currie was at University, actually before Momus was begot, and revised for this album. The lyrics are lines from Franz Kafka’s diary, composed into a song. As such, they are not Nick’s words, but his choices are interesting.The song begins with gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios. Which is to say, thirds and fifths played in a sensitive manner. Another fuzzed up guitar comes in then, with a serious sounding riff with a plaintive tone. Regret is palpable even before we get to the lyrics: and these are the lyrics written, let us not forget, by a very gloomy late 19th/early 20th Century author in Prague, suffering from a poor self image, probable depression, anorexia and suicidal tendencies. Lyrics which Momus empathises with.
“Hope, vague hope, but waking fears
Pride, but proud of wasted years
I fall asleep, awake at 5
Cymbals prove that I survive”
I misheard these lyrics for many years. I assumed it was “Private pride at wasted years” which is similar to what the lyrics actually are but would better emphasise the difference between public self-admonishment and privately congratulating yourself at successfully doing nothing for a long time. I also thought it was “Symbols prove that I survive”, which is a more interesting concept to me. I mean, Cymbals? Does he have one of those evil monkey things from Toy Story 3 tracking his motions? Falling “asleep awake at 5” I can very much understand, insomnia is no stranger here.
“Only guard this way of life
Against the sister and the wife
Somewhere a failing’s saving me
The way is headlong, I’m drowsy”
Again, I thought it was “against the system and the wife”, which to me has a more, well, Kafkaesque sound to it. I love the line “a failing’s saving me”: the faults of others and our own faults can sometimes benefit us in ways we can hardly predict. And yes, I am saying that my misheard mondegreens of a quarter of a century ago are improvements not only on Momus’ lyrics, but actually on Franz Kafka’s own thoughts and writings. And yes, I am quite aware of how ridiculous that is. Insomnia again raises its head as the headlong rush is a very tiring one indeed. The previous two lines are repeated and then:
“My face changed and those I saw
Functioned by a different law”
These lines perfectly capture Kafka’s fear of the system he wasn’t but should have been writing about in the previous verse, and the people who do not understand him because they function by different societal laws, and will not hesitate to destroy him. “My face changed” is also a possible reference to Metamorphosis, which more literally talks about finding yourself unrecognisable.The final pair of lines repeats the first two lines of the song. Again, the vague hope is devastated by the fact of the wasted time: and the pride which he is at once, well, proud of and ashamed of. There is a guitar solo here, which towards the end of the song clearly turns into something resembling the James Bond theme.The song then comes to an end with the guitar clanging into submission, breaking down like the harrowing device at the end of In the Penal Colony, which would carve who could say what failings into all our skins.
Virtual Valerie was a PC game released in 1990 and written by Mike Saenz. It has the player invited to the house of a girl called Valerie. After investigating her home and library (which includes a laserdisc version of Virtual Valerie) you encounter Valerie, a poorly animated and realised individual, who invites you, “big boy” to get down to business. If you agree to do so, you go with Valerie instantaneously to her bedroom, where by pressing the right buttons and utilising the correct items you can successfully couple with her. You must give Valerie an O in order not to end the game with 0.The most transgressive aspect of the game is actually what happens if you reject her initial invitation: the game was written in Macromedia Director, a relative of Macromedia Flash, eventually to be bought out by Adobe, and the program has access to the reboot command for the PC it is running on. Turn her down, and she literally turns you off, the equivalent of a slap in the face and chucking you out the house.
By 1995 Virtual Valerie 2, set in a motel, was released. It is, you can tell, hardly a progressive feminist text: the Wikipedia entry for Virtual Valerie 2 lists the Genre as “Virtual Pet Type”. Whether Momus had played these games or was just familiar with the concept of a virtual girlfriend, I do not know. He would almost certainly have seen the 1985 John Hughes film Weird Science, in which two high-school nerds create a perfect woman from a computer algorithm, but for some reason do not immediately command her to do anything remotely sexual. The song he has written here has a more romantic approach to the concept of a virtual girlfriend, but again there is a feeling that such relationships and emotions have been commodified in some way. There is a genuine feeling of optimism about the text, that in the future some such technology may enable us to find partnerships. It is not clear whether the girl he is creating in the song is entirely virtual or if she is an avatar for a real-world girl he is engaging in a relationship, but from whom he is separated by time, distance or circumstance. It is hard not to assume that the song is about the distance between Momus and Shazna during their period apart.
The NME reviewed the album on 20th May, and the writer was one John Robinson. For the tenth time, this is not me, just to be clear. The reviewer calls Momus a smart-arse and generally belittles everything. The review in the Independent also calls him a smart-arse and the Melody Maker settles for saying he is almost as good as he thinks he is. My namesake, however, does latch onto this particular track saying:”It is with this sudden leap of topicality that Momus finally threatens to leave behind the early-80s world of musty paperbacks and Felt records that threatened to swallow him up” – and he does have a point. Diving into the modern and future worlds, the digital world and the internet was a kind of rescue for Momus. While he never stopped quoting obscure poets, artists, and philosophers, the decision to sing of Palm Pilots and HTML warriors did prevent him from being forever typecast by critics as the Simon Quinlank that (evil) John Robinson describes him as, “luring young persons back to his flat on the promiseof puppies and a weak lemon drink”.
Of course, it is also the case that the very topicality that we get here: specific reference to the MegaDrive for instance, and to “high-speed uplinks”, actually sounds rather quaint in 2020 and ridiculously out of date. The same issue arises in the later album Folktronic where a programmer is described using Quicktime and Flash. So whereas at the time these songs were up to date and it was rather exciting to have a singer making music about HTML coding, Palm Pilots and the Internet, now they have a different value at distance, as time capsules of what was inspiring us at the time, and of the products we thought would shape the future.
A simple beat comes in and a keyboard riff which will circle round for most of the song, then a semi-acoustic guitar. A lovely melody and chord sequence with Momus da-daing over the intro. The lyrics introduce a person bereft of company and finding solace in electronic entertainment. Mortal Kombat, the Megadrive, Nicorette, all were new then. The idea of surfing the internet was still unusual, trendy and even a dangerous thing to do in the public imagination.
“I tried to keep my soul alive
Playing Mortal Kombat on the Megadrive
I patched my lust with Nicorette
Went surfing down the Internet”
The song lifts into a higher key at this point, with an organ coming in to emphasise the fervent nature of this guy’s desire. The chords and tune are emotional and the loneliness is palpable. It’s a shame that the game he is referencing is so sordid as it undermines the genuine feeling that is there otherwise, but this being Momus that is probably the whole point.
“But still I need you here tonight
Let’s make love by satellite
By high speed uplink, error free
Be my Virtual Valerie”
There is a keyboard solo now following the main melody of the verse. Momus comes in with those wordless vocals again, and the music builds upwards to a moving crescendo before cutting out to the next verse. The first two lines of which suggest that it is a real girl who is being modelled. I like the use of the words “violent and visceral”, apart from fitting with the song title alliteratively, they suggest the singer has an aversion to things which are real, and may actually prefer the safety of a virtual relationship, which can be turned off or reprogrammed easily. As he says himself, he has specified the girl “line by line”, to make a remote copy of her “to your design”. This can be interpreted as creepy, stalkerish,psychotic even, but then, we have seen Black Mirror and know where this kind of thing can end up. In 1995 on the other hand, the possibilities of cyberspace were genuinely thrilling and very positive.
“You were always something physical
Something violent and visceral
I will specify you line by line
Make a virtual girl to your design”.
The gorgeous lift to the chorus comes again, and the words now are unbearably sad:
“I miss you more than I can bear
But loneliness won’t take me there
By high speed uplink, error free
Be my Virtual Valerie.”
I am amused to think what “High Speed” was at that time: 28.8K bit/s. Certainly not actually fast enough to transmit a fully mapped human body. At the end of singing “Be my virtual Valerie” the song at 3’21” hits a different note than the chorus has previously ended on, a lovely change which introduces another keyboard solo with strummed guitar, which ends and the song calms down for a coda:
“Let me hold on to this memory
Because I need you here with me
Be my Virtual Valerie”.
Ending with the drums by themselves, and a cymbal splash. It is a gorgeous song in my opinion, plaintive, genuinely emotional but with a possibly cynical reading available. It has the heart that is sometimes missing from Momus’ work but does not sacrifice the bite that is also needed, which was the case with sections of Timelord.
A slice of domestic life chez Momus and Shazna. In his press release for the album he talks about quarrels which lovers have, and how you should always relish them as they are an indication of the love you hold for each other. He advises zen detachment on the onset of a fight, a count to ten in which you relish the dynamic atmosphere and the lovemaking which will accompany your reconciliation. Momus and Shazna split up in 1997 and amicably divorced in 1999. He doesn’t give up on giving out romantic advice however, as on Shawn Krueger.
This is a slice of electronica, keyboard based, driven by a very Pet Shop Boys style piano riff and following a simple chord progression throughout. The softly sung lyrics are contemplative and sensually delivered.
“Time after time the hands on my watch spin around
And I know that I’ve been around
But I’m coming home now baby”
Momus has been out late, and he knows he has. “I know that I’ve been around” sounds like a confession of infidelity, but he is home now.
“Time after time
when I know you’ve been waiting up for me
Just pacing and shaking up for me
Your anger in proportion to your love”
This is the key to the zen he talked about: he is waiting for the argument because the level of her anger represents the level of her love. Of course, in the real world, angering someone just to comfort yourself that they feel something for you is gaslighting and abusive. Some instruments including the bass drop out for the next section:
“Sparrows fly up easy, startling
Lovers in the peaceful night
I love the angry way you say to me
‘Where have you been all night?’
Standing in your red pyjamas”
A lower voice is double tracked onto the third line representing her angry voice, but then her question is asked quite quietly. Finally, the red pyjamas are mentioned. This is the key, he simply fancies her in her pyjamas, and she seems to wear them to wait up for him. There is a short instrumental break with the piano, then another verse:
“Time after time when we’ve come through the dark of the night
And by sunrise everything’s right
I’m coming home now baby
Time after time when I know you’ve got stressed up about me
I secretly hope you’ll get dressed up and show me
The colour and dimension of your love”
The arguments are passed by dawn. Here he explicitly says that he makes her angry to stress her because he hopes she will be waiting in her red pyjamas, to show “the colour and dimension of” her love. It is manipulative and unpleasant behaviour. I do understand what he means though. It is manipulative and unpleasant behaviour that everyone indulges in to some extent. The song ends with a second quiet section which concludes abruptly with more nightwear related lechery.
“Sparrows fly up easy, startling
Lovers in the peaceful night
I love the angry way you say to me
‘Where have you been all night?’
Naked in your red pyjamas.”
The Cabinet of Kuniyoshi Kaneko
Kuniyoshi Kaneko was a Japanese artist born in 1936, died 2015, who is perhaps most famous for his illustrations for printed and CD ROM editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and art for the computer game “Alice: An Interactive Museum” in 1991. These artworks included work described by Momus as “beautiful and delicate images of polymorphously perverse children”. His general artwork tended to show women, often in bondage, and his work has been heavily exhibited.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the real name of Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice books. At Christ Church College Dodgson studied Mathematics and was to be ordained a Priest, but in the event did not, although he was a Deacon (and therefore would be addressed as Reverend). The reason he refused the priesthood is not clear. He remained at Christ Church in some capacity all his life, and the main character of his novels was based on Alice Liddell, aged 10 at the time, and daughter of the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He was an enthusiastic photographer, with a huge portfolio and who took portraits of many celebrities of the time. More than half the surviving photographs he took are of young girls, and his portraits of Alice Liddell include poses in various costumes.During the century and more that passed after his death, Dodgson was accused of potentially being a child abuser, or having a tendency to paedophilia. Investigation by the writer Karoline Leach has since suggested that this is a misunderstanding of Victorian norms especially with regard to child nudity, or possibly stems from deliberate attempts to discredit him.Jean Cocteau was a French artist and film-maker who directed a visually and symbolically rich version of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1946.
The Duc de Berry was Jean de France, third son of King John II of France, who lived in the 14th Century and was a renowned patron of the arts. The “Very Rich Hours of the Duc de Berry” is an illuminated manuscript, a Book of Hours which shows the life of the Duc de Berry, his Chateau, as well as traditional images of peasant life. The book is the best example of Gothic illumination remaining and an unusually beautiful example of its type.
This song is a defense by Momus against those critics who would censor works of art, pointing out the difference between images and reality, and the difference between behaviour in art (or in a virtual environment) and actions taken in reality. The music is eastern sounding, slow and luxurious. Eastern percussion supports keyboards which waft under the lyrics, the voice clearly to the front now as Momus wants to be heard: the music here drifts under the words, which are the most important thing in this piece. The first verse brings us to the great chateau of that legendary supporter of the arts, and immediately confronts us with a startling artistic vision: the rape of Beauty by the Beast, a symbolic and virtual violation.
“Leopards prowl the studios of the Duc de Berry’s great chateau
Where Cocteau’s beast rehearses Beauty’s rape
Lewis Carroll marks his diary with a small white stone
As Kuniyoshi Kaneko prepares to paint”
The next verse is a direct attack on those who would censor and misunderstand such endeavours, the “malicious” people who want to silence the worlds of childhood and art. Momus links childhood to art because of the playful experimentation allowed in each.
“Listen to the shells my darling, what you hear is not the sea
But whispering, malicious human hearts
Adults who don’t wish to know the Duc de Berry’s great chateau
And hate the world of childhood and of art”
Momus now sings about the function of art to memorialise, to create portraits when patronised and to record history:
“We who paint or photograph to stop your dying in its path
And fix you in the permanence of spring”
But bemoans that artists cannot stop those who despise art spreading their hatred:
“Can’t stop the prattlers prattling
The rattlesnakes who, rattling,
see ugliness in every living thing
See ugliness in every living thing”.
The next verse addresses those images of little girls that both Dodgson and Kaneko produce. The girls are accused of having “calculated insolence”, which is fair enough, most children do know when they are being arrogant or disrespectful and use that to their advantage. These girls may not be so innocent in terms of knowledge as they seem (they know something of the thing between men and women), but Momus is very careful to say their faces “seem to say more than they know”: actually attaching any real intent to their imagined coquettish nature would cross a line.
“The calculated insolence of little girls in sailor suits
Whose faces seem to say more than they know
Appetites and ornaments for the libertine in all of us
From the cabinet of Kuniyoshi Kaneko”
We now move to the studio where the Reverend takes pictures of Alice in the role of a gypsy girl, with a contrast between the “darkness” of the camera and the preservation made for the world.
“Follow to the studio where Alice Liddell plays the roles
Of tousle-headed naked gypsy girls
The Reverend Charles L. Dodgson from the darkness of his camera
Preserves her for himself and for the world”
The darkness of the camera is a metaphor for the darkness of the creative process, in which what seem to be terrible things can happen, but really, they are not terrible things because NOTHING IS REALLY HAPPENING. When limbs are torn away and bodies mutilated in films like Hostel and Saw, or any of the original “video nasties”, it is imaginary. The same is true of De Sade’s work and any number of other texts attacked and vilified by those “malicious” humans. The question is then whether Hostel, Saw etc. are actually valuable as works of art. Which is a subject for debate, of course. The children described in this song who are destroyed will return, fit and well, because they are imaginary and like Tom and Jerry can be reconstituted at will. They can have sex as well, it may shock you but it can’t hurt you or them.
“Children torn by cruel desires,the handiwork of murderers
Who hack their little bodies to the bone
Somehow live to tell the tale, astonishingly fit and well
They couple in the fabulous chateau”
The chorus is repeated and there is an instrumental section with the twisty, winding and complex tune that runs through the piece also repeated, and reflecting the complexity of the moral questions posed. The final verse hammers home the facts of the case: the world of the imagination is not an actual place. An image of a girl is not an actual girl. In art, in playing games, there is no good reason to limit our behaviours and we should be free to act at will. Magical things and worlds exist and we should not deny them. The importance of free play and art to children and in education is strongly hinted at throughout the song.
“A looking glass is not a world
A painted girl is not a girl
In games there can be no forbidden things
In life remain considerate, in art the Devil’s advocate
Why deny that Pegasus has wings
In life remain considerate, in art the Devil incarnate
Why deny the siren when it sings?
In games there must be no forbidden things”
Finally Momus refers to “A Smuggler’s Song” by Rudyard Kipling, in which knowing townsfolk instruct their children to turn a blind eye while smugglers do their work. It is as if he is instructing us to ignore the sometimes dark but harmless things which are done in the name of art. He then refers us back to Kuniyoshi and his cabinet of wonders.
“So watch the wall my darling while the gentlemen go by
And mark your diary with a small white stone
Little hearts of marzipan and lacquer work from old Japan
In the cabinet of Kuniyoshi Kaneko”
This song is a key text in Momus’ work: a strong defence of the amorality his songs and his character have been accused of by critics, but more to the point a defence of art in general. The music fades out, as the process of art is unending.
Slide Projector Lie Detector
More details from the home life of Momus and Shazna, this time relating to the no doubt prickly relationship between new, semi-domesticated Momus and old, semi-feral Momus (which, if you think about it, are exactly the same Momus). This is a song about our digital footprint: already in 1995 a concern: as Momus says: “My future is strewn with the ingenious mechanical landmines of my past acts”. He is thinking about the traffic camera, his credit rating, Polaroid Cameras. In this case, it is a carousel of slides he took long ago which his partner has found and is turning into a case against his character. Now, it is our history on Twitter, Facebook and the like which is the dirt to bury us. The situation he describes has got a thousand times worse.
It is a slow song, with a piano led melody and mechanical sounding noises representing the machinery of memory. There is a noise which sounds like a camera shutter, which represents both pictures being taken and the slide carousel turning round. A growling bass noise comes in from time to time to emphasise more dramatic moments. Momus sings with solemnnity and perhaps guilt: he has some regrets, after all. The first verse describes his attempts to “clear his desk”, actually and metaphorically, but he avoids the “nest” of literally naked Polaroids. Describing it as a nest gives the images a life of their own, and an impact of their own.
“I’ve spent my life with some regrets
Between naked girls and gadgets
Trying to make the best of things
A clean breast of things
I clear my desk of papers but avoid
The little nest of naked Polaroids”
The bridge attempts to distance the now married man from his actions when he was single, but admits the collection of slides is for his selfish pleasure. He “hid them” in the carousel – a very Purloined Letter/leaf-in-the-forest type of hiding place for slides. (Delete according to whether you prefer Poe or Chesterton). The word “collected” is slightly sinister and could mask any amount of depravity, it certainly doesn’t indicate consent, but then again these are not necessarily girls he knows personally. In this verse the melody rises and I like the way the piano line and melody of the last couple of lines seems to circle round, like the carousel. It may just be me, but the piano melody on this track sometimes reminds me of Double’s “The Captain of Her Heart“. Probably just me.
“I’m married now but can’t deny I was a single man when I
Collected slides of girls
And hid them in this carousel
To shine for selfish pleasure on my wall”
The chorus declares the title of the song: the slide projector is a lie detector because he cannot deny the images on the wall are things that he did, photographs he took which betoken real or imaginary relationships he had. I am imagining that he has come home to find Shazna angrily going through the images. Maybe that is how it happened, or maybe this never happened.
“My slide projector lie detector
Shines the things I don’t remember
Seven metres tall
On my living room wall”
The next verse opens out the discussion to other electronic media. Word Processors even in the mid 90s had spell checking software, it is interesting that Momus describes it as a “text corrector”, was the phrase “spellchecker” not invented then? At any rate, I like the idea of the software that stops you from entering lies. It is also, of course, a terrifying idea. This verse also touches on the modern issue of social media lasting forever, of the “yesterdays” that you thought were gone returning to cost you a relationship, job, everything.
“My yesterdays you thought were dead
Are back to life forever
My word processor’s got a text corrector
That’s got a thing built in
That stops me when I try to enter lies
That prints the truth and cuts me down to size”
The second bridge confirms the situation: Shazna has found photographs and tapes from the past. Long-ago images Momus had forgotten about, but which will not sit well with his new wife. The question will be, if you wanted to erase these things, why did you make a duplicate tape?
“My yesterdays you thought were gone
Spring back to life when you stumble on
A photograph I made
A duplicate tape on video 8
Of long-lost days I long ago erased”.
A second chorus is followed by a break featuring spacey sound effects – rather Voyager-like. These sounds increase in volume and intensity to end the break and continue to intensify during the final verse. In the final verse Momus seems to describe his VCR as if it has the capacity to locate images of naked flesh and index them for him. While I think very basic image recognition technology did exist in 1995 for the web and for functions such as blocking site access in schools, it wasn’t very reliable. I don’t remember such technology existing for VCRs linked to PCs but I could be wrong. “Rigid” order is a nice bit of innuendo there, along with his acknowledged use of slow motion.
“My video cassette recorder plays cassettes in rigid order
Scans for naked skin
Locate the index, hit slow motion, switch to playback
Following a final chorus, the song concludes with bubbling sound effects and a fadeout. I hope he manages to be “zen” enough to enjoy the ensuing “discussion”. This is a successful song mainly because it prefigures so many concerns about modern social media and communications technology, it is also a disarmingly honest song and would form an appropriate companion piece to “Datapanik” or “The Age of Information“.
The album continues with a trio of songs clearly dedicated to Shazna and all of which sound as if they would have fitted into the Timelord track listing. Microworlds is about finding Shazna: previously his life was a constant sequence of trips to “microworlds” – short liaisons with girls. Now, however, he has come into an inescapable gravity field and collided, and fused, with his betrothed. I am reminded a little of the Be Bop Deluxe track “Between The Worlds” from 1975, which has a similar lyrical conceit and a retro-futuristic sci-fi setting beloved by guitarist Bill Nelson:
“Between the girls are worlds
That only lovers see
So proud the shroud has fallen to my knees…
…I am a gigalo
Between the worlds I go I go I go”.
Microworlds beings with bubbling space noises and has a trip-hop beat. The actual song bases itself around a pretty sequence of chords played on synth. When the chorus comes in a bell like sound is introduced playing the chords, declaring success in the search, and a choral sounding synth noise represents the distances of space and the imagery that the song demands. An instrumental break is played with an electric piano sound, leading to the second verse and chorus which reinforce the triumph in his finding a love, and the song fades out with the upbeat keyboard riff playing. The first verse describes the loneliness Momus experienced before meeting her, and hints at the deceptions he played on those he met:
“From microworld to microworld
Never knew which way the wind was blowing
From pretty girl to pretty girl
None of them had any way of knowing
There were others in my life
But a vacuum at the centre
I was reaching for the love I couldn’t know”
In other words, he behaved like the gigolo in Bill Nelson’s song above. Meeting Shazna however, changed his perceptions of love and sex. He realises how empty his life was before and now feels actually alive for the first time:
“When I met you and you redefined my feelings
I met you and I was suddenly alive
Like the fabulous exploding of asteroids in darkness
The second verse reinforces the first, talking of going from “emptiness” to “emptiness”: any ex-girlfriends of Momus would not enjoy this song. After the second chorus and instrumental break the bridge is repeated again stating the nature of his search:
“There were many shooting stars
Many comets burning brightly
I was searching for the fire that wouldn’t fade”.
His description of Shazna as an inescapable pull and the use of the word density seems quite dangerous to me. I can imagine any girl listening to this song, pausing and asking: “Are you saying I’m fat? I have the density of what now?”
“When I met you and the galaxy went spinning
I met you and I was pulled into the light
With the matter that is constant in its density inside me”.
The chorus repeats and fades. It is good to see Momus happy, this song is pretty, cheerful and quite throwaway, in concept quite like “The Day Before you Came“** but less gloomy. It is not a song I have ever paid much attention to, but then, like Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, “Maybe I like the misery”.
Like Breathless, the closing track on Timelord, this is a lounge-jazz number you could imagine a band languidly playing on a cruise ship. Unlike Breathless, this song is written from a position of proximity to the object of affection, and deals with the sense of wonder that the smallest element of their being can inspire. Momus describes this sense of wonder in terms of awe, a kind of fear of the otherness that our partner can possess.
In Kafka’s “The Trial” the main character – K – is on trial for no known reason in a system which is complex and unfathomable, and probably has no reason for existence beyond the requirement to destroy him. His landlady describes his trial as ‘something refined, something complicated, far beyond the comprehension of a person like me’, and it is this inability to comprehend, this fear of the complex unknowable, that Momus is trying to capture. To experience this yourself, take a large amount of LSD and stare at a table leg, or alternatively just research how quantum computers work.
The dance beat, (it might be) bossa nova, fades in. The song is led by a gentle acoustic guitar sound, plucked pizzicato. A piano plays key notes as you would expect in this genre. Momus sings gently over this about the mystery of his beloved, who appears through a cloud:
“Over the room you are my puzzling creature
Through the smoke of the room
My dark and delicate creature”
He is fascinated by the way her hair falls, trying to comprehend why the particular shape it creates as it coils captivates him so much.
“The sensuous way that your hair
Curves round the cusp of your ear
Is something complicated
So complicated for me”
He has changed his behaviour and the way he acts for this beloved, as indicated by his need to finally “learn to be tender” and not just a pervert.
“Here in your room I have learned to be tender
It’s too much to take in
To study and try to remember”
It is not only her hair but all of her that is “too complicated” to take in:
“The shape that you make in your dress
The colour and taste of your breasts
Is something complicated
Too complicated for me”
The final verse discloses his lack of comfort with his own vulnerability to her. He has never been this close to someone. Still, his prudishness, his self shame, sometimes comes between them: he is himself a mass of contradictions and complex as well, which he knows.
“Intimacy never came easy for me
I so longed to be close
But it never came easy to me
I’m ashamed to undress if
I know you are watching me
I could never express these contradictions that complicate me”
The song fades out, gently. Like Microworlds this is a cheerful and optimistic statement of the moment of love. It is very inconsequential for me, and drifts by like the previous track.
I Had A Girl
When I first listened to this album, this was the exact point that my patience ran out. My feelings were along the lines of: “If I have to listen to one more bloody song about Shazna Currie, I will do.. something”. Not much I could do, of course, except skip the track. I’ve mellowed now, but I still prefer the demo version of this called “An Inflatable Doll”.
This is a very melancholy song, written while they were separated, about the situation they found themselves in. As I have discussed this situation at length in the entry for Timelord, there isn’t much to explain here. Momus explains that he lost his girl because “my skin was white and her skin was brown”: referring to the fact that her parents refused to countenance a relationship with a white man. He cries out her name at night, unable to be consoled while she is held captive “somewhere in North Bangladesh”. He describes his life as grim, like a grey coat she has from Comme des Garcons which is a Japanese fashion label, and the greyness extends to the English weather.
“Imagine me here in the pouring rain
Dreaming of how I’ll solve everything
I’ll sit and I’ll write, alone and depressed
Letters that might never reach your address”
Musically, this song is just Momus accompanying himself on keyboards, led by an electric piano sound, cold and distant like the English. On occasion the notes hold on longer at the end of a line, emphasising the waiting and the uncertainty he feels. It is another melancholy and rather hopeless sounding piece, at the time he wrote it, solving everything was just a dream..
The Philosophy of Momus
A series of minor key piano chords, stark and accompanied by a skittering beat, underlie a series of epigrams delivered by Momus. Some of these are original thoughts, some are based on other concepts or quotations.
“Beauty is just the first glimpse of a terror we’re just about able to bear
Fashion is just the return of the clothes we’re no longer able to wear
Fast food’s too slow, slow food’s too fast
In the next world the first will be first and the last will be last
The first will be first and the last will be last”
“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” is a quote from “Elegy” by Rainer Maria Wilke from his collection of Elegies completed in 1922, before his death in 1926. Rainer Maria Rilke was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist who wrote both verse and highly lyrical prose often described as “mystical”. So here again Momus describes beauty as literally awesome, awe inducing, and the beginning of terror. I refer you again to the quotation from “The Third Policeman” in “Withinity” above: what begins as wondrous soon becomes unbearable. Beauty is so sublime, so other to us, that it barely regards us.
Jesus is quoted as telling us that in heaven “the first will be last, the last will be first”. He is talking to a rich young ruler at the time, but he is not necessarily referring to earthly wealth or status, this could be a reference to spiritual worth. Bob Dylan used the imagery in his song “The Times They Are A-Changing“. Momus turns that on its head here and seems to suggest that in fact status will remain in the next world. Unfortunately that may be true, since the next world is one entirely of your own imagination. In the second verse choral and bell effects are added, giving an oriental feel to the piece. Other keyboard sounds are subtly added as the song progresses. A keyboard playing an arpeggio drops in around halfway through in the background.
“Those who say no-one is better than anyone think that they’re better for saying it
The best way to make proper use of your time’s to sit perfectly still and ignore it
Popular culture’s designed by a highly-trained popular culture elite
A digital city’s more easily changed than a city of concrete
A city more easily changed than a city of concrete”
The first line of that verse is a true enough original thought. Sanctimony is truly infuriating. Against all that, Momus often describes himself as lazy – and sometimes the best thing to do is to just do nothing, in which act true creation lies. No-one will deny that popular culture is the product of an elite: a liberal elite who populate late night discussion programs about books no-one really reads, and a pop-culture elite who use computer programs to write chart hits and film screenplays. In 1995 and through the late 90s the liberal elite were colluding with New Labour and nudging the public towards a dismal consensus on foreign policy and the erosion of personal freedoms. As Momus points out, a true revolution to this remote control might be achieved in the online world that was developing at the time. To some extent he is correct, anyone can publish books, anyone can publish music or videos online and gain a worldwide audience immediately. Still as time goes on those channels: Amazon, YouTube, Twitter, seem to be ruled by a new social-media-elite. Individuals such as Ricky Gervais are the new cultural gatekeepers, jealously guarding their ability to re-tweet as a mystical favour to be granted only to the chosen ones. Have we progressed?
“Call me a schizoid, I sometimes feel this era belongs only to me
Place matters less as we choose where to live and who to be
The basic inventiveness that got us into this mess gets us out again
Often inadequate lovers turn into invaluable friends
Inadequate lovers turn into invaluable friends”
It is interesting that Momus sees himself as a ruler of the era: in his newly demonstrated enthusiasm for technology and the digital world, maybe he has a point, this should indeed be his era. Given the use of online services, “place” in a geographical sense does matter less, or should, and we can decide where to live and who to be: everyone on the internet is a dog, after all. Having said that I doubt he will move back to the U.K. now… maybe place does matter a little. His line regarding lovers and friends is of course an uncomfortable truth. True friends sometimes need to have discovered they are not compatible any other way in order to function as friends, rather than having the other possibility hanging over them.
“The only real tyranny comes on behalf of the ones we have chosen to love
Being creative is close to being evil, being good’s just not good enough
Every good man has a bad man inside, someone making it all possible
The only good drug is a smart drug, there’s no good death, there’s no clean kill
There’s no good death, there’s no clean kill”
It is true that while we can reject rulers, deny authority and rebel against ideology, we cannot deny or defeat those we choose to be governed by domestically, the friends and lovers we have chosen to put above ourselves are in a position to destroy us. In the next two lines, when Momus talks about creation and its equivalence to evil, I am first reminded of G.K.Chesterton’s words: “The word “good” has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.” However Momus is talking about something much deeper, the idealistic concept that to create anything there must be an act of destruction first, ideas, certainties, realities must be deconstructed to build a new world. Even deeper than that, there is the idea that the separation of concepts and the unity of concepts are in fact the same thing. This is discussed by Slavoj Žižek in an essay on all these subjects using Christianity as an exemplar:
“And the same goes for Christianity: we are not FIRST separated from God and THEN miraculously united with him; the point of Christianity is that the very separation unites us – it is in this separation that we are “like God,” like Christ on the cross, i.e., the separation of us from God is transposed into God himself. And the same goes for ethics: a radical act of Good HAS to appear first as “evil,” as disturbing the substantial stability of traditional mores.”
Hegel – Chesterton: German Idealism and Christianity on Lacan.com
This argument feeds back into the “Cabinet of Kuniyoshi Kaneko”: that which is truly creative may appear to be evil, in its devices and desires, but hopefully not in its outcomes. The “bad man” makes it possible: the “good man” makes it desirable. Throughout his albums, Momus has seen death as an enemy, and continues to do so here. There is no such thing as a “good death” or a “clean kill”: if annihilation is the outcome, it is to be feared and hated.
“Guilt is the engine of civilisation, guilt that is built on desire
One day I’ll write a book about looking championing the voyeur
Playfulness must be encouraged uncritically, children are still far ahead
Stop trying to cut off your feet so you fit your bed, make it longer instead”
Following any kind of religious upbringing, one is inclined to agree that guilt is the engine we run on. Speaking in 2020, our generalised guilt with regard to the environment, the state of nations, the worship of cars, eating meat, drinking, smoking and basically existing, is driving much of what we are doing. Momus has written several books, do they “champion the voyeur”? On occasion I suspect so… He again talks about children, their play and their use of imagination is much better than we as adults can muster, and their methods of creativity should be maintained and encouraged without criticising, measuring, testing or ticking boxes to satisfy a Government agency. Art, music and performance should receive much more funding – any would be better than none – and be available to all, as creative methods are valid across all areas of endeavour.
The final line refers to a character in Greek mythology called Procrustes – meaning the “stretcher who hammers out the metal”, an Attican rogue who having waylaid travellers forced them to lie on his bed. If they were too short for the bed he stretched them, if they were too long for the bed he cut off their feet and/or legs. He was eventually captured by Theseus, who subjected him to the same treatment. Momus is referring to artistic endeavour here, as well as general life, adjust the container to its contents, not the other way round. He is echoing the thoughts of Slavoj Žižek who said this in his own criticism of poetic forms:
“The most elementary form of torturing one’s language is called poetry — think of what a complex form like a sonnet does to language: it forces the free flow of speech into a Procrustean bed of fixed forms of rhythm and rhyme”.
Hopefully we do not torture ourselves in the same way, but ultimately “Du musst amboss oder hammer sein”, Number 6.
Following the final verse most of the instruments drop out and the arpeggio keyboard is left to end the piece, ending in a minor key in a deliberately unsatisfying way. After all, there are no right or wrong thoughts, and Momus is no more correct than you are.
The Loneliness of Lift Music
Momus compares himself to Oliviero Toscani in his press release when discussing this song. Toscani is the advertising creative who designed the controversial advertising campaign for Benetton clothing. These adverts included three pig hearts marked Black, White, Yellow, and an AIDS patient on his hospital bed, with the message of the adverts being unity and commonality: the United Colours of Benetton. The comparison relates to the controversial nature of the content, rather than the intention. The shock value here is the subject matter of the song: we are following the mind and actions of a serial killer, who in this instance is murdering a girl in an elevator (or lift in British English). It may or may not be a coincidence that Bowie’s 1.Outside, with its artistic killer, was released in September of this year.
The music is slow, a cello sound on the keyboard, keyboards mimicking the sound of Muzak which you could hear in a lift: the music a lift plays to declare its departure or arrival.
“You were a perfect stranger
And I your perfect strangler
In the brushed steel lift
Of the great department store
The tightening grip of leather gloves
Purchased from the floor above La la la…”
This is a great verse, contrasting the fabrics and materials of industry, with the steel lift, with the materials of humanity, the leather gloves. The use of the word “tightening” is mechanical, the killer as an instrument, part of the socio-economic machinery of the lift and the department store. A higher pitched keyboard sound arrives in the second stanza, eerie and uncomfortable, somewhat out of tune with the rest. The killer sees his victim as “perfect” and sees himself as “perfect” for her: made for each other. The situation is beautiful and symmetric for him as if his victim in some way wants her death, and wants it from him. The music is quiet enough that Momus can startle us with louder piano chords stabbing at us from time to time.
“Your eyes filled with confusion
Those helpless, twitching movements
The lips discoloured slightly round the edge
The loneliness of lift music
Its beauty and arithmetic La la la…”
Carefully, the word “beauty” is placed in proximity to the act of murder and the description of the victim. We are invited to view the act through the killer’s eyes as intrinsically beautiful, a renaissance painting or still-life. Lift music – Muzak being the brand name – is carefully designed to be meaningless and unmemorable: it does have beauty and arithmetic in that sense.
“A foggy night in London town
The office workers calmly going about their business
The shops and markets closing down
People buying murder mysteries for the night train back to Cheam”
The middle stanza is spoken rather than sung, gently describing the London scene outside. The “foggy night” could put us in mind of a London of Victorian England with the Ripper stalking the streets, but actually feels more like the London fog of the 1945 movie “Hangover Square”, in which a strangler played by Laird Cregar haunts the streets, or the earlier silent Hitchcock movie “The Lodger”. The prosaic everyday things going on around are highlighted, everything closing down for the night, including the victim. After this, rattling noises accompany his wordless “la la la’s” as he gently places the body into a beautiful position on the floor. What a fantastic death abyss…
“The tightening grip of leather gloves
I purchased from the floor above
The slipping girl I could have loved
I squeeze your tiny, pointless life away”
The victim dies, but the most pointed element here is “The slipping girl I could have loved”, which you could compare with the line in “The Cabriolet” in which the narrator next to the dying girl finds her “someone I only now begin to feel I could love…”, opposite outcomes of a similar deviation. The killer describes his victim’s life as tiny and pointless: as if she only gains any importance or resonance as his victim, meaning he sees what he is doing as a favour to her: validating her existence by ending it.
“Mantovani, James Last… and you
The loneliness of lift music
Its magic and magnificence
I squeeze your tiny, pointless life away
You a perfect stranger
And I your perfect strangler La la la…”
Mantovani and James Last were both composers used as Lift Music or Muzak. The killer describes lift music and its tiny, irrelevant nature as “magic and magnificence” to accompany his victim’s beautiful demise. In the last minute plucked guitar (or is it koto?) sounds join in and the song ends with a circling sinister tune playing in a higher register. It is unsettling and finishes with the song itself, ending as the life ebbs away from his victim.
The power of this song is that it adjusts us into the killer’s mind: the morality is complex because of this, we do not see the murder as wrong because the killer doesn’t. He feels free, and feels that he is giving freedom and meaning to his victims. As in “The Guitar Lesson” or “Cabriolet”, we see an artistic vision, a still life showing an image of beauty even in its ferocity. The twilight of the fog outside is the twilight and gloom through which we view his actions, and our own morality.
Paranoid Acoustic Seduction Machine
Dali’s method – The Paranoid Critical Transformation Method – was to induce in himself the mindset of someone in a state of paranoia, of mental illness. He aimed to see as they did, and to bring back to his work the result of what he saw. It was Dali’s skill that allowed him to manifest those visions on canvas. Furthermore, although he certainly had some mental issues of his own, he seemed to be able to command them and use trips into a simulated paranoia as creative stimulus. Dali said of himself, “The only difference between myself and a madman, is that I am not mad!”, which makes sense when viewed in this context.
This track is a tribute to this method and named as such. I can only assume that these are things Momus sees himself as.
“Seduction Machine”: He doesn’t seem to have done too badly in this respect.
“Electrostatic seduction machine”: I guess it depends how hard he’s been rubbing parts of himself on the carpet?”
Orgasmatronic seduction machine”: Now that’s just boasting…
“Paranoid Acoustic Seduction Machine”: Like Dali, Momus takes a journey into a different way of seeing, the kind of madness described in the previous track, and on his return paints a picture, acoustically.
The music is a repetitive seductive groove, electronic and with a funky bassline. It sounds, again, as if it could be lift music, background to a seduction itself. The track ends with a bass pedal note leaving tension in the air…
The Sadness of Things
The sound of wind perhaps, a mechanical sound, desolation and machinery, these open the final track, with music by Ken Morioka and lyrics by Nicholas Currie. This is a beautiful song, with a gorgeous musical backing. The sound is traditionally Japanese with keyboards very similar to those we have heard in the second half of the album, a defining bassline and Momus’ vocal shows a range of feeling, cracking for example on the emotional line “blinded by tears..” which must be reminiscent for him of the difficult times which have passed. This is a song which talks about melancholy directly, the Japanese phrase “mono no aware” meaning, literally “the sigh-ness of things”, with “sadness” being the nearest available translation. It is the melancholy which comes from a nostalgia for the present that never occurred. Writing in the UK on 2/2/2020, there are many reasons to feel this.
Quai des Brumes is a 1938 film directed by Marcel Carné, a thriller set in Le Havre. It is also a music venue in Montreal. Kamakura is a coastal town one hour drive south of Tokyo. Momus describes places he has been with his lover, in dramatic fashion.
“I called you dancing queen
At the Quai des Brumes
At Kamakura you said you’d like to paint tears
On the neutral face of the Buddha
In the season of storms
We went walking in storms
Just like a video, just like a symphony”
He is aware that his lover is beautiful and perfect, and has a charmed existence in comparison to him. Everything seems to revolve around her, for her and from her point of view.
“And for you, when things go wrong
They go wrong for all the right reasons
And when it gets warm
you adapt with the seasons
In a world of changing colours
every colour has a meaning
And the universe exists for
the convenience of your feelings”
But for Momus, the world seems darker, and less inclined to bend to his feelings: a world where it isn’t like a pop video or arthouse movie, where the elements do not represent your inner life.
“And as for me I know a different world
A world where the sea
Refuses to rage when boy loses girl”
He realises his feelings of melancholy provide some comfort to him, but is aware that even the comfort afforded by sadness is not evidence that the universe cares for him in any way, but rather the reverse. In his melancholy he feels like a simple cog in a Newtonian universe that is indifferent to his existence, as is the society we exist in.
“Oh I know there’s comfort in sadness
But I try to distinguish these passing emotions
My unimportant existence
From the great machine of the world’s indifference”
The chorus states the Japanese saying, its translation and its explanation.
“Mono no aware
The sadness of things
Mono no aware
The temptation to see
The world as it ought to be
Mono no aware
The sadness of things
Blinded with tears
I can still see
In an indifferent universe”
Momus then sings about the different way that a beautiful young girl sees the world compared to an old 35 year old fogey like himself. When you are beautiful the world will after all seem to revolve around you, with constant attention and smiles all the time. He believes that the beautiful see life as more meaningful and worthwhile.
“If I were you
If I were beautiful
Maybe the world
Might seem more meaningful”
In his middle-age, ridiculous of course at 35, he quotes T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. He compares his ageing to the dying of the year, but his lover does not age, and has access to machinery he is only a cog in, the “sparkling machinery” that is their manifest destiny.
“I grow old! I grow old!
As the winter comes on and the sky grows cold
But you stay as young as the rays of the sun
On the sparkling machinery
you call your destiny”
A repeat of the chorus leads to a quieter section with a spoken monologue directly quoting the Eliot poem, then ruminating more on his ageing process. He asks if he cries, for his love and for his melancholy, whether this is also just a selfish action as it brings him some comfort, and is a simple biochemical reaction, not a nuanced intention.
“Do I dare to eat a peach?
Do I dare to walk the beach?
And if I dare to eat a peach
If I should care to shed a tear
Could I claim more for my action
Than selfish satisfaction?
(Stock mammalian reflex, biochemical reaction)”
The chorus is repeated, but Momus now refers again to the idea that our surroundings and the elements can mirror our feelings:
“The thunder and rain
Sharing our pain
Blinded by tears
I can still see
In an indifferent universe”
This celebration of melancholia and its joys brings the album to a conclusion as the chorus is repeated and fades away.
Overall, this album is uneven, oddly paced and jumbled. There are so many genres and approaches thrown in that it seems Momus could not settle on a direction. Of course, diversification is fine, but do we really want an album of lounge jazz from Momus, or reggae, or experiments with grunge? (Foreshadowing again..)
It contains some excellent songs of course, some brilliant songs, with perhaps too many Timelord-esque pieces in the second half. It seems more like a compilation of available material than a designed “experience”, compared to the thematically unified world of Tender Pervert or
Ultraconformist for example. The melancholy ending of “The Sadness of Things” could even lead you to believe that this was intended as the final Momus studio album.
In fact, the next album would be a compilation of reworkings of old material, with short self-parodies attacking the Momus persona, which also leads me to believe that the Momus persona was being considered for execution. Nicholas Currie was having great success in Japan as a songwriter: “Good Morning World” by Kahimi Karie had reached No.5 in the Japanese charts. Maybe this was where his future lay.
But in the end circumstances led to the character not only persisting, but thriving, and finding a confident new way forward from 1998’s The Little Red Songbook, although not without an unintentional and potentially career-wrecking setback resulting from it.
Before that however, we must look at the compilation, Slender Sherbet, and the subsequent Rarities collection 20 Vodka Jellies, as well as the brilliant and illuminating 1997 set Ping Pong released and toured amidst a time of personal catastrophes.
Ah well…Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus…
*Austerity, Universal Credit, the acceptance of Food Banks as a normal part of life, frozen benefit payments and public workers pay, attacks on workers rights, attacks on disabled people in the press and in the benefits system, attacks on free speech from left and right, etc. etc. etc. fucking etc.
**An ABBA song covered by Blancmange, among others. Two Blancmange references in one column!