By 1996 Momus was a known hit maker in Japan. Aside from singles released by Kahimi Karie including three top ten hits, he worked extensively with Laila France: a girl who answered an advert he placed for a “Girl singer wanted for an album of songs in the style of 1970s Italian soft porn films”. The resultant album, “Orgonon” was inspired by Klaus Nomi, Vince Clarke, Kahimi Karie, Francis Lai and Gainsbourg, and named for the orgasmic energy that psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich believed would save the world. He also wrote and recorded for the debut album of “Milky” – stage name of Shazna – “Travels with a Donkey”.

In the same year that Beck released Odelay, Neil Hannon achieved chart success with Casanova (heavily supported by Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show), Bjork released Telegram, Eno described Bowie’s process in A Year with Swollen Appendices and Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was released with chart ruling soundtrack, Momus did not write a new Momus album. Or song. Perhaps David Bowie moving from the majesty of 1.Outside to the faux jungle of “Little Wonder” and “Telling Lies” upset him somewhat. In a blog entry on the subject, Momus blamed an obsession with the computer game Doom for this, as well as disillusionment with technology, terrorism on the underground, the Eurostar fire and Creation’s refusal to re-sign him after he politely asked them by fax. He also notes problems with his cat/kitten (unclear if singular or plural): which destroyed his new suit and subsequently did something to his neighbours prompting them to threaten it with poison.

However, it was also the year when he travelled to New York and made significant contacts, including Matt Jacobson of label Le Grand Magistery. It was a year of continued success in Japan, and a time when he made significant new friendships across the board, as some of those who had been e-mail contacts turned out to exist in real life. He met Beck (for a minute), Luke Haines, Scanner and Florence Manlik, and along with his links to Shibuya-Kei he found himself part of the lounge-core scene popularised by Mike Flowers and Neil Hannon, with renewed critical interest in the UK.

Of course, without an actual Momus album to capitalise on this, momentum was being wasted. But it wasn’t strictly true that there was no new Momus material, after all, there were many songs Momus had created demos for which were then re-recorded by Kahimi and others. There were other demo tracks he had created for various reasons during the previous few years, and demos of the hit singles he had had in Japan. Most of this was unreleased, and for many listeners, especially Western, unheard. So 20 Vodka Jellies came to be. It is a compilation of demos and unreleased tracks from the 90s that of itself is a fascinating snapshot of the period. I myself was studying Journalism at the time as a postgraduate in Sheffield, frequenting the Leadmill and seeing bands such as The Fall and Moby, during his unfortunate punk/grunge phase (here covering a Mission of Burma classic. With a shroud.) Both of these are relevant to the album under discussion.

Released by Cherry Red in the UK and L’appareil-Photo in Japan, the new connection Momus had made in New York allowed the first release of Le Grand Magistery in the USA to be this. Let us just bask for a moment in the glory of the cover which was created by the Japanese label, presumably using Communist era film posters of the Soviet Bloc as inspiration:

I will focus on the UK release cover, being the one I can stand to look at the longest.

The front cover delivers us to an exotic world which is eastern, historic and entirely decadent. Momus’ name is arched over the proceedings, in a large block serif font in red. This is over a striped arch reminiscent of Japanese imagery but flanked by two monkeys, carrying a mallet and a torch (?) There is an image of an indian Maharajah, suitably bedecked with a peacock feather, Momus himself. There is an image of Victorian London with a Growler (or possibly an early Hansom Cab) prowling the streets. On the other side we see Japan, neo-futuristic with bikes zipping about. Under these images is written “An assortment of curiosities and rarities” in block capitals, and under that the title “20 Vodka Jellies” is presented in a pseudo-Chinese font. The cover as a whole symbolises the East, the exotic, and the retro-futuristic, and makes it clear that this is a compilation of many styles.

Within the inlay are notes about each of the 20 songs contained, which makes someone’s life a little easier. Some of these songs are not in English, which makes the same person’s life a little harder.

The first five songs are taken from the Kahimi Karie EP ‘I Am A Kitten: Kahimi Karie Sings Momus In Paris‘, released on Crue-L Records in Jan 1995 and a hit for Kahimi. “Giapponese A Roma” was previously released as a single backed by “I am a Kitten” on Mercury. The songs were commissioned by Crue-L (a Japanese label which was a sort of analog of él Records). The EP was designed to celebrate the cultural diversity of Japan, its mixing of language and imagery from many countries. This eclecticism is represented by the symbolism, the inspirations for each song and the deliberate use of different languages, English, French and Italian. This multi-culturalism is evidenced by the first performance of the songs being at a fashion show in Paris for the designer Tsumura, not at a music concert. The EP versions of these songs are delivered by Kahimi Karie in a kittenish, breathy voice clearly inspired by French chanteuse of the 60s and playing with her “Lolita” pop image, this being a mix of childlike vocal delivery, Victoriana, Steampunk and Goth influences. Hearing and watching Kahimi deliver these songs feels like a secretive delight, as her voice is mixed to sound close to you, a private and erotic privilege. These demo tracks/re-recordings are sung by Momus and thus the cultural aspects, influences and imagery seem to be highlighted more, along with the surrealism.

All of these first five songs were originally written for a female voice and are now sung by a male voice: some of the lyrics have been changed to reflect this, but one of the great things about 20 Vodka Jellies is the non-binary nature of many of the lyrics: it is entirely ambiguous what the gender of the singer or subject of each song is, and this makes the album feel very progressive, and much ahead of its time in this respect.

I Am A Kitten
Originally written in French and on his honeymoon, with English lyrics written at the insistence of Mike Alway. It is a comic song about a kitten falling hopelessly in love with its human owner. The title owes something to the satirical Japanese novel “I Am a Cat” written by Natsume Soseki in 1906, in which a Cat comments on and makes fun of the mores of polite Japanese society. The English equivalent of this may be “Diary of a Nobody” by George and Weedon Grossmith, which lacks a pussy but mocked the vagaries of polite, middle-class Victorian society in the London of 1892. Momus’ song has a male kitten in love with a female owner.

“When you caress your little cat
And stroke me with your hand
I know I’m just a kitten but
I long to be a man
My little eyes are Chinese blue
They view with some regret
This girl who’s stroking me
Regards me only as her pet”

Entirely capable of thinking in correct English, the kitten regards itself as an unfortunate cosmic joke by the creator:

“And though I’d love to be loved
The gods ordained it that
You came out a human being
And I was just… a cat
(I am a kitten)”

The poor animal has its brain wired up incorrectly, as it really doesn’t find other cats or feline behaviour attractive at all.

“I hate to sleep all rolled up small
And dream of butterflies
I hate to paw at balls of wool
And massacre poor mice
Stripey tails and pointy ears
Bore me half to tears
Those days have gone for good
Since I saw you in the nude”

The music is a jolly pastiche of French pop songs from the 60s, using guitar and bass to propel its tale of hopeless infatuation, with an organ sound punctuating the instrumental breaks and backing vocals from Momus. It ends abruptly with a resigned “Miaow” from the kitten, sarcastically making the sound it is “supposed” to make but really doesn’t want to. This sounds erotic when Kahimi does it, obviously more “indicative” when Momus does it, although YMMV.

Vogue Bambini
A demo written for Kahimi and in the style of early él Records. Momus describes this as his “lightening up” in style, perhaps thanks to the opportunity to roleplay as a Japanese girl. Kahimi was going out with Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) and he could arguably be the “pop star boyfriend” of the song. Vogue Bambini was a fashion magazine: an offshoot of Vogue, related to baby/child fashion. It was discontinued in 2017. Now, I have never read Vogue Bambini (or Vogue for that matter), but I imagine it presented glossy photoshoots of perfect children and babies which a normal person could never emulate, and which could send one into a spiral of depression and madness if, for instance, you were desperate for a child but could not have one, which makes the song somewhat bleaker than it sounds. There is definitely a sense sometimes that “having a baby” is a fashion statement for the extremely wealthy, who have their babies to adorn them with ridiculous names and clothing, do a few photoshoots and then farm them off to nannies and private education, to surface again in scurrilous tabloid stories when they are older.

Again, the sound is optimistic and joyful, bass led and utilising acoustic guitar and organ sounds. The song literally gives us “BAM, BAM” sounds on the guitar and drums at appropriate moments, representing the couple’s frantic attempts to create progeny. The lyrics are delivered drily and calmly.

“A barrel full of monkies would be
Quite a lot of fun
So won’t you tell me
Where I can get one?
Maybe there’s a baby I can dress
Comme des Garcons
Oh yes I want one
A really cute one”

A barrel full of monkeys: the etymology was originally a cage full of monkeys, then a wagon, finally a barrel: would of course be a fucking nightmare. It is a sarcastic phrase used to indicate something not very fun. There is the toy, of course, the “Barrel of Monkeys” which can be linked together before you sling the plastic waste of money into the bin. Much more fun would be a baby that you can cover in designer fabrics and photograph, to demonstrate your superiority over other people. Of course it will be cute!
(Spoiler: babies are not cute. Kittens are cute. Babies are howling little pusbags. And I speak as a proud parent).

The bridge lifts us into major key territory and a triumphalist delivery:
Momus mocks the inividual who wants a “Vivienne Westwood” baby: imagine what THAT would look like.

“There’s a Vivienne Westwood baby
Here on page sixteen
Of the new edition of my favourite magazine”

The chorus is the method the individual is employing to create a baby: get drunk and force herself to do the deed.

“Keep reading Vogue Bambini
Drink a glass of dry Martini
Lie down and go BAM BAM!'”

The “BAM BAM!” is one of the song’s hooks, emphasising, well, banging.

“Boys are just like babies
They do things that babies do
They go BAM BAM!
And bring the house down
I’ve got Johnson’s bubble bath
I’ve got baby shampoo
But not the baby
The monkey won’t do”

You could, I suppose, even see that as a callback to “A Monkey for Sallie”…
The next bridge unveils the sadness of the situation. Sitting with the pop star boyfriend.. whoever that is.. the singer just hopes she will suddenly become pregnant, perhaps she cannot.

“With my pop star boyfriend
Sitting in our little flat
Hoping that my tummy
Will just suddenly go fat

Keep reading Vogue Bambini
Drink a glass of dry Martini
Lie down and go BAM BAM!”

A spoken monologue in French follows, with a slightly sinister underlying theme: her desperation is leading her to contemplate kidnapping.

“(Est ce que ce petit bebe est a toi mademoiselle? Parce que, si ce n’est pas a toi, je veux l’emporter chez moi.
Ah oui, j’aime tellement les enfants, je les aime vachement. Regardez, dans ce mensuel Italien, les bambinis fantastiques!)”

“Is this little baby yours Miss? Because if it’s not yours, I’d like to take it home with me!
Yes, I love all children, I really love them. Look at the fantastic babies in this Italian Monthly!”

The chorus returns and emphasises the desperation again.. the keyboard solo plays fifths over the pretty chord sequence, but with a melancholic air emerging as the desperate coupling continues. The keyboard sequence is repetitive and perhaps mimics the repetitive and robotic sex they have to create the baby.

“Keep reading Vogue Bambini
Drink a glass of dry Martini
Lie down and go BAM BAM!

I keep reading Vogue Bambini
In my little flat
Hoping that my tummy will just
Suddenly go fat

Vogue Italia Bambini
Shake and stir me like Martini
Lie down, BAM BAM!”

Again, an abrupt ending with the final “BAM, BAM!” could represent success, capitulation, or complete mental collapse.

The Poisoners
Heavily influenced by early Gainsbourg such as “Jazz Dans La Ravine” (itself also an influence on “The Cabriolet”) and devilish in its inspiration, this is the tale of a couple who, deeply in love with themselves and their new offspring, ensure prosperity for themselves and their children by holding a Swiss chocolate company to ransom, by injecting strychnine into their products.
This kills children, but that is fine, because their own children will benefit from it, so it balances out. There is a sense in which we are all guilty of this, at some level, we all say we would do anything for our children.

“We corrupted Swiss chocolate
We laced it with strychnine
And said we’d only stop it
For a cool six million”

Their scheme is successful: I would love to know how they pull off the handover. Is the money wired to an account or handed over in cash? Not looking for tips or anything, you understand.

“We corrupted Swiss chocolate
And moved to the Philippines
We’ve come to know exactly
What being fabulously wealthy means

(It’s beautiful)”

The bridge indicates how the poisoners feel: justified by the fact that their child benefits.
An ear is pressed to a pregnant belly: the song was written in 1994 when I have already suggested that Momus was feeling broody, this EP would so far very much support that proposition.

“And the times I feel guilty
For the children who died
I press my ear to Jenny’s belly
And hear our child inside

A boy or a girl?
A victor or victim?
New life made possible by strychnine
Born into a world of cyanide”

The last line there acknowledges that it isn’t just them: the whole world is arranged on these lines, they are just honest about it. They have escaped the misery of ordinary life: they are glad they aren’t idiots like you, who follow the rules of society.

“They call us the poisoners
But we knew
Being decent and humane
Folk without a brain
Sneezing in the rain
Would never do
We’d rather be poisoners
Than prisoners like you”

The final verse of the song acknowledges that killers like them are everywhere: all the successful people of the world have done their fair share of poisoning, metaphorically or actually.

“They call us the poisoners
We got rich quick
But the world got sick
Before we slipped the strychnine in the bar
We’d rather be poisoners than losers
Like you are

We moved to Manila
We golf on the golf green
With all the other killers
Who know exactly what it’s like to win”

The music is again rather jolly, bass, guitar and organ, with a heavily plucked and slapped acoustic solo towards the end that really plays up the humour of the situation, black as it is, and posits the song in satiric music hall territory, albeit with a gallic influence and smothered in dead babies.

Nikon 2
Clearly a song written in the style and shadow of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, the Gallic spirit is there, composed of the bitter gall and perverse ick of the relationship described within. It is a tale of sexual revenge and the threat of exposure – with photography a perfect metaphor for letting in the light. It may reflect the song “Babe Alone in Babylone” sung by Birkin: a “lost innocent” tale of a girl in Los Angeles and those she meets: alone in a supposed “Babylon”, and yet she sings “Tu rêves d’éternité, Hélas tu vas la trouver”: “You dream of eternity: Alas, you will find it.” Similarly the gigolo of this song risks an eternity of fame should the singer’s plans come to fruition.
Or possibly it is inspired by “Pull Marine” (“Navy Sweater”), written by Serge for Isabelle Adjani: a similar tale of a girl used and ultimately taking revenge: “Noyée au fond de la piscine, Personne ne te voyait, Sous mon petit pull marine” – “Drowned at the bottom of the swimming pool, no one saw you, under my little navy sweater”).
Written and sung in French, “Nikon 2” uses the language as a musical element, the rhythm working with the words chosen, the word endings rolling on a wheel of vowel sounds.
The song opens with chords played on keyboard, and an electronic drum pad accompanies a slow, almost hymn-like verse, each line and repetition of the basic melody descending down the scale towards the desolation of the final line.

“Je suis photographice
Tu es gigolo
Tu prends des actrices
Trouve ca rigolo
Quand mes larmes glissent
Je prends des photos
In flagrante delicto”

“I am a photographer,
You, a gigolo
You find the actresses,
amused by it so
As my tears glide
I take their photos
In flagrante delicto”.

Translation here made more difficult by the lack of an English word for a female photographer and the fact that gigolo and “in flagrante delicto” are already used in English but, no doubt, incorrectly. The verse is structured around those “O” sounds at the end of several lines. The photographer is ashamed to take these pictures, using and abusing the actresses by taking these images of them naked and propositioned. A second verse continues the theme.

“J’ai photographie
Vedettes et porno
Tous les pin-ups gai
High energy disco
Souvent j’ai pleuree
Quand tu m’a fait trop
Derriere mes verres fumees”

“I have photographed
Stars, and porno
All the gay pin-ups
High Energy Disco
I have often cried,
when you went too far,
behind my tinted glasses”

The photographer is used and abused by the “gigolo” just as the stars are: perhaps she is an old girlfriend, now abandoned for the younger starlets they are photographing. The bridge follows the same melodic line as the verse but lifts to a higher key and this adds dramatic inflection as Momus’ voice rises in pitch and emotive intent:

“Quand mes larmes glissent
Je prends des photos
Moi photographice
Toi le gigolo
Pauvre petit salaud
Toi tu prends les filles
Je prends des photos”

“When my tears glide,
I take the photos,
I, photographer,
you, the gigolo,
Poor little bastard.
You, you take the girls.
I take the pictures.”

Again the photographer states, they cry as they take these abusive images, but for the first time some indication of intent against the gigolo is made.
The abuser is a “poor little bastard”, as they do not know what is planned for them. Importantly, as he takes the girls, the photographer is taking the pictures, implying in both cases an ownership and control: as he controls the girls, she controls the images being stored.
The next verse lifts the melody again, to a more triumphant key as the photographer declares their true intent:

“Avec mon Nikon 2
Comme voyeur cachee
Je suis temoin de
Tes infidelitees
Et dans les journaux
Je vais t’exposer
In flagrante delicto”

“With my Nikon 2
Like a hidden voyeur
I am witness to
Your infidelities
And in the papers,
I will expose you
In flagrante delicto”

In other words, the camera, the “weapon” this gigolo is using to abuse his photographer and his subjects, will be used against him. His affairs and indiscretions will be released to the world, like Pink in “The Wall”, his punishment is to be exposed before his peers.

There is an instrumental break here, and like “Slide Projector, Lie Detector” the piano part here reminds me of Double’s “The Captain of Her Heart“. Anyway, the verse returns to the relative calm of the opening of the song.

“Un beau jour et – vlac!
T’ouvre les journeaux
Liser les articles
Trouver… ton photo
Nu avec ta pute
Qui, pour son solo
Chante le ‘do re mi fa so'”

“One fine day – bam!
You open the papers,
read the articles,
find your photo,
Naked with your whore
who, for his solo
sings “Do Re Mi Fa So..”

The revenge complete: images of the gigolo with his “whore” – who is male – pictured together naked in the papers.
But this is a dream “one fine day”: it hasn’t happened yet, and will the photographer ever actually have the nerve to do it? Or will her desire always win her back to him in the end? I realise, incidentally, that the photographer may be male.

After a second instrumental break with the piano playing the lead melody, again, we rise in key and in our emotive impact: earlier verses are repeated, and then:

“Quand mes larmes glissent
Je prends des photos
Moi photographice
Toi le gigolo
Entrainant les filles
Dans ton lavabo
Toi tu prends les risques
Je prends des photos”

“When my tears glide
I take the photos
I, photographer
You, the gigolo.
Training the girls
in your toilet sink
You take the risks
I take the photos.”

The squalor of the lifestyle is hinted at again, the “risk” is being played with and used against him. A strident keyboard sound plays high notes which emphasise the rise in emotion at the end, the undeniable anger being shown. The final two lines here are spoken by Momus rather than sung, and this is to highlight the danger implied.

After the first chorus is repeated, the song breaks down and concludes with the keyboards playing alone. The ending is actually reminiscent of the ending of Song in Contravention, the keyboards ending with a wash of chords emphasised by percussive noise. This is a very good song, a revenge tale in which the manner of the vengeance taken is entirely concordant with the crime committed. It is moving and expressive, and befits the influences stated.

Giapponese á Roma
Oh Joy! I don’t speak Italian at all, and thus need to translate this completely. Having done so, the completed English lyric I have created seems to be a piece of extraordinary modern poetry, angular, bereft of proper meter, lacking all the lovely internal rhyming and resonance of the original. Please bear that in mind if you also don’t speak Italian and are relying on my translation. And if you are Italian, please don’t declare a vendetta.

Here, Kahimi is a Japanese girl (which she is) visiting Rome, as a stereotypical spoiled rich girl enjoying the touristic delights of the city and its young male occupants. Momus in his notes here says he was himself “a Japanese girl” there once or twice: the gender ambiguity continues.
This demo opens, like the others so far, with a beat and percussion and a picked guitar playing the arpeggios of each chord in this very pretty tune. We also get fake vinyl noise, as the song drifts us back into a different era. After the introduction the instruments stop briefly for the percussion to patter. This light, amusing air represents the carefree nature of the girl in the song, and the bouncy, relatively fast pace of the song is her speedy devouring of the city as she rides her Vespa through it. Momus delivers the verse lyric lightly and airily as the song demands. Momus replies to himself after each line, with the reprise of “Sono Giapponese a Roma”.

“I’m a tiny girl like Lolita
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome
I’m a single girl on her own
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome”

The girl is aware of her seductive and flirtatious nature, she knows she is a Lolita figure, and both alone and single in the same word: solo.
The percussion patters again and the second verse brings a new keyboard sound, somewhere between an organ and accordion sound, playing a cheerful counterpoint to the melody. We learn the official reason for the girl being in Rome, it is to learn rhythmic gymnastics.

“I’m alone here with my Vespa
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome
I’m learning the art of artistic gymnastics
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome”

This is the original lyric: you can hear the internal rhythm and the rhyming scheme here, which make the song flow and carry in a pleasing manner, this song has every essence of the “catnip” Momus has used to describe popular tracks, regardless of your level of understanding of the language.

“Sono piccola com’e Lolita
(Sono Giapponese a Roma)
Sono una ragazza sola
(Sono Giapponese a Roma)

Con la mia Vespa
(Sono Giapponese a Roma)
Voglio fare la ginnastica artistica
(Sono Giapponese a Roma)”

It is worth noting that “Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola” (Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl) was the title of the Italian language version of Space Oddity recorded by David Bowie: the lyrics being new and unrelated to the original because two Italian acts had already recorded versions. I do not think that in this song “Ragazza” means lonely exactly, but rather “lone” or “single”, “unaccompanied”.
Momus is well aware of the “scenes” which a young Japanese girl might inhabit, and the relative ignorance of international politics which she might have: it would surely not be entirely sensitive when in Italy to describe oneself as “Il Duce and Fascista”. However her lighthearted nature may induce this description, carefree in her own self awareness in this chorus, which introduces a new keyboard sound playing chords around the vocals:

“Modernist, Futurist:
Il Duce and Fascista
A Japanese Girl
A beautiful girl:
All alone, me and my Vespa

Via del Corso
Villa Borghese
Two Cappucinos, please
Fuck God, Holy Mary:
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome”.

The Via del Corso is an ancient street, now a shopping area and a fashionable place to be seen walking on an evening. The Villa Borghese is a building built by Flaminio Ponzio after sketches by Scipione Borghese (who was a patron of the arts and of the painter Caravaggio) : it was a place to hold parties and house art: now an art gallery and gardens. This is followed by blasphemous outbursts from the girl, perhaps in reaction to the classical art on display in the villa.

Original Lyric:
“Modernista, Futurista
Il Duce e Fascista
Una Giapponese, bella ragazza
Solo con la mia Vespa
Via del Corso, Villa Borghese
Due cappucini per piacere
Cazzo di Dio, santa Madonna
Una Giapponese a Roma”

The chorus ends with a spanish sounding flourish on the acoustic guitar, and a return to the percussion-only opening of the song.
In the next verse the girl relaxes in the gardens of the the Villa with an ice-cream, followed straightaway by an altered version of the chorus.

“In the gardens of Villa Borghese
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome
I want to eat an ice-cream
I’m a Japanese girl in Rome

Modernist, Futurist
The epitome of apathy
At Giancolo
Under Lemon Trees in the grotto,
I want to fuck, to make love
with the boys from Trastevere.
Modernist. Futurist.
A Japanese girl in Rome.”

The original lyric on Momus’ website is:
“Modernista, futurista
Manifestazione culunquista”: for which I failed to find a translation.
However looking for other spellings, “qualunquista” seems to denote some kind of political apathy, which goes correctly with the line before.
Besides, accurate or not, my line “the epitome of apathy” seems ok. It is an oxymoron of course, as to achieve the “epitome” of apathy would take enormous effort.
Giancolo is a hill outside Rome with beautiful views of the city and presumably lemon trees and a grotto. Trastevere is a bohemian area of Rome with bars, shops and cheap hotels popular with young people.

Original Lyric:
“A i giardini di Villa Borghese
(Sono Giapponese a Roma)
Voglio manigare i gelati
(Sono Giapponese a Roma)

Modernista, futurista
Manifestazione qualunquista
Al Gianicolo
Gli alberi di limone nel’ grotto
Vogio scopare, fare l’amore
Con i ragazzi di Trastevere
Modernista, Futurista
Una Giapponese a Roma”

That guitar flourish appears again and now signals an instrumental break, the keyboard playing a cheerful winsome tune to the same chords. The next verse follows and leads into another verse, which leads to a repeated phrase which ends the song. It is quite unusual that the chorus does not appear again:

Eating spaghetti
Giorgio de Chirico,
Drinking Cappuccino
The guys from Trastevere
With their Lambrettas and Lamborghinis
I am your prima ballerina,
I am your prima donna of the discotheque.

Let’s go:
To the sea in a Cinquecento
See the panorama
on Cristoforo Colombo
My Mother, The Sea.
And with a beautiful picture
I want to find La Dolce Vita…”

Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti was a founder of Futurism and wrote both the Futurist and Fascist Manifestos pre-WW1. Giorgio de Chirico was a Greek artist and theorist who was a prime influence on the surrealist movement, who lived chiefly in Italy. It is amusing to imagine each of them in modern day Italy eating spaghetti and drinking coffee respectively. Allegri could be the feminine form of Allegro (briskly) or could refer to the Italian composer Gregorio Allegri. Cinquecento refers to the car – the Fiat 500 which those lovely boys must have. “Cristoforo Colombo” is a very long street in Rome which ends on the coast.
When Momus wrote the song he had been visiting many “Pittura Mettafisica” exhibitions: which is metaphysical art: being dreamlike imagery, and Giorgio de Chiricio being a prime exponent. The last line of the song suggests searching for a dreamlike image that is only in your mind.
“Voglio trovare la dolce vita” is a reference to Fellini’s film “La Dolce Vita”, a technical reference to the singer Paolo Conte’s singing style and also a reference to Josef Beuys, the German artist, who entitled one piece “Voglio vedere mia montagna”: I want to see my mountains: the piece can be seen here: and of it Beuys said:
“a mountain ‘taken as inner psychology…represents a high pitch of consciousness…. And when I make an environment called voglio vedere le mie montagne [I Want to See My Mountains] I mean an inner archetype of the idea of mountain: the mountains of the self.’”.
Our girl just wants to find the sweet life… to find the mountain of the self within the places she is visiting. Don’t we all?

Original Lyric:

“Marinetti mangia gli spaghetti
Giorgio de Chirico beve cappucini
I ragazzi di Trastevere
Con le Lambrette e i Lamborghini
Io sono la vostra prima ballerina
Io sono prima donna discothequa

Al mare in cinquo cento
Guarda il panorama
Sulla Christoforo Colombo
Madre mia, la mare
E com una bella pitura
Voglio trovare la dolce vita”

The final line is repeated several times as the song fades. While the song is overall very cheerful, the ending is more wistful, with some doubt that she will ever find her goal: the fadeout represents the unending nature of her particular quest for mountains.

It makes sense to follow Giapponese a Romá with a thematically similar song. “Paolo” is a tribute to the Italian singer-songwriter Paolo Conte, a musician, writer, performer and lawyer born in 1937 in Piedmont. Although not very well known by the general public in the UK or US, he is a legendary figure in European music and his songs have been featured in films such as Mickey Blue Eyes (“Come Di“) and television series such as The New Pope (“L’Orchestrina“). Conte is known for the resonance of his voice, his songs are known for their lyricism, romanticism and influences from Jazz and South American music. The song “Paolo” was composed during writing for The Poison Boyfriend (1987) and this version is from the Voyager sessions in 1992. In his sleeve notes Momus says he “is not crazy about this recording”, but is clearly proud of what is a well constructed tribute. The song also draws from poetry by Cesare Pavese, the Italian poet and novelist who wrote of loners and the superficiality of relationships, and whose diary entitled “This Business of Living” provided a title for the Happy Family demo album and is one of Momus’ favourite books.

The song begins with echoing percussion, woodblock sounds, and plucked bass as we have heard on the other tracks. There’s a snare drum sound which comes in staccato and is perhaps a little out of place. The song then begins with a synthesizer string sound playing solemn chords behind a pastiche of an Italian melody. Momus delivers the verse in a low register, aiming to replicate aspects of Paolo’s delivery, but not an attempt at impersonation.
Each verse echoes aspects of his music and lyrics, for instance Paolo sings about a girl called Sara in “Onda su Onda“, in which a man sees his love with another at a ball on a ship, then is washed overboard and having been shipwrecked on an island finds peace: (in English).

“The sea has brought me here,
rhythms, songs, women of dreams,
bananas, raspberries
wave upon wave
I am acclimatized by now
the shipwreck has given me the happiness that you,
cannot give me.”

This song begins:

“Paolo why do your lovers caress in the bows of round-bellied boats?
Who is Sara, the girl with the stained-glass face?
What is he thinking, the man in the spectacles under the blood red cliffs?
Where was he when Juventus won their aways?”

In the next stanza a great synth sound – something like guitar feedback, washes over the background of the song. It’s an interesting choice as it sounds more futuristic and metallic than you would imagine a song about a classic Italian singer to contain.

“In America how did your blue-collar brother
Balance his lunch on a skyscraper girder?
How did he feel when Angela spat in his face?”

Whilst I don’t know which precise song this refers to, we are all famililar with the famous images of American workers lolling about on skyscraper girders with their lunchboxes many hundreds of feet above the ground. The verse compares the bravery of such men with their ability – or lack of ability – to deal with an emotional setback. The chorus which follows introduces more percussion and a piano to accompany it, while the words bring us a comparison and contrast between the prosaic lives of car factory workers and the exoticism of their dreams and fantasies. There is a political aspect to, which is made clear later.

“Is the washing still flapping all night behind buildings
Where car factory workers are dreaming of fig trees and marble?”

An eastern sounding riff links the chorus to the next verse, again referring to Paolo’s songs.
Gelato al Limon” (Lemon Ice-Cream) was an early hit for Paolo, in which the dessert is used as a Proustian metaphor for the passing of time, the loss of youth and the end of pleasure: ice-cream melts away, summer ends, our desperate lives end and may already be over: but he says of himself that “This man can still give you so much more”… an optimism followed through in the musical backing which changes with the mood. This Proustian effect is highlighted in Momus’ lyric by a word association game, while the other lyrics hint at a clandestine affair, the impermanent and transitive relationships of Pavese’s work and Paolo’s lyrics. The final line of this verse suggests that Momus considers Paolo to be much more than a simple “singer-songwriter”: the word used for this in Italian is “cantautore” but perhaps it means much more…

“Paolo where is the teacher’s fiancee while he floats in Genoa docks?
What’s the first word that comes into your head when I say ‘lemon ice-cream’?
Who shared red wine and a kilo of salad there in the back of your Fiat 500?
What does ‘cantautore’ really mean?”

A second chorus draws us further into the dreams of working men..

“Is the washing still flapping all night behind buildings
Where car factory workers are dreaming of fountains and tortoiseshell?”

The next verse begins with a reference to Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist philosopher, who died in the year of Paolo’s birth, but is an iconic figure known for his theory of cultural hegemony: which describes the ruling class’s use of cultural institutions to maintain power over those car factory workers. This is the reason for the song’s comparison of their real lives and their fantasies, which must always be fantasies as they are controlled by the “elite”. This verse also includes the pleasing poetic imagery of trains as characters, a thematic device in Paolo’s music (for instance his interpretation of the jazz standard “Take the ‘A’ Train”) and in Pavese’s writing.

“Paolo Conte, tell me did Gramsci drink aniseed here in Cafe Garibaldi?
If trains had hands would they run them through their hair?”

A blast of synthesized guitar feedback squalls pleasingly in the background here emphasising violent delights, and surrealism.
The “officials” in the next line are of course probably hypocrites, and probably in affairs themselves, the “white painted offices” are a reference to Jesus’ description of “white-washed sepulchres” in the Gospels.

“And all these officials in white painted offices playing with executive toys
How should they punish their wives who are having affairs?

Is the washing still flapping all night behind buildings
Where car factory workers are dreaming of foxgloves and incubae?”

With the next verse, it becomes clearer how the song is building, with sound effects and atmospherics building up in the background of the song. Perhaps the production here is a little overblown and some subtlety would have been a more appropriate route to take in describing Paolo’s work: but I enjoy the sonics of this song, particuarly the guitar effects.
The next line is reminiscent to me of Douglas Adams’ description of Sunday afternoons: “The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul“… that certainly lasts until Autumn. The second line hit home for me at the time, living in Sheffield as I did, the Forum – which was a coffee bar amongst other things – was indeed a hunting ground.

“Paolo how shall we pass all the hours that stretch between lunchtime and autumn?
Why does the smell of expresso remind you of prowling for girls at the forum?”

The next line is a comment on that sense of the alien we all feel when confronted with the packaging on cigarettes, or any other commodity, from another country, sometimes feeling like a message from another reality. And the final line of this verse hints at a mild debauchery… there is of course an amusement to be had in the specificity of the request.

“Are the labels on Turkish cigars secret messages from the Byzantine Empire?
Which are the saunas most favoured by singers in the soft rock idiom?

Is the washing still flapping all night behind buildings
Where car factory workers are dreaming of beehives and newspapers?”

The song breaks down at this point, leaving just the synth chords and piano playing.
Momus addresses Paolo directly, talking about seeing the shadow and shape of breasts between the shutters of a window on Via Giulia. A burglar alarm is going off at the same time, maybe someone is having a guitar lesson?

“Paolo along Via Giulia once I saw breasts in a chink between shutters
While the burglar alarms were screaming insanely like Toscanini prima donnas”

The piano chords become louder here, as the drama continues. The instrumentation kicks in again for the next two lines. The next line brings some drama into the situation, as a storm shuts the windows and sends lightning over St. Peter’s. Momus mentions an unborn daughter… whose? His own? Is this more broodiness?

“And the windows blew shut and I saw my reflection had the eyes of an unborn daughter
And the lightning was forking lazily over the dome of St Peter’s

Is the washing still flapping all night behind buildings
Where car factory workers are dreaming of pine cones and mortar fire?

Is the washing still flapping all night behind buildings
Where car factory workers are dreaming of pine cones and tortoise shell?”

The song then comes to its conclusion with Momus moving into Scottish dialect:
Deacon Brodie was a Edinburgh City Councillor of the 18th Century, who was also a housebreaker and thief. His day job involved cabinet making, but also creating and installing locks and security, which was helpful for him. He was of course caught eventually and hanged, despite his attempt to cheat the noose with a steel collar. His story was an inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”. The verse below says “Go home you scallywag, go home yourself, go home Deacon Brodie, dancing with the devil”.

“Gang awa hame ye scallywag
Gang awa hame yerseil
Gang awa hame Deacon Brodie
Dancin wi the Diel”

The song ends with Momus saluting Paolo as a star of the night and the romantic, the dark and the erotic: a man of two lives himself, like Deacon Brodie.

“The night was your day
The bulb was your sun
Your love was so deep
You turned two to one”

Since it was written in 1987, I can assure you the last line is not in any way inspired by the Spice Girls “Two Become One”. But now you can’t hear it without thinking that…

After three repetitions of the above stanza, the song ends with the guitar feedback being layered over the percussion to a climax, then the other instruments dropping out and the guitar and piano ending the song on a triumphant but still sinister note. However, the next song has an optimism to overshadow that.

The End of History
In 1996, as now, the End of History was a vital topic. The millennium celebrations which were to take place in 1999 in the UK were still nebulous and culminated in the opening of the Millennium Dome, an exhibition which aimed to celebrate 1000 years of British History. The actual Millennium show on 31/12/99 was created by Peter Gabriel and Mark Fisher, with Micha Bergese (a dancer who played The Huntsman in Neil Jordan’s film “The Company of Wolves“) as Artistic Director. I didn’t watch any of that on the television. I didn’t visit the dome.
Many people were concerned that the Millennium would bring the downfall of civilisation. Some believed that because of religious affirmation, some because they were afraid of the Millennium Bug, some were convinced by Nostradamus that the end was nigh and others felt that the coincidence of a total eclipse of the sun occurring in the UK in the same year was just too much. In the end the eclipse could not be seen because it was cloudy, the Millennium Bug had no impact because programmers worked round the clock to mitigate it with software patches (further problems will soon emerge when those patches run out), Nostradamus was just a lunatic, and surprisingly it turned out that all the religious predictions were wrong. The world continued to turn. The God of War did not descend from the sky, nor did Jesus, the planes did not fall.

To be clear, The End of History here does not refer to a catastrophic end of the world. Quite the reverse, it refers more to the end of any significant change in the situation that the world faces. “The End of History and the Last Man” was a book of political philosophy by Francis Fukuyama which proposed the idea that the world was moving towards a state of liberal democracy in all nations, and that this would mark the end of political movement and development in all human society. Events would continue to occur, and setbacks also, but essentially this time marked the end of history: of any political or “historical” development.

Momus used the title for this song written in 1993 for the album “Shyness” by The Poison Girlfriend (Noriko Sekiguchi). The song follows a girl who is living at “the end of history”: a time of optimism and happy endings, maybe the millennium. She is awaiting a call from her lover, a visit, an ending. Her meek and hopeful nature is a cliché in representations of Japanese girls at the time, and Momus describes the impossible love she seeks as his own “cliché”.

Living in a self-imposed isolation (hah!) she restlessly awaits a call or visit. A synth plays a pretty sequence of chords with a minor inflection, a skittish pop beat underneath a quiet vocal part by Momus. A bass plays gently in the gaps. The chord sequence and synth sounds remind me of something half remembered only, maybe a childrens’ tv theme.*

“Headlights cross my bedroom wall
I don’t want to sleep
Restlessness and nervousness
Are my constant friends

I stayed in hoping you would call
Every night last week
Watching films on video
Time and time again”

The thesis of the song – “The End of History” is then outlined. The song lifts a key (I think!) and lightens a little as the optimism emerges.

“Something strange is happening
I believe the world
Is a book for which
A happy ending has been found”

At a Chelsea Art School degree show, Momus had seen a painting by a Japanese student of Godzilla-size girls in school uniforms destroying Tokyo: a subversion of the usual stereotyped images of meek Japanese girls, a pictorial representation of change happening. A new keyboard sound joins in playing a very childlike pattern.

“I dreamed I saw a city full
Of monstrous little girls
Fifty metres tall they
Crushed the buildings to the ground”

The Hubble Space telescope had been in orbit around the Earth since 1990 and was sending back new and extraordinary pictures of the universe, free of the clutter that the atmosphere brings. As I said above, it has noted many objects hurtling towards us, but I don’t think the song wants us to dwell on negative apocalyptic images.

“I heard they put a telescope
In orbit round the earth
And with it saw an asteroid
Rushing towards us”

Indeed, the singer is not concerned about this discovery, the optimism of the title and concept of the song comes through with another key change and lift.
The keyboards and percussion are stepped up to add to the slow building of the backing track.

“But I’m not scared, I live in hope
For better or for worse
There must be light beyond the void
Yes, I know there must”

Finally her lover has called, and reassured her, and is coming to visit:

“Headlights cross my bedroom wall
But I don’t want to sleep
Ever since you called I’ve been
So happy I could weep”

The party at the end of the world, end of the millennium, end of history is full tilt outside, but the only ending the singer cares about is the visitor in her room.
More percussion is added at this point, a click drum, and what could be a tambourine sound in the next verse.

“The sky tonight is full of stars
Searchlights and balloons
The world is ending, here we are
Together in my room”

And the end of history could, as Francis Fukuyama points out, could last a very long time:

“I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine
At the end of history
Through the darkness we will shine
Never lose your love for me.”

This chorus is repeated and followed by an instrumental section with an acoustic guitar part playing the main melody here. The chorus is repeated joyfully, the music then fades out. A beautiful idea and a positive, happy ending for a couple in a Momus song for a change.
Of course, the philosophy underpinning it has been violently threatened by many events: 9/11 brought the threat of destabilising elements, while more recent events such as Brexit have demolished any idea that we are moving inexorably towards a worldwide liberal democracy. Fukuyama also acknowledged that trans-humanism may have a larger part to play than he considered at the time, as developments in Artificial Intelligence, robotics and nano-technology will one day completely signal the end of what we consider human.

*I think the half-remembered tv theme it reminds me of is actually the beginning and end of the animated childrens’ TV show “Jamie and the Magic Torch” – the first section of the opening theme before it kicks off and the quiet ending of the end theme. It’s nothing like it of course, but for some reason, that’s what was in my head. On YouTube here.

London 1888
A song written during the sessions for Timelord (and appearing on the Japanese release), and used as one of the B-sides to “The Sadness of Things” when it was released as a maxi-single. Again this is a song inspired by the writing of Yukio Mishima, who wrote a version of “Sotoba Komachi” by Kan’ami as one of his “Five Modern Noh Plays“. That is a short play which deals with time travel, hedonism and conscience, the last of which is a common theme in Mishima’s works. Momus also says the song has a debt to Neil Tennant, and there is certainly something of the Pet Shop Boys writing and sensibility in the track. As a story about literal time travel it is very much about a “Timelord” and was one of the more palatable pieces which was not, in the end, included in the Western release of the album. It is a key text for 20 Vodka Jellies and representative of this period of Momus’ writing: the willing merging of Western and Eastern culture, of the past and the present, the hints of various scenes of the time, all this is content and context to be decoded.

A grand sounding keyboard sound introduces the song, Momus sings in short phrases, which sound as if they are recorded at separate times, to sound as if they are two voices: fitting the theme of a man living in two eras and in two different moral vectors.

“Cellophane grandfather clock
I hope your hands will never stop
Rescue me from this ugly block
In Tokyo, 21st century”

In the current era we are approaching paper tablets and mobile phones which can fold away, a cellophane grandfather clock is quite reasonable: I also think the clock is the device that hides the machinery that transports the narrator back in time, away from the dystopian block of flats in which he presumably lives. The Meiji restoration was a period in the late 19th Century in which practical, empowered rule was returned to the Emperors of Japan.

“It’s London, 1888
I am descended from a great
Clan of the Meiji shogunate
And I am travelling extensively.
It’s London 1888
I sit here drinking nettle wine
My family is in decline
And I confess the fault is mine
The doorman’s sure to sit and wait
To see who I’ll bring home tonight
I’ll pay him cash to keep him quiet
I am a libertine.”

The second half of the verse changes melody slightly to emphasise the decline that he talks about: a decline brought about by his own behaviour. A libertine is a person who is devoid of moral principles, freed from requirements of the social contract.

“Cellophane grandfather clock
You’ve got my conscience in the dock
You’ve got me walking round the block
You’ve got me searching for experience
Cellophane grandfather clock
I am a Buddhist, I am not
Victorian, I love your shops
But your morality is meaningless”.

A return to the opening line of the song brings the narrator back to Earth and to his conscience. He considers his behaviour even as he searches for new experiences. He follows religions like fashions and explores the shops of the time he finds himself in: but has no regard for “Victorian” standards of morality, which are of course meaningless as he says, as the Victorians had a complex relationship with many aspects of morality.

“It’s London 1888
And I have learned the game of chess
I have a club, it’s on the Strand
I’m a dishonourable man
And Tokyo is far away
The English wear a poker face
The latest craze is called ‘Croquet’
I am a stranger here”.

Chess was popular throughout the 19th Century in England, beloved of gentlemen’s clubs and coffee shops. His club on the Strand may have been the Savage Club, opened in 1857 and the haunt of Bohemian writers and poets, still in existence as a Gentlemen’s Club for artists and entertainers. The narrator then declares himself a “dishonourable man”: far from the values of Tokyo, and living amongst the expressionless English.
I must confess that for a long time I assumed the next line said “The latest craze is called cocaine”… which would have made perfect sense as it was in 1863 that “Vin Mariani” (a wine containing cocaine) became a hit in London. We now find that our narrator is, or is named for, the Marquis Matsugae: a character in Mishima’s novel Spring Snow: a story of tradition and honour. The keyboard plays harsh, staccato chords as he declares the following:

“I am the Marquis Matsugae
And I came questioning through time
But is the grave the sole reply?”

A great chorus which is the essence of the story: all this debauchery and travel through time gains the narrator nothing, no answers to life, no answers to his own feelings of guilt and shame. The next verse plays with the idea that Japanese tourists think Sherlock Holmes was a real person.

“And Sherlock Holmes is my good friend
I have a trust fund I can spend
And I am ready to defend
My immorality to anyone
And Whistler painted me in grey
I had his mother round to stay
And she sat knitting in her chair
And staring through me disapprovingly”

His “trust fund” must have come with him from the future, presumably he has invested in bonds and shares he knew would flourish. His “defence” of his immorality seems weak when he instantly talks about “Whistler” painting him: “Whistler’s Mother” (“Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1”) was painted in 1871 and his mother died in 1881, so she could not have stared at him disapprovingly in 1888. At any rate, although he seems bullish in declaring he will defend his immorality to anyone, you feel his heart is not in it.

“And Aubrey Beardsley sketches me
And Oscar Wilde comes round for tea
But I still feel so Japanese
When I’m alone on Piccadilly
And in Green Park there is a band
Medieval lillie in my hand
I watch the sailors on the bus
A little lustfully”

Aubrey Beardsley would have been a suitable playmate for the Marquis. Aubrey was famed for his black ink drawings, inspired by Japanese woodcuts, and was interested in the decadent, erotic and grotesque. Oscar Wilde, of course, was a pervert by the standards of the time, imprisoned and broken for his sexuality. The Marquis enjoys their company but still feels alien, watching the sailors on the bus “a little lustfully” which is a very Pet Shop Boys line for Momus to drop in, a coy hint at the Marquis’ preferences.

“I am the Marquis Matsugae
I came adventuring in time
But is the grave the sole reply?”

“Cellophane grandfather clock
I hear you tick while I talk
In my apartment on Pall Mall
To stable boys of easy provenance
Cellophane grandfather clock
The incense on my mantelpiece
Covers the reek of smelly socks
As I prepare them to be compromised”

The “depravity” is laid on thick here, as stable boys who are easily to be owned are brought to him. The detail of the incense disguising the smell of their sweaty socks is a little much perhaps, as he prepares them “to be compromised”. This verse is almost comically debauched.

“It’s London 1888
It’s 6 o’clock and I am late
For some disreputable date
With sordid appetites I hate
I hope these crimes will never stop
And like the hands upon the clock
My hands will touch and he’ll respond
And go beyond”.

And here is the truth of the matter: as he goes to a date he describes as “disreputable” because of appetites he describes as “sordid” and which he hates, he also hopes that these crimes will never stop. He classically hates himself for defiling the standards he was raised to follow, but also realises that his desires free him in their realisation, and hopes that his “crimes” will never stop. His “crimes” are not crimes at all in the 21st Century he comes from, he has deliberately travelled to an era in which his sexuality is illegal, a perverse and masochistic dance that he cannot end.

“It’s London 1888
I am the Marquis Matsugae
And I came questioning through time
And is the grave my sole reply?”

The final chorus ends with a synthesizer solo, high pitched, reminiscent of sci-fi themes especially of the 80s. The song ends with the chorus being repeated in a spoken voice, and reversed chords fading out, giving a psychedelic feel to the ending. London 1888 succeeds in delivering a coherent tale of the perversity we are used to from Momus, with the Japanese influence we might now expect and a strong link to the thread of speculative fiction running through his work. The narrator indulges in perversities, which are not really perversities, but he wants them to be, and wants to be ashamed, and yet never wants to end the duality of his existence. It is complex, unfathomable, and compelling.

Streetlamp Soliloquy
(Lyrics by Alison Spritzler-Rose)

Written for the CD-ROM-Zine “Blender” (which ran from 1994 to 2009 in various forms) this track has music by Momus and lyrics by Spritzler-Rose, who is an American poet, and also appeared on the Momus documentary “Man of Letters”. The lyrics, the music and the overall idea relate to feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, unsure of your own identity, what we might nowadays call “imposter syndrome”. The theme links to the previous song, London 1888, and the song as a whole acts as a title track to the compilation.

The beat and bass are accompanied by a piano playing the chord sequence, Momus leads the vocal with (Alison?) backing.

“Everything you never wanted to know about strangers
Like when you see your friend lying in the street and say
‘I thought you were somebody else’
And he replies ‘I am'”

God, the 90’s, Vodka Jelly? What were we thinking? Genuinely a thing for a while, do people still have them?

“Six dayglo vodka jellies on you realise
The party’s really two doors down
And you turn to your hound
And Toto turns around
And barks ‘This isn’t Kansas any more'”

Coming home drunk on Vodka Jelly is hardly a good place to be. I remember getting back into a hostel and ending up in entirely the wrong room: and staying there randomly, but into someone else’s house, no. The drunken dissociation described in the next verse is very relatable.
The melody lifts in this verse, and a bedded chord is played on a synth.

“It’s when you stagger from your cab
And force your keys in someone else’s door
It’s 4AM, someone who looks like you is hollering
‘Let me in!’
Six dayglo jellies on
Six dayglo vodka jellies on the brain”

A choral effect accompanies the chorus, emphasising the dramatic and theatrical nature of “auditioning” for the role of yourself, by yelling drunkenly at random houses.

“In your streetlamp soliloquy
You audition for the role of yourself
And pray you’ll get the part
Don’t call us”

A sort of middle eight follows, quietly accompanied as in the first verse.

“Everything you’ll ever need to know about strangers
Everything you’ll never need to know about
Everything you’ll never need to know about
Seeing your face on someone else’s face”.

That sounds more like LSD than Vodka, but you never know.

An instrumental break, the verse melody played on a chime effect is followed by another verse, with tom-toms added into the mix.
If you are staggering around a street, where have you got the seventh vodka jelly from, by the way?
“Dayglo garden gnomes” is a great lyric and way to describe the things, and this verse is followed by another chorus.

“Seven dayglo jellies on and you deduce
You’d better ease up on the juice
Seven dayglo garden gnomes
Are jumping on your bones
And you were barely introduced

In your streetlamp soliloquay
You audition for the role of yourself
And pray you’ll get the part
Don’t call us”

The middle eight is repeated and again talks about hearing yourself in another: the song describes the way you can recognise aspects of yourself in the way a stranger talks, looks or acts. And possibly how this awareness is heightened by being straight up drunk?

“Everything you’ll ever need to know about strangers
You’ll never need to know about
Everything you’ll ever need to know about
Hearing your voice in someone else’s voice”

There’s a pause: a beat: after this, and then the chime effect returns and the song plays out, with other instruments and sounds accompanying the chorus.
It ends on a suspended chord, not resolving the issue of whether the narrator ever got into their flat. This is an entertaining song and another good example of what a successful collaborator Momus is.

An Inflatable Doll
This is a demo version of the song that became “I Had a Girl”. It is emotional, haunting and indebted to the work of David Sylvian, in particular his song “September“. Unlike the finished version, the lyrics are abstract, dealing with the shadows cast by feelings rather than the feelings themselves and their causes, and as such I feel it is a more interesting song.

The song begins abruptly with Momus singing, a piano playing the melody and bass synth. Otherwise the melody is the same as the finished version.

“An inflatable doll two metres tall
Representing ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch
Stands in the midst of an empty room
Solemn and calm in the afternoon”

Oh, the 90s again. Everyone had The Scream, be it a poster, or an inflatable doll. I had a smaller inflatable of the Scream, perhaps half a metre, on my bedside table. I also had a crisp, from a Prawn Cocktail flavour packet of Walkers’ Crisps, from about 1994, which had a burn pattern on it in the shape, vaguely, of the Scream. In fact I saved it in a Top Trumps box, turfing out a Top Trumps set of Nottingham Forest Football players (Not a fan, don’t know why I had it), and I still have it. This is it:

Obviously the burn marks have faded somewhat after 26 years and the top section was lost. I wonder how many older crisps there are? Anyway, Momus’ scream standing on its own in an empty room signifies loneliness and abandonment without needing to specify the reasons for it.

“Sometimes at night, when I’m feeling depressed
A little on edge or unbearably stressed
I let the air out of ‘The Scream’
And am finally able to rest”

The Scream somehow represents his depression, anxiety and nervousness, and by releasing the air from it he releases something from himself, like whacking a BoBo doll around: hello, social science and psychology students.

“These days my life is beautifully grim
Like a long grey coat by Comme Des Garcons
I love just to sit and to hold my chin
Dreaming of how I’ll solve everything”

The “Comme Des Garcons” (a clothing brand from Japan) line remains in the final version, as does “Dreaming of how I’ll solve everything”. This version is stronger in its refusal to specify just what it is that must be “solved”: the listener can write their own background to the song and apply their own circumstances, making it a more universal piece of art. In this case, “solving everything” will mean getting more dolls to inflate and deflate:

“I’ll buy inflatable dolls, two metres tall
Michelangelo’s David blown up and installed
And Julius Caesar and then
The Thinker by August Rodin”

An instrumental break, the main melody of the verse played on a synth, follows.
The third stanza is then repeated. A synth chord holds ominously on the end of the third line, before “Dreaming…”. The fourth verse is repeated, and the emphasis this time is on the last line, which is repeated, with other backing removed, and the song ends quite as abruptly as it started.

The idea of a blow-up doll holding the emotions, life and negative energy of the person who inflates it is hardly entirely new, for instance “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” by Roxy Music from the album For Your Pleasure treads similar ground but is much more about the psychosexual aspects. Momus’ song wins you over with the universality of the situation and the symbolism. It is a stronger song than it eventually became precisely because it is more oblique and vague.

The 90s also brought us grunge rock to an alarming extent. Nirvana’s success and fiery conclusion was the tip of a lumberjack shirted iceberg. A key figure in this movement was Butch Vig, producer of Nirvana’s seminal album “Nevermind” and performer and co-producer with Garbage, among countless other projects. With a possible collaboration with Butch Vig in mind, Momus made four Grunge rock demos in 1993.

Grunge music was described by the facile as quiet verse/loud chorus rock with melodies based on otherwise pretty pop tunes. It was a style that required live instruments, music based on heavy metal and punk and with guitar solos, vocal deliveries with rasping, screaming and shouting, lyrics around nihilistic concepts, ironic sneering at modern society and political despair, teenage angst and rebellion. The opposite, you may note, of most of Momus’ output. So what drew him to this genre? Firstly, he admired several grunge bands, particularly Nirvana and alt-rock band Pavement. Secondly, in 1993 he was still with Creation records, famously the home of many hard rock bands, and just for once wanted to produce something more in tune with Alan McGee’s roster. Thirdly, he was sick of being described as “afraid to rock” and regarded as “soft”, and wanted to kick against his normal image and betray “everything (he) had previously stood for”.

The narrator of “Saved” is a gang member, criminal and “evil motherfucker” who has been Saved by Christian intervention. He compares himself to the Christian St. Augustine (354-430), whose “Confessions” is a key writing in Christian Theology. St. Augustine wrote of his faith “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!”. He had a very human attitude to spirituality, being aware of the requirements of his belief but also aware of the loss of physical pleasures that would necessarily follow.

Following the grunge template, “Saved” starts quietly with drums playing a simple pattern alone behind Momus’ vocal: which is relatively subdued for the genre.

“I used to be an addict, I had a drug habit
But now I’m saved
I used to sing for the devil, I was a homosexual
But I am saved”

Straightaway, there’s a problem. Having stated that he was an addict, it seems rather redundant to add.. “I had a drug habit”. We can infer that, thank you. Secondly, and bearing in mind that Momus is delivering this in his usual cut-glass received pronunciation, his rather camp declaration that he “sings for the devil” and is an over-enunciated “homosexual” brings to mind Larry Grayson prancing about on The Generation Game rather than Scott Weiland.

An electric and distorted guitar kicks in on the next line (just one, Vivian), and confirms that this is surely played for laughs, the narrator being ridiculously transphobic:

“I was a transvestite, my one delight
Was sticking needles in my arm, staying up all night”

The guitars come in fully now and the drums kick into an appropriate pattern, Momus does now stretch his voice to growl and then rasp the chorus line, which is repeated several times: after this the snare drum carries us into the second verse:

“I am saved…
I was an evil motherfucker, I carried a blade”

If you know Momus as an artist, if you have heard his previous records, this line above all is the spit-your-drink-out-laughing moment. I genuinely cannot think of anyone who fits the description less perfectly. Of course I know this is a character he is singing, but in the same voice as normal, it is very hard to reconcile. He may have done some sketchy things, but as Mark says to Jeremy in a memorable moment in Peep Show: “You, my friend, are not evil.”
Having said this, the guitar that follows into the verse now and plays a riff in the background is really quite good.

“But now I am saved
I used to live just to fight and to fornicate
But now I’m saved”

He now refers to two gangs he was a member of: “The Brothers of Islam” refers generically to activist groups such as those led by Malcolm X. This was 1993 bear in mind, when Islamic Activism was much more about asserting rights within other systems than the drive to demolish Western Culture that was to emerge. Had Momus converted to Islam by this point?
The “Crutchfield Gang” (going by the lyrics on doesn’t bring anything up on Google: Is it actually Crossfield Gang? That doesn’t either. I am guessing this is a made up gang name. We lead into another chorus.

“I was hanging with the guys they call the Brothers of Islam
I was an honorary member of the Crutchfield gang
I am saved”

The final “Saved” in this chorus leads into a brief instrumental break in a higher and major key, returning downwards for the middle eight which suggests that the narrator is only pretending to have converted to Christianity, “seen the light” and been “saved” to avoid a heavier jail term:

“They will try and socialise you with the word of the Lord
It signifies precisely zero till you get caught”

Another chorus leads into a guitar solo, played cleanly with little distortion and following the lead melody of the verse. The next and shorter verse iterates the tale of St. Augustine, regretting his conversion to Christianity as his favourite activities become anathema to his faith:

“Be dissolute like St Augustine
Don’t be caught like I have been”

After another chorus we return to the quiet of the first verse:

“Kids do not do what I have done
I am saved
Join a gang and carry a gun
Before you’re saved”

The rest of the instruments then kick in for the final bridge and chorus:

“You can always change your ways before it’s too late
Before you suffer a similar fate
I am saved”

Again, after a few lines of the chorus, ending with the growliest Momus gets, the song lifts to a major chord and the guitar plays a cheerful line above the song chorus as it fades out. It’s actually quite uplifting.

The message is to commit every crime you can, because eventually you won’t be able to. Taken at face value, you only pretend you are saved to avoid punishment for your sins. Taken as a metaphor for life, it’s make hay while the sun shines. You won’t have this lifestyle forever.
Looking around, it may well be that the horse eating that hay has long ago bolted, and the stable door is not just un-closed, but kicked off its hinges.

The second grunge demo begins simply with Momus accompanied by bass, guitar and drums, a quite simple song written for Shazna about looking for and finding her at a time when she was not available to him. The lyrics revolve around “I” to draw attention to the “you” that is missing. The music is relatively calm, perhaps like a quieter Jesus and Mary Chain song such as “Just Like Honey“.

“I’ve been walking round the town looking for someone just you
I’ve been sleeping on my own dreaming of someone just like you
I’ve been spinning in my sleep dreaming of someone just like you
I’ve been asking every creep if they know someone just like you”

The chorus that follows is slightly faster, and Momus cannot, even in an ostensibly simple power-pop song, avoid Momus-esque lines such as:

“I know that girls like you exist
I’m an eternal optimist
I’m confused, I’m still true”

We return to the verse structure, the drums and bass more emphasised now.

“Overground underground all the time looking for someone just like you
Round and round on the Circle Line looking for someone just like you
I’ve been spinning all night long looking for someone just like you
I’ve turned London upside down looking for someone just like you”

Given that this verse is specifically about London, and names the Circle Line, the first two words of this verse: “Overground, Underground..”: should most emphatically be followed by “Wombling Free”. They are in my head, anyway. I refuse to accept that Momus would have written those two words without this crossing his mind, it is simply impossible, unless, (and this is even more unthinkable), he had never heard of the Wombles.

The middle eight has Momus accompanying himself on vocals singing “aaaaahh”, and leads into a an instrumental section, with a growling distorted guitar solo. The solo follows the melody of the verse and continues into the next vocal section.

“Maybe I was chasing my shadow as it flickered by on the wall
Maybe I was chasing, chasing after nothing at all

I’ve been yearning every day for someone just like you
I even get down on my knees and pray sometimes
For someone just like you”

Another Momusism follows, although he describes it as more like something Edwyn Collins would sing, it is just further evidence that Momus finds it nigh-on impossible to write a straight pop or rock song without some self-referential nod to the fact that he is currently writing a straight pop or rock song.

“I know that songs like this exist, I’m just an old postmodernist
It’s been used, it’s still true”

Then there is a guitar solo, which again follows the verse mostly and is less distorted and quite impressive, followed by a final middle eight.

“Maybe I was chasing my shadow
As it flickered by on the wall
Maybe I’ve been chasing, chasing after nothing at all”

The song then switches to waltz time and a cello effect plays the bass line, hinting at some kind of haunted ballroom breakdown, and Momus opines as to his decaying mental state, and joins my club.

“I’m probably mad”

We fade out, and move swiftly onto the third demo. “Someone” is a valiant attempt to mimic the tone and content of bands like Jesus and Mary Chain , but is perhaps too self aware of its own aims to be successful at any other level than as pastiche.

Howard Hughes
One of the distinguishing features of grunge was a duality, an internal conflict between the aggressive music and the lyrics which, while often confrontational, would almost always allow the singer to externalise their emotional life. Hard rock coupled with a sensitivity towards emotion. This can be heard clearly in this track.

Howard Hughes was an American businessman of the 20th Century, who died in 1976. He was famous for his investment in film, in aviation and real estate. He was also reclusive and suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder and allodynia, an abnormal sensitivity to touch, perceived as pain. There are many stories of his eccentricity and behaviour related to his various mental and neurological disorders.

This track begins strongly with a grunge bass line and power chords, similar drum patterns to Saved and a vocal track which is itself distorted and half buried. Momus again accompanies himself with a vocal track one line behind: turning the song into a round. The verses are quite powerful and striking and the strongest part of the song structurally.

The first verse describes the rock and roll lifestyle and compares it to being like a poor Howard Hughes, isolated and both physically and mentally ill but without the enormous bank balance as compensation. Or “Living in 2020” as it is now known. The second line bears what may, given the genre being used, be a reference to the Pixies “Where is my mind?“.

“Spending my days in old hotels
Where did the time go, where did my mind go?
Spending my days in old hotels
Like Howard Hughes without the money”

The second verse highlights paranoia, potential schizophrenia and grasping for meaning from any belief system available. Hughes was famously a guest at the Dorchester Bungalows (Number. 3) in Beverly Hills for many years.

“Screaming aloud in bungalows
Sitting alone in the lotus position
Screaming aloud in bungalows
Like Howard Hughes without the money”

The song transitions to a pure grunge section, driven by a riff and with a very typical drum section which I have to say, I think I could play. There’s very much a “my first grunge song” feel to the music here. The double splash at the end of each phrase is particularly cliched.
The lyrics again are about the duality of feeling: speak of me kindly, but be aware that my “evil intention lingers”. It is a call to withdraw from humanity and from human behaviour, but with an implicit desire for human contact which is maddening to the narrator.

“Why don’t we dance around like trolls
Joined at the wrist like paper dolls
Speak of me kindly when I’m gone
Evil intention lingers on
Use human beings as you’d be used
Grow your hair long like Howard Hughes”

On the last line the backing vocal comes in again to repeat the title, the drums briefly drop out to build up again with a guitar note played repeatedly, breaking into a riff again to sing each line of the middle eight, which is played twice in full, then twice with just “one part of me… ” sung followed by a repeat by the backing vocal. Is the backing vocal singing “one part of you..” at the end?

Another hint of schizophrenia is here: of course, “gone fishing” means above all else to ignore what is going on around you, to be mentally as well as physically missing.

“One part of me went missing
One part of me went fishing”

The main riff is then played and the song returns to the verse:

“Screaming aloud in bungalows
Sitting alone in the lotus position
Screaming aloud in bungalows
Like Howard Hughes without the money”

Just one verse now, and into the chorus:
The dance we will perform is now specified as “the twist”: there is a highlighted dream-like quality to the imagery: “there is a monster by the creek, screaming until the windows break”: the monster is the narrator themselves, or some aspect of them, the part that wants to “make it huge”. Perhaps the fame that destroyed Howard Hughes’ fragile mind is the monster that is screaming.

“Why don’t we dance around like trolls
Joined at the arms like paper dolls
You do the twist and I will scream
Under the ocean like a dream
There is a monster by the creek
Screaming until the windows break
Let’s form a band and make it huge
Grow your hair long like Howard Hughes”

The song breaks down on the last line and ends with a brief burst of feedback.
Of all the demos this is musically the weakest, following a very standard template for grunge and with little variation or innovation. Lyrically however, the disconnect between the content and the form is interesting, and comparing – as it implicitly does – the rock star lifestyle with the dissociation of someone like Howard Hughes is interesting. Just how much does the isolation of a hotel room equate to mental isolation and, ultimately, madness? Have you ever been on tour with Momus? Call our helpline at the number below…

Three Beasts
Born, I believe, in Paisley in 1960, Momus would have been influenced by Protestantism and more specifically the Presbyterian church. It is the source and reason for some of the religious imagery in his songs. He was equally influenced by religious imagery in art and literature, and the Three Beasts of this title are probably from such a work, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the Italian work of 1320 which traced Dante’s imagined journey through hell, purgatory and finally heaven, guided by the Roman Poet Virgil for Hell and Purgatory, and by Beatrice, a woman Dante loved, through Heaven. At the start of the first book “Inferno”, Dante is in a dark forest, having strayed from the path of righteousness, and is prevented from leaving by three beasts: a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf, representing (possibly, interpretations vary) Lust, Pride and Greed.

The song begins with a dramatic set of chords played on electric guitar quietly and backed up by acoustic. The chords played and the key, perhaps, remind me of the intro to “Monsters of Love“, similarly introducing dark creatures into our midst. Our narrator meets the Three Beasts, offering him fame, tempting him with the lust, pride and greed that a major label record contract would supply. Momus sings quietly and seductively. A snare drum kicks in on the third line and the song pauses after this stanza, again building drama, before the first verse proper.

“Three beasts are at the door for you
They offer the world and more for you
Three beasts are at the door
Three beasts are at the door”

The verse is about the narrator’s normal life, and the way in which nothing he does seems to have any effect on the world.
The music is deceptively cheerful, following A major and still the same instrumentation:

“I let off the gun I trained on the sun but
The sun is still shining today
I ate all the food in the delicatessen
But never put on any weight”

An electric guitar now follows the vocal melody along: the narrator again bemoans the boring and humdrum nature of his life. A darker chord underlies the last line, leading into the chorus, unsure if he would give in to the beast or not:

“Here in this world where everything happens
None of it happens to me
I like to think I could outstare temptation
But I give no guarantee”

The chorus has Momus triple tracked, accompanied by one lower and one higher voice: the three beasts. Distorted guitar plays along in the background, the chorus is fairly monotonous, giving the impression of a chant used to summon the demons:

“Three devils, dare devils, horned devils
Summoned devils, come devils, bare devils”
For the last line the “be my, come by” is repeated with increasing intensity as the spell gathers strength, with the guitars thrashing to accompany:
“Be my… come by, be my lover”

The last line applying to the old images of witches summoning the devil to be their lover, here just emphasising how much the narrator would in fact lay bare their soul to these beasts. The guitars play an instrumental bridge with no lead solo, just taking us back to the verse, which is again concerned with the narrator’s feeling that he is of no consequence. But now there is a “you” mentioned, an other that he wants to impress or defeat, a friend or lover who is concerned.

“Here in this world where everything happens
None of it happens to me
You are so puzzling, you’ll still be struggling
In 2023
I let off the gun I trained on the sun but
The sun is still shining today”

Now the narrator is threatening to actually make the “deal with the devil”, their friend was clearly hoping it would not come to this:

“I know you’ve been hoping I was just joking
I know you’ve been hoping, I know you’ve been hoping”

The chorus is played again, this time there is another guitar playing high-pitched, short, crying notes like a beast screaming.

“Three devils, dare devils, horned devils
Summoned devils, come devils, bare devils
Be my… come by, be my lover”

He tries to round up the beasts, but this is doomed to failure without an ultra-loyal sheepdog.

The climax of the chorus now leads into an instrumental break with two guitars playing, one following the melody of the verse, and a solo over this, which chimes over the first guitar until 3.12 when they both dissolve into a distorted guitar playing power chords following the chorus instead, which is extremely dramatic and effective, giving the impression that the deal is being done. After breaking into the verse melody again briefly, the song returns to the opening, the solo guitar trailing off as Momus delivers the final stanza. The music calms down and ends softly after the final line.

This final stanza seems to represent the narrator ready to make the deal, with the record company, with the executive, with Satan, who are all waiting in the lift for him in the skyscraper apartment block he is visiting:

“Three beasts are at the door for you
They offer the world and more for you
Three beasts are at the lift
Bearing a choice of gifts”.

Momus describes this song as about music written “with integrity” which conquers the world, where the integrity becomes a commerical selling point. What do you do then? He sees this as a question answered by Kurt Cobain’s death. He was possibly considering his own integrity as well, not least for deliberately setting out to write band-wagon-jumping grunge tunes on a whim.

The four demos were duly taken to Creation. I hope they were heard by Alan McGee and I would dearly love to have seen his face when listening to them.
At any rate, Creation listened kindly but said he should stick to the “Momus formula” – whatever that is. In the sleeve notes, Momus quotes Gertrude Stein on reading a play by Pablo Picasso: “Go back to your studio, Pablo, and paint”.

Good Morning World
Integrity is a powerful motivator, as is the requirement to pay bills. With both in mind, you may recall that Momus, once esconced in Paris, was writing songs for other singers, among these Kahimi Karie, a Japanese singer who used a breathy, whisper-like vocal technique, similar to Julee Cruise, and would be the girlfriend of Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada). Kahimi released a mini-album in 1995 which included a song called “Elastic Girl“, written by Karie with Bryan Burton-Lewis, the title of which was presumably cribbed partly from “How I Wrote Elastic Man” by The Fall from 1980. In 1995 Momus was asked to write a song for Kahimi to sing as part of an advertising campaign for a brand of makeup called Menard. In Autumn of 1995 the song buoyed by the advert reached no.5 in the Japanese single charts and sold 120,000 copies.
The song was written by Momus as a pastiche of 60s pop but also influenced by Soft Machine – an English rock band from the Canterbury prog/jazz scene – and Jacques Dutronc’s debut album (1966). Jacques Dutronc is a French singer who worked in French pop and rock styles chiefly in the 60s and 70s but also branched out into psychedelic and garage sounds. Momus and Kahimi had further hit singles in Japan, and “Good Morning World” was the lead track on her compilation album Kahimi Karie, released in 1998 in the US. The track on 20 Vodka Jellies is the demo performed by Momus.

As such the music is catchy, led by brass orchestration and samples. It begins with an brassy keyboard part playing the main riff, responded to by a trumpet. An organ plays several repeated chords to lead into the first verse, which is somewhat less sexy in Momus’ voice (for me, anyway) than it would be with Kahimi. Mind you, having Momus sing this song, as with several on the album, leads again to a charming ambiguity of gender. Each line of the verse is followed by a response from a trumpet. Are trumpets pretty, is a trumpet girl just a trumpet-playing girl in a band?

“Putting on my best face
Running with a suitcase
I’ll lead you on a goose chase
Pretty as a trumpet girl”

The vocal slows down and the drum pattern follows suit for the bridge section, which returns to repeat the trumpet girl line twice before the chorus:

“Follow my eyes, follow my feelings
Follow my future wherever it’s leading

Pretty as a trumpet
Pretty as a trumpet girl”

The chorus brings in what sounds like a clarinet or other woodwind playing in the background, an off-key and descending tune. The main riff however continues below the mix. The chorus ends with the organ playing those repeated chords again to lead into the next verse.

“Good morning world
It’s so nice to be a beautiful girl
(It’s so nice to be… beautiful)”

“Party like a wild thing
(ba ba ba ba ba ba)
In parties that go on and on

Shake it at a nightclub
(la la la la la la)
Disco till the crack of dawn”

The bridge again brings in more guitar backing and leads us into an instrumental break this time, this time we are shaking and raving like a trumpet girl:

“Follow your nose
Follow your feeling
Follow the weather wherever it’s leading

Shake it like a trumpet
Rave up like a trumpet girl”

A very groovy organ solo follows, cut up and cut off to deliver us to another verse, which has a very different opening: why are we suffering in a basement, or is it abasement? The song may just be saying that it doesn’t really matter where you are, if you are a beautiful girl with Menard on your face: Mention Acapulco in a pop song and your thoughts either turn to “Virginia Plain” or the Four Tops.

“Suffer in a basement
(Pa pa pa pa pa pa)
Pretty like a trumpet girl

Swing in Acapulco
(Cha cha cha cha cha cha)
Swinging in a changing world”

The bridge, again, doesn’t take us to a chorus, but to the middle section:

“Follow your eyes
Follow your feeling
Follow the fever wherever it’s leading

Glitter like a trumpet
Glitter like a trumpet girl”

Firstly, the singer describes herself, in egocentric terms, as perhaps the perfect vehicle of flirtation and attraction: that sense of the alien as attractive comes through again in the lyric: The insruments drop out and there is just percussion, a bassline and electric piano chords during this section:

“I am the astronaut
I am the silver girl
I am so strange and sweet
I’m from another world
I’ll pass you on the street
And then our eyes will meet”

Followed by a .. rap, I guess, certainly a spoken monologue: The other instruments come back in. The lyrics paraphrase those of “The Clapping Song“: a 1960s hit for Shirley Ellis and an 80s hit for The Belle Stars. The song “How I Wrote Elastic Man“, by the Fall, is primarily about a singer who is constantly asked about one hit record he made. Momus perhaps ironically refers to it, but as “Elastic Girl“, that being the song by Kahimi previously. The irony being, of course, that this is his own biggest hit as a writer. The rap section ends with what is presumably the message of the advert, perhaps more directly stated than you might think and bereft of subtlety: wear makeup, improve the world, it is your duty.

“Liar liar pants on fire
Your mummy’s in the kitchen with electric wire
Daddy’s in the living room with his god
They all get together round a lightning rod
Two six five
The goose drank wine
The monkey chewed tobacco by the danger sign
The line it broke, the monkey choked
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat
Yum yum bubblegum
Stick it in your brother’s gun
Half way down the telephone wire
Liar liar pants on fire
How I wrote elastic girl
How I wrote elastic girl
Put some makeup on your face
Make this world a better place”

The song ends with the chorus finally repeated, the melody and key toyed with, and the song ends quite abruptly.

“Good morning world…
It’s so nice to be beautiful”

For the first time in his career, royalty payments from records actually came in and had some impact on Momus’ income, allowing some leeway to experiment. Further chart success came with Kahimi and other artists.

We come to another song written for the Timelord sessions in 1993, and a brilliantly atmospheric depiction of the dark side of time travel.
The Venice Biennale is a major exhibition of contemporary art, held in Venice every two years in 30 pavilions in the city, where different countries showcase their work and compete for prizes. The first full Biennale was in 1895 and continues today: literally, the website has yet to declare a cancellation of any events for 2020 as of 24/3/20. There was, of course, a German pavilion, an ancient temple design by Venetian architect Daniele Donghi with Ionic columns. In 1938 the pavilion was co-opted by the Nazis and they removed the original facade and pillars and replaced them with a design by Ernst Haiger. The stone pillars were emblazened with the emblem of the Third Reich and GERMANIA (the Italian for German) was engraved there. An architectural digest of the time said: “The new German exhibition hall in Venice offers an impressive, worthy and dignified representation of the Third Reich, while proving that the right artistic framework for the works presented inside can lend them an elevated effect”. The first work displayed in the new pavilion was by Nazi propaganda artist Arno Breker.

The pavilion has been altered over the years, but German artists have had to deal with the obvious imagery and history it carries. One such artist was Joseph Beuys, whose “Tramstop: A Monument to the Future” was displayed there in 1976, an artwork intended as a memorial to human suffering.
Another German artist, Anselm Kiefer, also exhibited there in 1980, reconstituting the original Nazi facade of the Pavilion and unflinching in his examination of his country’s past.

Joseph Beuys was also behind the work “7000 Oaks: City Forestation instead of City Administration”, a work in 1982 which involved planting 7000 acorns to become oak trees in Kassel, Germany, each planting accompanied by a basalt stone. The artwork was put in place with the help of many volunteers and Beuys saw the piece as indicative that anyone could be an artist: the planting was symbolic of many things, most prominently an ecological message and a hopeful one.

The pavilion has been turned into a maze, a childhood home, and called upon to be destroyed on many occasions, but has yet to be pulled down.

The Romanian poet Paul Celan wrote his most famous work: Todesfuge (Death Fugue) around the end of the Second World War. The German language poem describes the holocaust, the horror of life in a concentration camp. Taken literally the work seems to describe a concentration camp guard ordering Jewish prisoners to dig their own graves, then shooting them: the line “Death is a Master from Germany” is repeated often and the Master tells his prisoners “you’ll rise to the sky like smoke, you’ll have a grave in the clouds”.

All of these became an influence on this deeply unsettling and yet romantic (in the Byronic sense) song.

The piece begins with the synthetic sound of wind, bringing to mind an exposed and blasted heath in the middle of Germania. A low bass synth note, jagged, square, cuts in ominously and as it fades slowly out and in again a burst of electronic bleeps cuts it off and a smoother synth fades in. An effect as of a submarine about to dive comes in twice, and the electronic noise this time plays into a bass beat, essentially borrowed from rave music. Bass comes in playing alongside the beat and slow synth chords.

Momus sings over this, the first line seems to describe the scene in Celan’s poem, a map with hounds and burial mounds on it, showing the location of the shameful past. The second line refers to the collapse of the iron curtain across Europe in 1989, the unification of Germany. The third line refers to Beuys’ artwork and philosophy, and powerfully excoriates the Nazi destruction of so many: trampling on a race of people will only bring that people back stronger, eventually. Throughout the first two lines the synthesizer plays chillingly in the background, a flurry of tom-toms precedes a backing vocal, ghostly and eerie in the background, for the remainder of the verse.

“There are blood hounds and burial mounds upon these metal maps
Iron curtains tumble down, iron walls collapse
A thousand acorns trampled upon make a thousand oaks
In Germania, in Germania”

A new effect, a little like a fax machine sending a message I guess, is added into the background now. The first line places a Fir Tree – not necessarily a Christmas Tree – in “Tinseltown” (Babelsberg, once home of the German film industry, perhaps?) Frederick just has to be Frederick III, who was king of Prussia in 1888, and married Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Victoria. Frederick died fairly young, 56, it is believed he may have made the German Empire which followed more liberal, if he had lived, and this may have changed the course of history. But assign no blame to history, represented by a frail Swan’s neck.

“Tannenbaum in Tinseltown, the legend goes before
The queen puts on a snowy gown, Frederick’s at the door
Assign no blame, place no strain on the frail neck of the swan
In Germania, in Germania”

For the next section, that sinister bass synth returns, and a further backing vocal, disturbingly calm, appears in the background. This emphasises the horror that is being described, the possibility that “forgotten powers” are gathering again, the rot of the past may return because as history dances in a ring, each part of it must cycle back. This is the “Toten Tanz”, the Danse Macabre or Dance of Death. We hear the sirens sing that may lure us into repeating these mistakes: the German siren is called the Lorelei, luring sailors to their deaths on the Rhine. I hardly need to identify to you the nationalism, the foolish isolationist pride, the hatred of the other, that could lead us across these metal maps again.

“Rotten flowers, forgotten powers
Glory gathering
So childishly history is dancing in a ring
An old romance a toten tanz
Hear the sirens sing
In Germania, in Germania”

Finally the drums drop out and the song ends with the synthesizer and bass synth sweeping away, with the wind finding us alone.

“Germania” is one of the most evocative works Momus has given us, and it is a shame it was not included in Timelord in some form. Timely warnings from history remain desperately welcome and wanted: and needed, before you ask.

The Girl With No Body
We are spoilt now with another highly evocative soundscape. The inspiration seems to come from the films of Dario Argento, particularly his 1977 horror film Suspiria, set in a German dance academy for girls, where after a brutal series of murders it becomes clear that the school is a front for a coven of witches. It is an extraordinarily bold and grandiose giallo film, photographed, lit and staged as operatic theatre. The terror in this song is not supernatural however, but comes directly from the “last girl”‘s own body: she suffers from body dysmorphia and anorexia nervosa and eventually takes her own life. She is named Rosemary – an appropriate name for an English girl at a Ballet School – a name redolent of horror imagery thanks to Roman Polanski’s 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, which is also about a satanic cult.

The song begins with a piano playing thirds up and down scales as in a practice piece, with a violin effect coming in to stab accompanying notes in a higher register, in a classical waltz style. The softly delivered vocal then comes in accompanied by a softly swinging cello sound as well as the piano, giving the effect of a ballroom dance, deceptively cheerful in what starts off as a major scale.

“Rosemary walks across corridors
Across ballet school studio floors
Noon, the first day of the holidays
And the college is already closed”

Her isolation established as in any horror story, we find the monster that stalks her:
the second line states her intention to die, and the mirror image becomes the symbol of her illness.

“But she stands at the mirror
And dreams of the boy who has left her alone here to die
And the mirrors reflect to infinity
And she looks at herself with his eye”

The echo effect on the vocal is more prominent now as the focus of her image problems becomes the boy she knew: she describes her body as he sees it, and therefore as the mirror sees it, and as she sees it.

“And the one boy that mattered rejected her
So she shattered the image the mirror threw back at her
Breasts too flat, legs too thin
Skin supernaturally pale”

The string sound is a little fuller and lusher now, to give us the image of her dancing alone in this cavern of mirrors, another haunted ballroom, the emptiness and size of which is emphasised by that slight echo. The horror film motif of a labyrinth is used, as she is lost in her own mind. On the key word “nobody”, we switch to a minor key note being used, unsettling us completely, a trick repeated on the word “labyrinth”.

“And now nobody sees her, the girl with no body
Dancing in the labyrinth alone”.

An instrumental break comes now with a swirling sythesizer sound playing the main theme, and continuing into the next verse. The purpose of the sound is to be disorienting and confusing, as it is at odds with the pseudo-classical sounds we are otherwise hearing.

“And she stands at the washbasin looking glass
Turns on the tap with a twist
And like Alice in Wonderland, quite unsurprised
Sees the razorblade enter her wrist”

The reference to Alice in Wonderland brings all the surrealism, all the Englishness of that character to this one, and increases the tragedy we are witnessing, how could this happen to Alice? On the word “razorblade” a square synth sound rumbles and sawtooths, denoting the cutting away of her veins, of her life. A previous stanza is repeated to emphasise the reason for this action.

“And the one boy that mattered rejected her
So she shattered the image the mirror threw back at her
Breasts too flat, legs too thin
Skin supernaturally pale”

The strings return for the next line, and the swirling, somewhat sci-fi sounding effects continue. On the word dying the rumbling synth returns, emphasising the depth of the situation, and ebbing away like her life. A greater echo effect is applied to the keyboards as they fade out, and away.

“And now nobody sees her, the girl with no body
Dying in the labyrinth alone”.

The girl now has no body, because she had nobody. A sad indictment of the ridiculous pressures society and some forms of masculinity place on women to conform to particular body shapes, and an even sadder indictment of safeguarding procedures at expensive European Dance Academies, because seriously: how many covens must there be, how many serial killers must there be, how many girls must die before something is done about it?

Radiant Night
This is a list song: Momus sings about some of the things he finds beautiful and which inspire him.
“And it was a radiant night, a night of soft conspiracy..” as Zelda Fitzgerald wrote of the night she first met her future husband F. Scott.
Comparing the passion of this relationship to his relationship with his artistic heroes, Momus has borrowed the work of Chopin – the Prelude in E Minor 4 op.28: but not directly, rather from the song “Jane B” written by Serge Gainsbourg and performed by Jane Birkin on their collaborative album of 1969, which uses the same melody. The theme of the song is of duality – a recurring theme on this compilation – Momus is trying to explain that although in love with all these highbrow artists, these difficult, complicated works of art, at the end of the day, or more to the point, and the end of the night, he is still capable of having fun, by bouncing on a trampoline, eating tangerines and taking a lover. (Not all at the same time, we can only hope, for the sake of his neighbours).

Opening with a piano, appropriately playing chords behind Momus as he lists his loves.
Witold Gombrowicz was a Polish playwright and novelist. A leftist, bisexual, he left Poland before the War and only returned to Europe in the 1960s. His first novel was Ferdydurke: which was about the immaturity of youth, and an attack on class structures. In 1960 he wrote Pornographia, a controversial story of two Warszawian intellectuals who conspire to make two young people fall in love.
Louis F. Celine was the French author of Journey to the End of the Night, the surreal tale of Bardamu, an antihero who wanders the Earth continually encountering a doppelganger named Robinson whom he first encounters during WW1. After the war, Robinson desires work as a hospital porter, to be around sick people “because people with nothing wrong with them, you can’t get around it, are frightening…As long as they’re up, they think about killing you”. Celine’s work explores this modern paranoia.
Arnold Schoenberg was the composer of Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night / or possibly Radiant?), an early work by arguably the father of modern music. It is a piece for string sextet in one movement inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel.

“I’m in love with Witold Gombrowicz
That sombre Polish man
I journey to the end of night with Louis F. Celine
But when I’m tired of reading novels by melancholy authors
I bounce on an enormous trampoline”

‘Pornographia’, ‘Ferdydurke’, the Polish avant garde
I find Schšnberg’s ‘Verklarte Nacht’ the loveliest thing I’ve heard
But when I’ve lost my taste for the highest and the best
I bounce, I bounce, I bounce with zest”.

The bouncing is emphasised with crash cymbals.
Karlheinz Stockhausen is of course another pioneer of modern music and electronic music.
Musique Concrete is music which uses raw sound as its base material, which is to say sound not necessarily originally created as music, using any number of modification techniques on the sounds available to reconstitute them into a composition.
Luciano Berio was another experimental composer, known for his work in serial composition: composition in which sounds are ordered into a serial sequence which forms the basis of the subsequent composition.
Giacomo Leopardi is the 19th Century Italian poet and philosopher, a romanticist.
Stéphane Mallarmé a French poet whose work was a direct influence on several schools of the 20th Century including Cubism and Futurism.
Sergei Diaghilev was a Russian art critic and patron, and founded the Ballet Russes, which included amongst its number the dancer Nijinsky.
Rainer Maria Rilke an Austrian poet and novelist, whose influence on Momus I have written about before.
Lou Andreas Salome was a Russian psychoanalyst and writer, and she was a friend of Freud, Rilke and Paul Rée, among others. It was Salome who instigated Rilke’s name change from René to Rainer, and was his muse.

“I’m very fond of Karlheinz Stockhausen
‘Musique Concrete’ excites me
Luciano Berio inflames my very being
But when I’ve left behind my passion for serial composition
I bite at an enormous tangerine

Giacomo Leopardi, Stéphane Mallarmé
Diaghilev and Rilke, Lou Andreas Salome
But when I’ve lost my taste for the highest and the best
I bite, I bite, I bite with zest”

I am sure you know who composer Frederic Chopin was by now, if not, please re-read.
Isabelle Adjani is a French actress, well known for her work in the 1981 film Possession and for roles with Truffaut (The Story of Adéle H), Polanski (The Tenant) and Herzog (Nosferatu).
Charlotte Gainsbourg is the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and an actress/singer herself.
Bambou (Caroline Paulus) is a French actress/singer and model who was Serge Gainsbourg’s partner from 1981 to his death in 1991.

A lower bass synth note comes in now as we enter the third and climactic verse and chorus.

“I’m in love with Frederic Chopin and Isabelle Adjani
I play Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bambou and Jane Birkin at my party
But when the radiant night is over and the sun begins to shine
I kiss the simple lover who is mine

‘Pornographia’, ‘Ferdydurke’, the Polish avant garde
I find Schoenberg’s ‘Verklarte Nacht’ the loveliest thing I’ve heard
But when I’ve lost my taste for the highest and the best
I kiss, I kiss, I kiss with zest”

The instrumental break that follows has a dramatic, lower pitched synth noise bringing tension to proceedings. The actual melody is played on a harp sound and synth effects accompany it which sound like low pitched choral effects, baritones at dawn. This leads into a repetition of one of the verses.

“Giacomo Leopardi, Stéphane Mallarmé
Diaghilev and Rilke, Lou Andreas Salome
But when I’ve lost my taste for the highest and the best
I laugh, I live, I love with the best”.

It is indicative of the “demo” nature of the track that on the last line the vocal seems to crack a little, as if sung too close to the microphone. The harp and piano play on and end abruptly rather than fading out, another artifact of the unfinished nature of the piece.

It’s a lovely little song which could certainly act as a listening and reading list for anyone wanting to really study Momus and understand many of his references, but very slight in terms of being a composition: pleasant but overall unaffecting, for me at any rate.

Orgasm Addict
The Buzzcocks were a punk band led by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, a musician who is an inspiration to Momus and “means more to (him) than almost anyone in pop” according to the 20 Vodka Jellies sleeve notes. Devoto was born in Scunthorpe, like myself, and went to the Bolton Institute of Technology where he met Pete Shelley. Devoto left the Buzzcocks after the Spiral Scratch EP, and formed the band Magazine. The initial lineup of Magazine featured one Robert Dickinson, who co-wrote the song “Motorcade“, included on their first album. Dickinson left before the release of the first single “Shot by Both Sides“. He was my music teacher at North Lindsey College in Scunthorpe in the late 80s, and still worked there until very recently. Devoto went onto record five studio albums with Magazine and formed the band Luxuria with Noko, as well as recording a solo album and a collaboration with Pete Shelley. In the 1990s he was less involved with music and spent time working for a photo agency, but was not forgotten, certainly not by Momus, who in 1998 recorded “The Most Important Man Alive” – a tribute to Devoto – for the Bungalow Records label compilation “Suite 98”, a lavish sounding and humourous paean. Later, of course, Momus would record a full album of Devoto covers recorded live to be released as part of the triple album “Turpsycore”.

“Orgasm Addict” was the first single released by Buzzcocks and was of course a punk single. This reworking by Momus sets the lyrics to a slow trip-hop beat and has him crooning, in his own words “like a lascivious Tony Bennett”. He uses buzzing synths as the bass, an acoustic guitar plays in the background and tinkling keyboard sounds meander through the first two verses and choruses, playing off the exotic sounds against the very earthy subject matter. The lyrics are mostly self-explanatory up to “You’re no Joseph”: which is possibly Joseph of Nazareth, who was presumably very.. celibate with regards to Mary. Opinions vary, but I think God was her piece on the side.

“You tried it just for once
Found it all right for kicks
But now you’ve found out
It’s a habit that sticks

You’re an orgasm addict
Orgasm addict

Sneaking in the back door
With dirty magazines
Your mother wants to know
About the stains on your jeans

You’re an orgasm addict
Orgasm addict

You get in heat
You get in a sulk
But you still keep beating
Your meat to a pulp

You’re an orgasm addict
Orgasm addict

You’re a kid Casanova
You’re no Joseph
It’s a labour of love
Fucking yourself to death

You’re an orgasm addict
Orgasm addict”

The next lyric section describes the teenage fantasies as exotic and far ranging, the music plays into this idea by focusing on the exotic as well: the sounds swirl around the singer like a harem around a Sultan. The melody here, arrangement and manner of delivery remind me of “Bluestocking”: whereas that was a list of erotic literature, this is a list of erotic fantasia:

“You’re making out with schoolkids
Winos and heads of state
You’ve even made with the lady
Who puts the little plastic robins
On the Christmas cakes
Butcher’s assistants and bell hops
You’ve had em all here and there
Children of god and the joy streams
International women with no body hair”

The final verse and chorus drop us out of the fantasy and back into the everyday:

“Johnny want fucky
Everywhere and always
He’s got the energy
He will amaze

He’s an orgasm addict
He’s always at it
He’s an orgasm addict
He’s got the habit”

The song ends with the song title repeated, vocal effects including echo and flanging over the backing track. It’s a great cover, showing a love for the original, for the artist involved and probably for the subject matter, in a style that absolutely brings out the “otherness” that is another theme of this compilation.

20 Vodka Jellies ends with the oldest song idea on the album: Nobody was written in 1982 for The Happy Family and was intended to be the first single released in 1983.
Since The Happy Family broke up, the song was kept until 1993 to be recorded by Noriko (The Poison Girlfriend) for her Momus-penned album Shyness (along with “The End of History”). This is the same recording but with his voice. It is a story of unrequited love following a brief time spent together, a self-confessed “wallowing” in the turmoil of rejection. Momus describes the title line “Stay Nobody for no-one else but me” as a desire to be ignored so completely that the act of ignoring the narrator becomes a kind of attention. In the note Momus compares this “negative adulation” to that which he once received from girls and “now” receives from pop audiences.

It begins with the square bass beat of a solitary drum, and the seagull/wind noises that I remember from “The Sadness of Things” similarly representing desolation here. A picked acoustic guitar plays chord shapes and ghostly synths continue wind-like sounds and effects behind the vocals. A bass line now joins. The brief time, perhaps one time, they spent together, is described and its awkwardness comes through.

“One memory
Is one too much
There in the dark
Where strangers touch
There is no breathing
There are no beating hearts

The tongue of acid
That never spoke
The sleeping partner
Never awoke
I spent my seconds
But time was lost in her”.

The “seagull” sounds return at the end of that second stanza.
A sound like a theremin accompanies the chorus, which sounds deceptively optimistic, as if he welcomes the situation: ignore me so completely that ignoring me is all your world contains. A choral sound accompanies as well, equally ghostly and haunting.

“And when we pass remember make no sign
Evidence that you were ever mine
We’re poles apart for all the world to see
When I’m alone I find a crowded place
For crowds always remind me of your face
Stay nobody for no-one else but me”

The song breaks down at this point, all the instruments drop out except bass and guitar, and the wind effect.
The second verse has the same backing and format as the first, describing the encounter in abstract, cubist terms, giving impressions from different points of view.

“And through convulsions
We never kissed
There were no pulses
In these pink wrists
Across an abstract bed
Beyond the limit
Of shape and self
Promise to visit
As someone else
My past is only
One memory I shed”

The chorus plays as before, except the acoustic guitar seems a little more forward, at 2’44” there is a jangled chord that drags me back to “Ballad of the Barrel Organist“, another song with an awkward and unsuccessful coupling.

“And when we pass remember make no sign
Evidence that you were ever mine
We’re poles apart for all the world to see

Please change so many times that I’ll forget
I need to hope I haven’t found you yet
Stay nobody for no-one else but me.”

The acoustic guitar becomes quieter now and instruments slowly drop out in the next section, as the narrator tries to drift into the background of their target’s life.

“And when we pass remember make no sign
Evidence that you were ever mine
We’re poles apart for all the world to see”

Momus vocalises over the chorus melody as it repeats on the theremin sound, which now stops, and ends with the plea “Stay Nobody”… as the song ends with the guitar.
A song I have grown to appreciate more as I have grown older, a song of regret and of wishing to have things to regret, another theme Momus often returns to.

20 Vodka Jellies introduced Momus to the U.S.A and enabled a tour there to accompany the next album. It cemented his status as an outsider artist par excellence and even garnered reasonable reviews in the press: 7/10 from the NME! (Their summary: “effete to the beat”.) It works as an introduction to his world and worldview more effectively than The Philosophy of Momus and taken in conjunction with Slender Sherbet allowed new listeners in the West and East to make his acquaintance. What was needed now, really, was an actual new Momus album, and this would follow in 1997. Ping Pong would contain mostly new material and see the return of some of the old Momus cabaret style and wit, as well as narrative invention. Ping Pong still plays with altogether too many possible future routes to be entirely of a piece, but points clearly towards the route that would subsequently be chosen. It enabled Momus to tour both Europe and America to gain a new audience and solidify existing fan-bases. 1997 would also be a year of setback in his personal life, which would inform what was to come.

One thought on “I hope these crimes will never end… #18 20 Vodka Jellies

  1. Love this album. One of my favourites and a great introductory piece.
    Just remembered the early 90s demo cassettes Momus posted on his tumblr in 2010. Other than a few Voyager demos and Momus vocal versions of a couple of Poison Girlfriend songs, this was entirely unheard material. Just shows how prolific he was during the early part of the decade, he must have been scanning a few of those songs for potential Vodka Jellies. The main reason I bring these cassettes up is because one of them begins with a synthpop version of Someone. Not sure which version came first, but I feel the blippy synth sounds against the distorted guitar solo suits the song more than the all out grunge/drum machine style.

    Also as a sidenote, Nobody was a song I appreciated a lot from the first time I heard it, which may or may not say a lot about my younger self. Still one of my favourites of his now. There’s a few favourites on this album, actually.


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