If playing Doom had been a barrier to productivity in 1996, 1997 saw the release of Goldeneye 007 and Quake II as well as the Nintendo 64. It may have been as well that Momus had something to do, as 1997 does not seem to have started well. An article called “Sensibility” on his website detailed Momus’ life in March of that year and begins:
“What’s your culture and technology diet when your marriage has broken down and you’re living in visa limbo, out of a suitcase in a borrowed council flat in Lambeth?”.
It would seem that somewhere between summer of ’96 and this article the marriage between Shazna and Momus broke down, and led ultimately to an amicable divorce in 1999. There’s no detailed discussion of this, but we can read between the lines of songs on The Philosophy of Momus, Ping Pong and to some extent 20 Vodka Jellies to gather that perhaps their lifestyles, and goals in life, were not in the end compatible, and leave it at that. He continued to work on Shazna’s album released under the artist name Milky.

His list of current media and art is a time capsule for the year: Tracey Emin is exhibiting at the time (in more ways than one), he mentions the band Kreidler, who he would go on to work and perform with recording the song “Mnemorex“. He lists Squarepusher, Plug and Denim (whose album Novelty Rock I can also recommend). He hugely admires White Town (pseudonym of musician Jyoti Mishra), and correctly predicts that he will be a one-hit wonder and go on to be a success on the internet (currently he gets over half a million monthly streams on Spotify, and not just for “Your Woman“). He is not so happy with The Divine Comedy’s Short Album About Love, which is described as “glib”: the word “smarminess” is also used: perhaps, like many fans, he preferred it when Neil Hannon wasn’t famous and was a little secret. He was reading Derrida, Alan Warner and Adam Phillips (a book perhaps aptly named On Monogamy). Techwise he now has an Apple Newton – a PDA – to receive email. The Newton 130 also attempted via a stylus to recognise handwriting – no doubt badly – and was discontinued a month later. He is considering living in New York or Hong Kong – not Japan, yet, and has a JVC Digital Video Camera and a Roland PMA5, which was a touchpad based sequencer you could carry around, and thus, to some extent, compose on anywhere. It is also the year that the collaboration with Laila France – Orgonon – was released, and the Kahimi Karie album Larme De Crocodile, featuring his songs, as well as the collaboration How to Make Love (Vol 1) with Jacques (Jack / Anthony Reynolds – who went on tour supporting The Divine Comedy).

For the new, single, London based Momus, there was a return to a Momus of old. Living in London brought a vaudeville, music-hall edge and wit to the songs of Momus, whereas living in France had resulted in explorations of romance and love, and an Eastern influence had led to sci-fi, futurism and time travel. The concept behind what would become the new album was harsher, perhaps more bitter and twisted than the previous albums: more akin to the Ultraconformist, Tender Pervert or Don’t Stop the Night. In July of 1997 Hong Kong – a British Colony – was to return to Chinese rule after 100 years. The Ping Pong album press release imagines a club in Hong Kong post-July at which Momus – sponsored by the Chinese – sings songs satirising the British, creating new stereotypes of the evil occidentals. Momus himself is described as a traitor, following in the footsteps of Lord Haw Haw, Quisling and Ezra Pound, launching more and more absurdist visions of his own countrymen, his own flesh and blood.
The album also directly deals with the usual criticism of Momus by those who take him literally: the somewhat short sighted critics who accused him of “being” perverse, racist, paedophile etc. without, presumably, actually listening to the albums properly. At all times Momus is performative: taking on characters and describing their point of view. He puts on and takes off masks, costumes, avatars. While personal events in his life no doubt seed ideas for the songs, the more extreme events and characters are obviously not actually him. As we shall see when I look at criticism of this album, the misconceptions continued.

This idea of performing while wearing an “avatar” is taken literally here, and compared with the idea of taking out a game cartridge with one idea/song/character/meme and replacing it with another. This is related to an actual piece of technology that had impressed itself on Momus’ memory. In 1979 Milton Bradley (better known for board games) released a gaming system called Microvision – which actually featured replaceable cartridges containing game ROMS, innovative for the time, and the first example of a cartridge system of its type for a handheld, 10 years before the GameBoy. Not only could you replace the cartridge in the Microvision, but you also got for each game a sleeve which fitted over the system and revealed or blocked out some of the 12 available buttons and renamed them. Left/Right movement was generally controlled with a knob, a variable resistance dial. There were three main problems with the console: the small black and white LCD screen had a problem with the liquid crystal leaking, permanently damaging the screen, if you removed the back cover, the insides were dramatically vulnerable to electro-static discharge, and the buttons having covers put over them stretched the membrane beneath each plastic key to the extent they often broke. Games for the console included “BlockBuster” (Breakout), “Pinball”, “Connect Four”, but not actually “Ping Pong”. Many early games systems did of course have a version of “Pong”, the ubiquitous early computer game. How the album actually got the name “Ping Pong” is explained in the first song below, and the reason is of course ludicrous.

Ping Pong was released in October and followed in November by a European tour with Gilles Weinzaepflen – who performs as Toog. The tour was nicknamed EuroKong, and was followed in February 1998 with a tour of the United States called AmeriKong. These tours would be successful in promoting Momus to US students and to his fans in Europe, but unfortunately Momus would bring back more than memories from the European tour.

According to discogs.com, Ping Pong was released on Cherry Red in the UK with the most commonly used cover, and on Bungalow in Germany, and on Le Grand Magistery in the US, who released it just as they had also released 20 Vodka Jellies. My copy however says Satyricon Records/Setanta, which would be the Dutch release. The publisher at any rate was Rhythm King.

The UK and general cover for Ping Pong
The US CD cover for Ping Pong

The UK cover is the preferred, displaying as it does the concept behind the album. The image of a unicorn was removed in the Greek version (perhaps for reasons of cultural resonance?) and the statement below the image displayed in large, curving letters instead.

The CD Cover shows the Microvision being used to play Ping Pong, which, as previously stated, wasn’t technically a title available on the console. MOMUS PING PONG is printed in all caps in a retrofuturistic font in the same yellow as the console’s front is displayed and with a registered trademark symbol cheekily after it. As I said earlier, the console’s case and front were detachable and could be replaced with covers appropriate for each cartridge. This seems to be on a black background with a single star, which could easily have been the type of image you would have got in an advert for the device. Under the word Pong is a prog-rock cover image of a Unicorn standing in front of mountains and on what looks like marble. How this fantasy image fits into the general theme is not clear, but it may represent fantasy, and the imagination. Under this the advertising blurb for the console is printed in yellow sans-serif: “A new concept in electronic song systems – a hand held console with interchangeable characters. A wide variety of avatars available, see back.” At the bottom right of the cover in very small writing we get “9 Volt imagination required. Not included”: a dig at any critics who do not grasp the concept being presented. “You Lose Turkey” is written on the left hand side next to the spine, with an illegible Score, Top Speed and Time. The Microvision was certainly not easy to play, if you want to see it in action here is retro-game enthusiast Ashens having a go.

The back cover lists the 16 tracks down the left and under this is an image of someone removing the Microvision’s cover, possibly to play Pinball. This is over a simply drawn rainbow with five colours and further instructions: “Easy-to-insert, interchangeable game characters snap into the console. To change persona, simply remove one character and drop in another”. There is also a large image of the actual cartridge, this one mocked up to say “Professor Shaftenberg”, who we will meet later. He is described on the cartridge as a “Funkrageous Cabaret Gouster”: David Bowie recorded but did not release an album called The Gouster, a funk album which eventually “became” Young Americans. It is available on the “Who Can I Be Now?” box-set. “Gouster” according to producer Tony Visconti refers to “a type of dress code worn by African American teens in the ‘60’s, in Chicago… in the context of the album its meaning was attitude, an attitude of pride and hipness.” For the Professor, the funkiness is the reason for its use.

The CD inlay tray has Momus’ face in close-up, but Photoshop or similar used to make it look like a pencilled drawing in colour. The CD itself has Momus and Ping Pong written above and below the centre in the same yellow font as the cover. There is an image of someone seeming to draw on a screen using a stylus and with an old tablet controller: I am not sure what this is but it may be the Magnavox Plato. The disk contains regular info related to publishing by Rhythm King and lists Bungalow and Satyricon. The background colours of the disc are a deeply orangey yellow and a deeply orangey red. Sorry if that is too technical.

The CD inlay booklet has on its back the track listing as on the back cover of the CD and another mocked up cartridge, this time for “Mister Tamagotchi” : “Arrogant Digital Pet”. The rainbow is there again and under the console it says “Futuristic Vaudevillians, Thanks for pressing play! Please put on your avatar masks, Our game is under way…”. These are taken from the lyrics of the first song, and demonstrate again the “avatar” concept of the album and also in the line “Futuristic Vaudevillians” tells us that we can expect the kind of music we encountered on Ultraconformist: retro-futuristic music hall, anachronistic in style and content. There is also a hint in that phrase of the “Analog Baroque” concept which will become fully apparent on the next album.

The credits on the back here tell us all songs were written by Momus (no mention of Beck), and the sleeve designed by Momus. It was recorded at “The Meat Market” in London, which I think might just be his flat. Photography is by Riho Aihara at The Crow Bar, Exmouth Market. Thanks are given to Shazna, people at several record companies, Kahimi Karie, Anthony Reynolds, Bidisha (teenage author of the novel Seahorses), the artist Georgina Starr, and others including Mike Alway, the band Pizzicato 5 and “the Setantans”.

The inside back cover shows what could be an image of Momus’ flat but is certainly a bottle of Absinthe. The booklet has the lyrics in white text on gradient backgrounds in various soft colours. I don’t find it easy to read anymore without glasses, or possibly Absinthe. Each song has a small, thematically appropriate image accompanying it. There are a lot of lyrics. I am especially not looking forward to explaining “2PM“.

Ping Pong With Hong Kong King Kong (A Sing Song)
In his song by song description, Momus says he was asked to write a theme song for a potential film version of Pingu, to be made in Japan for their market. Pingu is a claymation animation – a Anglo-Swiss co-production, made from 1990 to 2006, and with a current Japanese production from 2017. It concerns a penguin and his family, and their misadventures. Pingu is well known for his gibberish speak known as “Penguinese”. According to Momus, the lyrics of his theme song/jingle were “Pingu the penguin, riding upon your sleigh, tell me what adventures you are going to have today”. If this is true, and like I said, it sounds ludicrous, I would ask how Pingu is expected to know what adventures he is going to have today, and, furthermore, how you expect him to tell you when, famously, he doesn’t speak any recognisable language. At any rate, you can now see how the happy coincidence of the word “Pingu” being nearly identical to “Ping” as aligned with “Pong”, a computer game. Also rhyming with Hong Kong, the transfer of which is a theme behind the album as discussed, and King Kong, just rhymes and is fun, and is a wild and crazy guy.

The song begins with a rush of 8-bit techno, the jingle that would accompany Pingu’s song played on what sounds like a Casio, with a layered keyboard sound including some kind of whirring wind noise in the background and a tinny beat. The jingle repeats with an organ part subtly in the background and Momus’ voice which is either multi-tracked or repeated with a slight delay, to sound fuller. The lyrics fully place this album in Ultraconformist territory, a song to welcome us to the show, a Burlesque or Music Hall Cabaret is promised, and the word “vaudevillians” promises humour. The lyrics on his site and on the album say “vaudevillain”: is he saying something about his fans or the characters, or is it an alternate spelling? Anyway, “don’t worry”, this album is telling the long established Momus fan, “this time it won’t be dark and gloomy”. The “futurism” is encapsulated in the thanks for “pressing play”: this is a CD, cassette or download, not vinyl.

“Ping pong the album
Comedy cabaret
Futuristic vaudevillains
Thanks for pressing play!
Futuristic vaudevillains
Thanks for pressing play!”

The song then has Momus chanting into the mic:


Before restating the main idea of the album: we are putting on characters, so is the person who is listening to the album: we are all actors.

“Please put on your avatar mask
Our game is underway!
Please put on your avatar mask
Our game is underway!”

The music stops abruptly after this, and we switch to a live recording after a moment of silence. A loop of a sound effect, something like a cello string being scraped, is playing. Momus is speaking to the audience:

“I don’t know what the technical word for it is, if misanthropy is not liking men, and misogyny is not liking women, what is the word for not liking babies, I don’t know..” There is some laughter, and someone shouts back “Normal!”, which receives more laughter, and someone (else?) shouts “Nick, you’re a legend!”, in a somewhat accented voice, very different to Nick’s. The track then switches to the second song.

Now, misanthropy is a dislike of mankind, rather than man. A dislike of men specifically is called misandry. A dislike of children would presumably be called paedophobia. But that just sounds weird.

The person who shouts “Nick, you’re a legend” (Not clear if he also shouts “Normal”) is John Quin, clearly a long term fan who went on to write a very complimentary review of Momus’ book “The Book of Scotlands” for Art Review magazine in 2009.

Edit: From Mr. Quin: “The guy who shouts ‘normal’ is Prof Martin Turner, Oxford neurologist, expert in MND.”

His Majesty the Baby
Now single, or now at least able to state his true feelings on the matter of babies, perhaps, Momus is no longer in any way broody, because he bloody hates the things. Who can blame him?
Jonathan Swift (Satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels) wrote “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick” in 1729: a satirical suggestion that the Irish, in the grip of famine, should consume their children because: “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee or a ragout”.
China, with its 1-child policy, could also be said to encourage infanticide. Hong Kong was returning to China. The execution of unwanted children was a reasonable topic for discussion, and to this performative Momus, ALL children are unwanted children, by himself at least.

For the lyrics of this piece, Momus made an appeal to authority, to Sigmund Freud, who believed that every baby considers himself a King. This would be a reasonable assumption to make if every single thing was done for you and every cry you made was instantly answered. Momus sees the “baby” as the enemy of feminism: the baby turns women into “obsequious, fawning imbeciles”, against their own desires, but more importantly, against their desire for Momus. He complains that having become a well-read, intellectual powerhouse, “…you find that women are biologically programmed to respond to gurgling, smelly, egocentric goons. No, not Oasis fans. Babies. Come the revolution, off with their heads!” This is not a reaction against women, at all, but against their rebellious biological imperative, he is on their side and wants to free them, and many women probably agree.

Freud himself would probably also want to talk to Nick about being the eldest of three children, and how he felt when his sister was born and took some of his parents’ attention from him. Actually, probably took all of it, for a while. Freud would read this answer given to a question in an interview with Chickfactor in 1998:
“I was at boarding school, not particularly happy. my parents had just come back from greece. you being my therapist, the two big shocks of my life were: I thought I was incredibly special being the first born in my family, then my brother and sister came along and I realized I was just another person, which is an essential realization for anybody to make. then being sent away to boarding school and realizing the world is full of bigger stronger guys who want to dominate you and who are less smart than you but ultimately can have their way because of more muscle power.”
Freud would read this comment on Momus’ own site about his sister Emma and his parents’ divorce, which we have mentioned before:
“I think I was probably the narstiest (sic) person in my family, but it wasn’t major stuff. I nicknamed my sister “Little White Pig” just in case my mother’s affectionate name for her, “Little White Pet”, went to her head. It was for her own good, you understand. Apart from that, everyone in my family was gentle and supportive and civilized to each other. We grew up in an atmosphere of mutual support and kindness which only broke down into mildly sarcastic recrimination when my parents divorced.”
Emma has opened a café called “The Little White Pig” in Edinburgh, so there are probably no hard feelings there. Nevertheless, Freud would probably shut his casebook with a satisfied grunt, content that the existence of this song was always inevitable.

After the live clip we are back in the “Meat Market”, and the song opens with gusto, a music hall stomp with double bass, staccato guitar chords and a tinkling xylophone, a near-stereotypical French accordion sound and Momus breathily intoning:

“Crooked smiles, mongol eyes and a toothless grin”

A jovial start stop to the now carnival-esque tone with a whistle playing us into the verse:
It is a perfect volley of hatred to the “king” with a parade of jealous insights:

“I hate his majesty the baby
His bowels and bladder uncontrolled
Sitting astride a throne of nappies
As though his shit were made of gold
As though a cherub on a fountain
He suckles breasts as big as mountains
Then pisses freely on the women
Who so lovingly surround him”

A stronger bass and piano accompaniment come in now to emphasise the switch from observing the “king”‘s perks to more violently verbally assaulting him: “bald and dribbling little git” is especially good because it is the last sort of language you expect from the normally eloquent and well-versed Momus:

“I hate his majesty the baby
The bald and dribbling little git
The polymorphous little pervert
In every orifice a fluid
Born in a filthy burst of semen
Some tosser planted in a woman
The spitting image of a tosspot
Let us assassinate the despot!”

The “chorus” introduces a theremin sound (or an actual theremin?). It follows what was discussed above: Momus sees himself as a feminist, freeing women from the expectations of society. He wants to sacrifice the “tyrant” by tearing it limb from limb. Compare if you like to the climax of the film Mother! directed by Darren Aronofsky. Freud would certainly ear up his pricks to the mention of Momus’ brother. I think calling him an “imbecile” is more gentle support for his own good.

“And if you cooing mothers should come cooing around me
Will you be ready for the struggle, the struggle to be free
From the instincts of your gender, from your social role as mothers
When I execute your tyrant will you claim me as your saviour
Or simply tear a traitor limb from limb
Fuck my imbecile brother, then begin again?”

There is an instrumental break with a keyboard playing a melody based on the verse and leading us into the next: the theremin comes to the front now, comically playing up to everyone’s expectations of a theremin from a 1950s sci-fi movie.

Momus delivery of this verse is excellent, and very comic. He is appropriately calm until the ladies demand what the baby has done to him, then “This bastard’s shitting on my shirt” is delivered with genuine venom as if from experience, with the sudden shift in tone raising a laugh , and his demand for an execution is heartfelt.

“I hate his majesty the baby
In my pathetic jealousy
I hear the voices of the ladies
Demanding what he’s done to me?
This bastard’s shitting on my shirt
I’m deep in excrement and dirt
I demand a revolution!
I demand an execution!”

He goes on to explain why he is so angry: he has tried so hard to be elegant, witty, seductive, but it is all for nothing when the ladies meet a baby: the end of this verse brings in further bass sounds and the theremin becomes more menacing, along with the backing. When he rasps “I hate you, imbecilic women”, he sounds incredibly genuine, misogynistic and consumed by rage.

“I’m well versed in fencing, playing the lute, and rhetoric
I am toilet trained and elegant, an effervescent wit
But the girls prefer the company of a balding little pisser
It is mothers who make men misogynists
They could have kissed me, they chose to kiss
A stupid, stinky little pool of piss”

So the next verse as I suggested above is the acme of his anger, as he vents his major threat: I hope your child grows up as twisted as I am. He mirrors American comedian Bill Hicks’ sarcastic routine about “the miracle of life” (Hicks talked about those miracles happening to white trailer trash every day, to mock the pseudo religious worship of “birth”.) Momus points out that it is not that difficult to make a life, so let us remove this “king”, the belief that babies are for some reason important, or more to the point, that they are more important than him.
While we are here, the NME review of this album included the observation “Nick Currie is a man who likes to wash the soiled laundry of his mind in public. Why else songs with subjects as tasteful and diverse as tossing off babies, sex crimes, bondage, Japanese schoolgirls and barely-suppressed misogyny?”. Needless to say, this review completely misunderstood the whole album project: the characters singing the songs are not Nick Currie. This is clear from the cover, the back cover and the first song. He has taken “I tossed him off one day at lunchbreak” to mean that he – Nick – took a baby behind the bike sheds and manually relieved it, which is both impossible and … obviously not what the lyric means. It means he completed the task of creating a baby with no thought or interest – he “tossed it off”, like a poorly written review due in by four o’clock. It is almost as if the writer deliberately misinterpreted the lyric in order to attack Momus following some agenda. The “barely-suppressed misogyny” is not barely-suppressed here at all, Momus is openly misogynistic in this song. As a character. As Nick Currie, he believes motherhood can be a barrier to female liberation. Which is the opposite to being misogynistic. We will come onto the Japanese schoolgirls later. So to speak.

“I hate you, imbecilic women
Who gawp around His Majesty
Don’t you know he’ll grow up, God willing
A twisted little shit like me?
I tossed him off one day at lunchbreak
One human life is not that difficult to make
Let us assassinate this despot!
His Imperial Majesty the tosspot”

The music slows down momentarily, the theremin and sound effects buzzing in the background as Momus declares the death sentence, couched in the language of the French revolution:

“O King, now you have reached the Age of Reason
The facts of life are laced with treason
There is going to be a sudden palace coup
And my new mistress, Madame Guillotine, will soon be nursing you…”

The music returns to the melody of the verse and Momus speaks the final lines over it.
The xylophone sound accompanies this directly. He whispers the conspiratorial line “let’s do him in!”, bringing us into his madness. A keyboard line then spirals upwards for the final few lines towards a climactic declaration of the climax he promises you: Momus will show you LIFE, again whispered, and its imperial majesty. Which I have a horrible feeling may be his nickname for his todger. The song finishes on a flourish, very much a vaudeville song and very funny.

“Crooked smiles from toothless gums
A grating voice and a stinky bum
Mongol eyes and a toothless grin
The king is naked — let’s do him in!
It’s time to rise up free from tyranny
Wouldn’t you rather be with me?
I’ll show you, ladies, LIFE
And its imperial majesty”

So the old joke about a man who finds a genie and wishes to become irresistible to women, and is then made a baby, is made violently funny. One final thing we should address, am I bothered by the word “Mongol”? As I mentioned before, my daughter has Down syndrome, is this word offensive? Not to me in this case, because I know why he is using it. It fits syntactically. And he is using it as an insult, so he must understand that it is offensive, and that is exactly why he is using it to insult his target. I doubt he would use it as an insult against a Down syndrome child, because why would he? Whatever biases Momus has, I doubt he has a problem with the disabled. We may examine some of his discriminatory behaviour later.

My Pervert Doppelganger
Edinburgh was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde. Momus describes it as the civilised harmony of the Georgian New Town contrasting with the bawdy and debauched Old Town, just as Dr Jeckyll, as a product of civilised society, contrasts with Mr Hyde, the primal form of himself.
This song similarly describes the narrative in a battle between Momus, the civilised, urbane, eloquent, creative thinker and Momus, the dark, perverse, murderous mirror image of humanity.
The late 80s and early 90s in the United Kingdom had seen a crisis in beef production: the disease Bovine Spongiform Encepalopathy had been in offal fed to cattle, resulting in the cattle carrying BSE which transferred to humans as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, prions – proteins – attaching themselves to brain and neural tissue and destroying it. The panic ensuing this discovery of the bleeding obvious: that forcing animals to be cannibals leads to serious illness: led to exports of British Beef being temporarily reduced or banned and the Minister John Gummer force-feeding his daughter a burger in front of the national press to prove British beef was “safe”.
Rather of relevance to 2020, the song is about Smithfield market, which Momus described at the time as “the quaint wrought-iron building at the heart of London’s rank and putrid meat dissemination network”.

The song begins with a tango: bass, marimba, percussion and a squealing synth noise, like radio feedback. The tango is a rough pastiche of “Tea for Two”, and like that song introduces a dance for two combatants. A flurry of percussive cha-cha music leads into the verse. Calmly spoken over the dancehall backing which contrasts the traditional sounding rhythm and percussion against the electronic squeals of a perverse future. It is interesting that the pervert comes from “across the sea”: much as Momus himself has a different life in Japan.

“I’ve got a pervert doppelganger
He came from over the sea
He hangs around doing sexual crimes
And the blame is getting pinned on me
The blame is getting pinned on me”

There’s a short instrumental break/bridge into the next verse:
We already know that Momus is a fan of Squarepusher and Green Tea.

“Whenever that pervert shows his face
My friends all think he’s me
They give him records by Squarepusher
And a box of Japanese tea
A box of Japanese green tea”

The next verse continues with the more sinister sounds increasing a little in intensity. The electronics peak on mention of “the Smithfields Ripper”, giving form to the horror of those words.

“He’s taken a flat in Smithfields now
Where refrigerated lorries unload dead cows
They call him the Smithfields Ripper now
And the rap is getting pinned on me
The rap is getting pinned on me”

Music hall style melodies are in the background of the song throughout, and for the next verse the song moves up a key as the doppelganger’s plan moves up a notch: he pretends to be Momus to make a date with his girlfriend. Momus adopts a different gruff, low voice when being the doppelganger. Does the girlfriend know he is a different person? Does she care?

“And now my pervert doppelganger
Has got my girlfriend’s phone-number
I gave her a warning, but yesterday morning
She cancelled her date with me
‘And made it a date with me!'”

This verse is followed by an instrumental break played on chiming bells, the sound of which contrasts with the setting, the other instruments and the dark nature of the lyric. The break ends with a descending, staccato series of tones on the synth leading back to the lower key. Momus, knowing his girlfriend has made a date with himself, confronts him:

“I went to the flat of my doppelganger
I’d copied my girlfriend’s key
I waited in a cupboard till they both came round
Then jumped out very suddenly
Jumped out very suddenly”

This is followed by more of that descending synth noise, and you can clearly hear the piano playing very familiar music hall chords in the back, reminiscent of the piano in “Forests” on Ultraconformist. The song lifts a key again: we don’t know what happened after Momus jumped out, but someone has been overpowered and taken away.

“And now we get along like a house on fire
The police took away my doppelganger
He’s a high security prisoner now
Being held under lock and key
And everybody thinks, thinks he’s me”

The coda talks about making love on top of piles of “slithering meat”, playing with fears related to BSE at the time, but still highly relevant now. Every line is sung to the same little melodic riff, which repeats as he chants “Can the man in the mirror be me?” finally resolving to the line “can it be… my pervert doppelganger?” Momus could be having a little dig at Michael Jackson here, and his song “Man in the Mirror“, not that he is accusing him of anything, of course.
The electronics return along with a piping recorder sound and the song ends with percussion clattering and the electronics winding down.

“And when the lorries unload their cows
Their hogs, their heifers and sows
In piles of slithering meat
I give my girl a treat
With unstoppable energy
Can the man in the mirror be me
Can the man in the mirror be me
Can the man in the mirror be me
Or can it be

My pervert doppelganger”.

The final joke, of course, is that we don’t know who is the “real” Momus and who is the pervert, or which one is under lock and key at the end. One is a genius, the other’s insane… but as with Pinky and the Brain, we are never told which is which. This is a delightful, funny song playing with Momus’ image of himself, and the “perverse” image others have of him, and toying with stereotypes of music hall, cabaret and vaudeville. The song uses electronic effects and synthesizers to approach the Victorian style from a modern angle, perhaps pointing the way towards the collision of eras that would become Analog Baroque.

I Want You but I Don’t Need You
This is one of Momus’ best known songs, on YouTube at least, thanks to Amanda Palmer’s live cover, videoed at the Metro in Chicago in 2008, which has over a million views. “Good Morning World“‘s official video by Kahimi Karie has 88k views by comparison, and “Hairstyle of the Devil” 150k.
It’s a song about psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: at the lowest level, we NEED food, water, shelter, heat, if those needs are requited, we move up the pyramid toward more complex “needs”: companionship, society etc. and at the apex of the pyramid: self-actualisation, the ability and opportunity to be creative.
The song Momus has written argues, again from a feminist perspective, that in the modern world we have everything we NEED and therefore life revolves more around the things we WANT. We have all the food, water, toilet roll we require (er.. normally), and therefore we are more concerned with the things we WANT, such as games consoles, sex toys, and subscriptions to Netflix. It is evidence of the progress of society that NEEDS become less important as time goes on, and WANTS become the target of our desire. Momus argues that women are still trapped in an economy of NEED because “they still need men to support them while they’re needed by the babies they bear” (and which he can’t bear). He expresses the hope that this will have changed when women earn as much as men, around 2010. Absolutely, racing to their equitably recompensed work on their Back to the Future hoverboards. The song argues that to be “wanted” is a superior thing to being “needed”. I NEED a plumber to stick his hand in my u-bend and get my fluids moving, but he shouldn’t feel as special as the man I WANT over to er.. stick his hand in my u-bend and get my fluids moving. The implication is that if the need was not there, most relationships would not exist, because there is no “want” to back it up.
The Q magazine review of Ping Pong (lukewarm and uncomprehending) says that the music for this song is as sleazy as Pigalle (a red light district in Paris, on the edge of the 18th arrondissement and the area mentioned in “The Charm of Innocence“), which is a little misleading. It begins with acoustic guitar, and a tinkling organ sound something like a fairground ride, in a waltz-time. The keyboard organ sound plays descending thirds, with a switch to a minor key after the first line, then back again to major: the minor tells us we are not needed.

“I like you, and I’d like you to like me to like you
But I don’t need you
Don’t need you to want me to like you”

The keyboard organ stops here, and the acoustic guitar becomes more prominent:

“Because if you didn’t like me
I would still like you, you see
La la la”

The keyboard returns now, but playing chords rather than individual notes, slightly beefing up the sound. The lyrics switch from verb one “like” to verb two “lick” which is funny, the slight assonance of the two making it an unexpected twist the first time you hear it.

This whole song is full of the sort of word play we expect from Momus: later on, “need me to meed you to need me” and “I’d like you to leave me to leave you” are reminiscent of the verbal tricks we heard on Tender Pervert such as “I’m jealous of the man the man you broke your heart of broke the heart of” from “A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy“. As so often with Momus, you have to listen carefully to unpick what is being said.

“I lick you, I like you to like me to lick you
But I don’t need you
Don’t need you to like me to lick you”

Unlike on the first verse, the keyboard organ stays for the second half this time, and the slightly sinister declaration of “personal gain” highlights the selfish nature of the narrator:

“If your pleasure turned into pain
I would still lick for my personal gain
La la la”

For the next verse a bassline kicks in and the keyboard starts playing higher and longer, sustained notes, two contrasting sounds which themselves contrast with the earthy nature of the third verb we are confronted with.

Part of me wishes it wasn’t “fuck”. Partly because it limits the radio play the song can receive, or could have received, without being edited and thus negating the point of having it in there. But mainly because the song is about the difference between “want” and “need”, and the difference between the sexes in this respect. By adding in the verb “fuck” you necessarily have to have a subject and an object: someone is fucking and someone is being fucked, and this implies a power dynamic, inevitably. Drawing our attention to this power dynamic removes our attention from the dynamic which was under discussion: “want” versus “need”. That’s just an opinion of course, you may violently disagree. It just seems that the “fuck” in this song is actually just there for the sake of it, and I don’t usually think that of Momus’ content. I’m not censorious in any way, by the way, that should be obvious from these reviews, but I do believe in words requiring a value to be placed on them. Apart from anything else, the rest of the song suggests an emotional attachment (whether want or need) in the relationship, but this verse denies it.

“I fuck you, and I love you to love me to fuck you
But I don’t fucking need you
Don’t need you to need me to fuck you
If you need me to need you to fuck
That fucks everything up
La la la”

Now there is a lovely key change, and a mandolin sound appears, just beautifully tinkling in the background:

“I want you, and I want you to want me to want you
But I don’t need you
Don’t need you to need me to need you”

The melodic lift now on “just me” is an aching void of loneliness: He knows it is going to be “leave me”, one way or the other.

“That’s just me so take me or leave me
But please don’t need me
Don’t need me to need you to need me”

The melody picks up again, the next lines ironically cheerful – we are headed for the grave, so love me while you can – before descending again for the final line:

“Cos we’re here one minute, the next we’re dead
So love me and leave me
But try not to need me
Enough said
I want you, but I don’t need you”.

There is a guitar solo here, a twanging acoustic guitar following the verse melody, the mandolin sound playing behind, then “la la” vocals leading into the next verse: the instrumentation remains as for the previous verse, with the keyboard playing chords, the mandolin no longer playing. We go to the final, most important verb now: “Love”:

“I love you, and I love how you love how I love you
But I don’t need you
Don’t need you to love me to love you
If your love changed into hate
Would my love have been a mistake?
La la la”

The decision made, the narrator knows his partner needs him to love her, and that is the exact thing he does not want. The vocal is louder here, and the mandolin returns as the emphatic decision is made on the word “leave”. A double tracked backing vocal follows Momus here, the mandolin leaves after the second line.

“So I’m gonna leave you, and I’d like you to leave me to leave you
But lover believe me, it isn’t because I don’t need you (you know I don’t need you)
All I wanted was to be wanted
But you’re drowning me deep in your need to be needed
La la la”

The song moves straight back into the verse melody. The music is very French, very music-hall, very 60s and with the mandolin added somewhat reminiscent of “The Third Man”, or a spy-film theme from the era. Again the melody lifts on the line “That’s just me”, then falls down as the line “Don’t need me to need you to need me” puts the final nail in the relationship, with the mandolin sound on the keyboard hitting the emotional beats on its high notes. At the end of the verse the guitar strums loudly and finishes the song quite abruptly.

“I want you, and I want you to want me to want you
But I don’t need you
Don’t need you to need me to need you
That’s just me
So take me or leave me
But please don’t need me
Don’t need me to need you to need me
Cos we’re here one minute, the next we’re dead
So love me and leave me
But try not to need me
Enough said
I want you, but I don’t need you.”

This is a quite brilliant song, my slight semantic misgiving aside, it says more in its four and a half minutes about the differences between men and women in relationships than a truckload of chart pop does. It’s intelligent, analytical, emotional and philosophical. It should have been a number one hit in every country. But there you go.

Professor Shaftenberg
The CD ROM which Momus made – This Must Stop! – featured a lunatic called Dr Heinboldt Muchenwald Murzenschlifferbach, a nonsense name, who was a psychoanalyst who had discovered, so he claimed, six new sexual neuroses. Prof Shaftenberg is an extension of him, a German swinger who roams the world enjoying his fetishes, sponsored by a major airline. Momus saw him as a cross between Iggy Pop, who sang of looking for “some weird sin, just to relax with” and the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, known for his erotic work focusing on bondage, and women in states of submission. In Momus’ “Chinese” press release the Party writer identifies the Axis link between the German Shaftenberg and his Japanese collaborators, working together against the British Repressers of Sexuality.

The song kicks in with bass, electric piano, tinkling piano and a scratchy vinyl soundtrack: it’s a porn soundtrack from a 70s German film. Momus relates the tale, talking, close to the microphone, his seductive tones tinged with humour: in the first line we learn that the Professor is intelligent, learned, a psychopath and non-binary:

“He’s a polyglot, a psychopath, an androgyne
He likes to handcuff Japanese girls hanging upside down
He is rampant like the stallion
He wears the gold medallion
Of the Royal Order Of Reprobates Of Lichtenstein”

Some wah-wah guitar sounds and a high, sustained synth note join in. The second verse drives home the Professor’s sexual proclivities further and namechecks Araki. The song perhaps deliberately flourishes a stereotype of Japanese depravity, the legendary purchasing of schoolgirl underwear: this is probably an exaggeration, like the rest of the description of Shaftenberg.
Can you get good enough food for a gastronome in a love hotel? They are hotels designed to be hired by the hour or overnight only for purposes of, well, love. Or fucking. They may have a Chef, I suppose.

“He’s a bondage fan, a gastronome, a sensualist
Unparalleled for sinister lasciviousness
In a love hotel at half past four
He’ll purchase schoolgirl underwear
Meet Noboyushi Araki for dinner there”

Towards the end of the verse a female backing vocal or sample is added. For the chorus, the drums and percussion pick up, and play with more syncopation, inviting us to disco with the Prof. A female voice provides a backing vocal. Following the chorus, a vocoder appears and we lead with a funky rhythm and melody into the next verse.

“Professor Shaftenberg
Professor Shaftenberg
He is sponsored by Lufthansa
To screw the pants off Japanese girls”

Momus almost raps this section, the vocoder drops out but the female backing vocal is there again. “Pample mouse” is what the Momus lyrics page says, clearly he means grapefruit (pamplemousse). A frond is a large, divided leaf, as in fern plants, considered magical in Eastern European fairy tales. “The Song of Innocence and Experience” is a reference to William Blake’s two volumes of poetry published in the late 18th Century,

“The professor isn’t home right now, so this is the real me
I want to grind bones with a naked baby cow
I want to squash the squid and jump the junk
I want to peel the pample mouse pink to the pulp
Part the fronds and enter this , my magical place
Let us sing the song of innocence and experience”

The song switches back to the first verse style now, with the wah-wah guitar and female vocalist remaining. This verse steps up the sexual perversion again, with bestiality on the table. Also, Lotus flowers are in fact hydrophobic, water will roll off their leaves. “Snake Oil” is usually a reference to a bogus medical “cure” that in fact does nothing. Many particularly Eastern cultures use snake, tiger and other animal parts for cures or potions related to male sexual prowess. None of them work.. I am told. This is an indication that his claims of sexual potency may be somewhat exaggerated.

“He’s a zoophile, a hydrophobe, a lotus flower
He carries patent leather snake oil for his penis power
When it’s time to fuck their socks off
He boards his flight at Tempelhof
Countdown to Tokyo and zero hour”

“Professor Shaftenberg
Professor Shaftenberg
He is sponsored by Lufthansa
To screw the pants off Japanese girls”

The music changes now to include DJ scratching and more frenetic beats, which stop and start. Momus raps again for the next section, which describes the Professor’s lovemaking in more detail than we would ever ask for.

“You are culpable but highly fuckable
I’ll bring you home by midnight, death by chocolate, the horn by stealth of moonlight
I’ll stab you to the hilt
Satin you and jasmine you and, finally, critically
Drink the ectoplasmic jet
Grip and grab three hot bags of girly goddess head”

We switch back to the standard chorus, then back to another rap.

“Professor Shaftenberg
Professor Shaftenberg
He is sponsored by Lufthansa
To screw the pants off Japanese girls”

This rap is wordy, frenetic, frantic and feverish. Again we have the idea of duality: Momus is the “Reverend Hyde”, who is perhaps the voice that pipes up, high pitched, to complete the line “stunning from start to finish in performance and execution”. The next three lines attack religion, aim to shock, to pollute religion with sex just as religion aims to pollute and disturb our enjoyment of fetishes. He declares his desire to know the unknown, a desire so profound we get an echo effect on his voice to emphasise the depth of it, and equally, the desire to go to places he wants to go but has never been. This nearly spiritual evangelism is slightly undercut by the humour of the next line, to “get my rocks off before my cock pops off”.

“The Professor isn’t in right now but I’m his bastard cousin
The funky little pervert Reverend Hyde,
One superbad dude, come to my pad , let’s collude and let’s collide
Clasping and gasping, climax in unison, spermatozoon, clapping, coming
Consummate, original, stunning from start to finish in performance and execution
Invoke the deities, shock the pants off several
Choke on sacred bread and pollute the holy wafer
Inject a cloud of jism in the middle of the holy water
In clouds of unknowing I want to know
In places I have never been I want to go
I want to get my rocks off till my cock pops off”

The final chorus brings us to reality, the Professor is really pleasing only himself, and the declarations of sexual prowess, of being “stunning from start to finish” are probably just lies, in fact:

“Professor Shaftenberg
Professor Shaftenberg
He is sponsored by Lufthansa
To bore the pants off Japanese girls”.

The song stops here, with the vocals echoing the word “girls”, before the percussion skitters back in to give us a funky closing section, echoing away in the end like the apologies of Professor Shaftenberg as he rolls off another dissatisfied ingenue.

This is a funky little number, with a shopping list of depravities that is highly amusing, and the best thing about it is that there are, no doubt, numerous academics who live this kind of life, or think they do.

Shoesize of the Angel
An inverse version of “The Hairstyle of the Devil”. The original was about a man fascinated with his love rival, this song is instead about disinterest in someone who is not your rival at all. It is a musical, conceptual and lyrical reversal of the first song, not a sequel as such. It shares the mundane realism of the situation with the parodies Momus wrote to end Slender Sherbet, and in his notes Momus suggests that it is the lack of meaning in the events of the song and the lack of coincidental happenings which make the song something like real life, and real life more interesting than fiction. Terry Pratchett uses this as a trope in his Discworld series of fantasy novels, characters seem to almost be aware they are in a story, and seem to know, fundamentally, that “million to one” chances will always come off, that villains and good characters will always behave in set ways, to the extent that it bores them. Real life is much more interesting than fiction, because it is much less interesting. On the other hand, as Charles Dance’s evil drug baron Benedict says with delight in 1993 movie The Last Action Hero, as he crosses from a popcorn action flick into real life, “here, the bad guys can win”.

The song opens with Momus singing “Shoesize of the Angel” against a dance beat, fading in with a flanged effect which is played with and ends with the beat dropping out and Momus saying “shit…” A bass synthwave plays – and it may be a Moog being played in this song, a menacing tone against what is a fairly inconsequential set of events to play out. The song kicks in again with a synthesizer lead line which I can only guess is a musical inversion of the intro to the original song, there’s a bassline too which is disco driven, and as the verse begins a choppy piano, reminiscent of that on the original or in the late 80s/early 90s accompanies it. There is a sound before the first line, and under each one after that, which is as if the first word or breath of the song has been reversed, so it fades in. It’s another unsettling effect, deliberately at odds with the mundanity of the situation.

“I liked him from the moment we didn’t quite meet
Ignoring him by accident on Threadneedle Street
He was buying you a flower
He was speaking on the phone
He couldn’t wait to get home”

The piano comes in again between the verses. A choral keyboard effect (from the original?) also plays over the second verse. The lyrics are an inversion of the situation in “Hairstyle“: here the love rival is “violently calm” because he doesn’t know about the rival who doesn’t exist, rather than obsessed with one who does.

“His eyes remained blind to the undescribed friend
At your house he remained violently calm
At my house, where you never came, you spoke about him all the time
You were a very faithful woman”

The original has “shut up, don’t answer back”, here, and the fear that the love rival is better in bed, in this chorus it is the inverse. Each line is a mirror of the original’s lyric or intent in some way. These characters are cold blooded, repressed, English in fact. The chorus itself has a staccato synth line which mirrors the original. I need different words for mirror and original.

“Speak up, answer me
What do you say?
I know he doesn’t please you in a sexual way
I know he’s cold-blooded, I know he’s far away
But never reveal the shoesize of the angel
I said to my friend with indescribable lack of charm”

The second verse has the angel’s shoes being the evidence by which the interloper is found, rather than the devil’s hair in the original. Momus is simply sat on a chair wearing the shoes, stalking in the most obvious way.

“In the corner of the mirror he glimpsed the angel Michael’s shoes
I was crouching wearing them, sitting on a chair, right there in full view
Obvious to both of you, terrifying, ridiculous
Amidst no suspicious hairs”

Once caught and unable to vanish – “the sofa hid behind me” is a very good line to describe this kind of situation – Momus leaves by bus and is never contacted by the lady in question again, because why would she?

“The sofa hid behind me while he failed to disappear
So I caught a bus in daylight, and your conscience was clear
You couldn’t get enough of his disappearing love
And so you never telephoned me”

The Devil had his woman dressed up in black, so the Angel prefers to undress in white, cream and grey in the next verse. The lack of sexual prowess of the Angel, compared to the Devil is again mentioned:

“Speak up, answer me
What do you say?
I know he likes undressing you in white, cream and grey
I know he’s got no money, I know he makes you cry
But never reveal the shoesize of the angel
I said to my friend with indescribable lack of charm”

The opening section is repeated, with the flanging vocals and the lead synth line followed by the next verse. For the interloper here, Momus, the pervert, the Devil, the defeat is caused by what can overcome any sexual or other shortcomings, or repressions, what she sees in him instead is “irreversible love”. He goes on to attract no new partners, because he is “in full view of their boyfriends” – obsessed with infidelity, but finding it nowhere.

“The things you’d never spoken of seemed to turn him off
I worked out what you saw in him
Irreversible love
In full view of their boyfriends, I attracted no new partners
And you saw nothing great in me”

We return to the verse, again he demands answers. There’s an odd accent to the way he voices “What do you say?”, not sure what it is. Again he attacks the boyfriend’s sexual prowess “he leaves you dry”. But in the end, he speaks with “indescribable lack of charm” and is doomed to failure.

“Speak up, answer me
What do you say?
I know he likes undressing you in white, cream and grey
I know he’s got no money, I know he leaves you dry
But never reveal the shoesize of the angel
I said to my friend with indescribable lack of charm”

There is a key change now and a keyboard comes in playing a similar riff to that used at the end of “Hairstyle“. Whereas that song quoted the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil“: “Pleased to meet you, hope you’ve guessed my name”, here it is “with indifference I fail to meet you, You will not be learning my name”. In the background Momus chants “Ha Ha Beelzebub, stick him in the bottom with a Vaseline tub”. Instead of the menace of the dark Lord, we have an irrelevant and charmless stalker who presumably walks rather awkwardly.

The song ends, ironically, with a flourish of horns, and one last rendition of “ha ha beelezebub…”

For all that this song is six and a half minutes long, and a mirroring of Momus’ most famous track to date, it flashes by almost unnoticed, both musically and lyrically. This is the intention of course, the narrative is slight and meaningless for the reasons I gave in my introduction to it. Linger and listen though, and there is some great humour and invention in the lyric and the musical backing.

The Age of Information
Douglas Rushkoff, the media theorist and writer associated with the early cyberpunk and internet movements, believed that the solution to the problem of privacy on the internet, already a major concern in 1997, was that everyone should just become morally good. Since all information will be known to everyone, the best thing is not to do anything you don’t want to be public. This would not necessarily mean becoming overly respectable or anodyne however, as this new transparency would lead to new standards of acceptable behaviour. Momus posits as a then current example the fact that Nixon was impeached for Watergate, but the scandals caused by Bill Clinton’s infidelity and novel use of dresses only made him, if anything, more popular.

This song condenses what Momus thinks about the topic of privacy on the internet and the new norms of behaviour. He is positive about the idea of transparency of public knowledge, believing that since all knowledge will be available, Governments will find it harder to conceal facts, and need to change their interpretation instead, i.e. spin them. He wrote this before the General Election of 1997, when the Labour party came into power with Tony Blair as the face of New Labour, and proved him right by immediately spinning the country into illegal conflicts. The Labour Party promised much, but along with the rest of Britain, Momus would become disillusioned. Their slogan and theme song of the time – “Things Can Only Get Better” by D:Ream (with Professor Brian Cox on keyboards, an absurd fact) was just one of the complex and cubist facts they slung about. Labour collaborated with many heroes of BritPop, and invited many pop stars of the time to Downing Street. Jarvis Cocker recounts the story of such an invitation on the song “Cocaine Socialism“, with some horror I think. Such an invitation meant the death of any credibility, the phenomenon even had a name: The Curse of Thrashing Doves: a band whose song “Beautiful Imbalance” appeared on BBC1’s morning kid’s show Saturday Superstore and was glowingly endorsed by Margaret Thatcher, who “loved it”, and thus doomed them to obscurity. The video for the song includes a band member holding up a model cruise missile. I digress.

The problem with Momus’ view of information at the time is that the flow of data is two ways. The information held by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook – and at the time, I don’t think anyone could have dreamed of how much data that would be – may as well be held by the Government, because they certainly have access to it, regardless of what any institution involved says. Privacy and Encryption are huge topics of debate, and the right to a private conversation remains a battlefield. Having said that, much of what Momus says in this song is well reasoned, cleverly predicts developments and is correct. It is interesting how we have fallen into these new conventions without much argument.

The song begins with a flat 4/4 bass drum beat (with eigth note beats in each third bar). The main melody is played on a keyboard sound that is like, I guess a kazoo, and runs in tones up the scale of F. Momus intones “This is a public service announcement” to a cymbal crash, and in 1997, you needed to hear this. The verse is accompanied by general “digital data” noises playing in the background, representing the flow of data. An electric piano sound plays chords as a rhythmic accompaniment.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are now entering
The age of information
It’s perfectly safe
If we all take a few basic precautions
May I make some observations?”

We switch key now (Dm?) and learn a home truth.
A double tracked, lower vocal joins in.

“Axiom 1 for the world we’ve begun:

Your reputation used to depend on
What you concealed
Now it depends on what you reveal”.

A key change again, which could be C major as it seems to be another home truth.
By “mandarins” he is referring to the Whitehall officials we see in comedies such as “Yes Minister”, whose job was to conceal truth, and who now have to “reimagine” the truth instead. A synth joins in, playing longer chords in emotional counterpoint.

“The age of secretive mandarins who creep on heels of tact
Is dead: we are all players now in the great game of fact instead
So since you can’t keep your cards to your chest
I’d suggest you think a few moves ahead
As one does when playing a game of chess”

For the next verse a woodwind sound is added, which plays another emotive counterpoint, almost a pastoral sound. Subtly, more percussion is added as each axiom comes in. Netscape was a browser which was once dominant, but died out when Internet Explorer came in.
Cookies are small files stored on your computer by websites in order to save information about you, your machine, your session or.. whatever. At the time the “magic” cookies would be used to store mainly identifying data about your website visit (session).

“Axiom 2 to make the world new:

Paranoia’s simply a word for seeing things as they are
Act as you wish to be seen to act
Or leave for some other star

Somebody is prying through your files, probably
Somebody’s hand is in your tin of Netscape magic cookies
But relax:
If you’re an interesting person
Morally good in your acts
You have nothing to fear from facts”

Here Momus talks about facts: a louder synth sound again plays a line emoting against this.
This verse describes acutely the difference between the world before the internet and now. Privacy now means something very different, we have no expectation of it anywhere.
“Everyone should prepare to be known” was very much the situation, the last days of being able to “not exist” outside real world meetings was upon us.

“Axiom 3 for transparency:

In the age of information the only way to hide facts
Is with interpretations
There is no way to stop the free exchange
Of idle speculations

In the days before communication
Privacy meant staying at home
Sitting in the dark with the curtains shut
Unsure whether to answer the phone
But these are different times, now the bottom line
Is that everyone should prepare to be known
Most of your friends will still like you fine”

So the bottom line is, is there anything you wouldn’t want your friends to know? Any particularly exuberant self-pleasuring methods? Any connections, any past regrets or mistakes you have made? Any aspect of your footprint you will need to manage, re-frame and re-position in their minds eyes?

The following section changes to a faster rhythm from the piano chords, and accurately describes what used to happen with communication when it was merely two people at a time:

“X said to Y what A said to B
B wrote an E mail and sent it to me
I showed C and C wrote to A:
Flaming world war three”

That Momus sees this world as inevitable is marked by the martial, imperative, declarative nature of the next two lines, bolstered by a sharp synth line.
It now seems quaint to talk in terms solely of email, of course, “CC” meaning Carbon Copy.

“Cut, paste, forward, copy
CC, go with the flow”

The next two lines are softer, and accompanied by a swell of synth chords, which then falls down to the decision, “simply to go”. But go where, when the entire world is infected? And if our self-knowledge proves unloveable, then what can we do?

“Our ambition should be to love what we finally know
Or, if it proves unloveable, simply to go”

We return to the verse after a reprise of the introduction.
This verse discusses loyalty, and the fact that we will in this new world change our loyalty depending on “who we are speaking to”. Again, this is a view very much predicated on Web 1.0, which was mainly static, and relied on old fashioned duplex communication. In fact we live in the dying age of Web 2.0, where communication is multi-faceted and constant, and messages are broadcast rather than “sent”. In other words, it isn’t about “who I’m speaking to and who they speak to in turn” any more, because you are probably communicating with them all at once. This is the logical next step, where facts are transparent to all, equally and concurrently.
I do love the idea though, that Momus is telling the person he is addressing about this world view, about being “disloyal” to them in this new world. So are we now for or against information? With Edward Snowden, Julian Assange etc. and their information leaks, are we really on the side of those in charge of the information? Our loyalties really are complex, and cubist. We say all that we say about the dangers of information but we still use Facebook and Amazon, and a part of us thinks that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, and believes that simple lie.

“Axiom 4 for this world I adore:

Our loyalties should shift in view according to what we know
And who we are speaking to

Once I was loyal to you, and prepared to be against information
Now I am loyal to information, maybe I’m disloyal to you
My loyalty becomes more complex and cubist
With every new fact I learn
It depends who I’m speaking to
And who they speak to in turn”

In this final verse Momus seems to go over the top, demanding that workers always supply the information required regardless of the interests of those requesting it.
Which sounds dystopian, fascistic, and impossible to us, and yet, we have given all our information away freely to companies who trade it all on to whoever pays best. We have given the Government access to this same information and we have done so without any boots having to crush any human faces. We have given away every aspect of our freedom, every last and minute aspect of our day-to-day lives for no reason at all, except convenience.

“Chinese Whispers” is the game known as “Telephone” in the USA. I would leave as a discussion point whether, in fact, digital signals really improve as they spread. I would argue that “noise” in this case, is not just caused by the factors of transmission as it would be in an analogue example, but also by the addition of interpretation, bias and opinion from every single person involved in the chain. The message may become clearer in the sense of High Definition but the frame, the meaning, degrades. Just look at the nonsense spouted in the last General Election in the UK. I have no doubt that clips of Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer re-used by the Conservative Party were just as good quality as the original in terms of pixels and technical dimensions, but the “Meaning” of them was distorted, warped, lied about and re-written by every right wing supporter who commented, shared and re-tweeted.

“Axiom 5 for information workers who wish to stay alive:

Supply, never withhold, the information requested
With total disregard for interests personal and vested

Chinese whispers was an analogue game
Where the signal degraded from brain to brain
Digital whispers is the same in reverse
The word we spread gets better, not worse”

We return to the mid-section, and the song concludes after this with instruments dropping out until a single synth line, slightly at odds with the melody, remains, sinisterly hanging there, belying the optimism the rest of the song seems to have.

“X said to Y what A said to B
B wrote an E mail and sent it to me
I showed C and C wrote to A:
Flaming world war three

Cut, paste, forward, copy
CC, go with the flow
Our ambition should be to love what we finally know
Or, if it proves unloveable, simply to go”.

In fact, I seem to be less optimistic now than Momus was then in this song. I love the technology, but do not generally love the people using it. Discussions on Twitter for example can be very depressing, and yet, especially in the lockdown we face now, this technology is enabling a sense of community to remain, empowering those who have access to it. And that is the key: those who have access to it. Which is not everyone. As a lecturer I am aware of a divide between those who have access to devices, access to broadband, access to knowledge, and those who do not. It is not a divide merely between young and old, north or south or cultural: it is a social divide caused by inequity of income and opportunity, and our major challenge to overcome if we are to create a truly functioning society in the age of information.

The Sensation of Orgasm
In 1993 Momus was asked to write a song for a Finnish documentary about Jean Baudrillard: the French sociologist. Baudrillard believed the end of history had come, a similar view to Francis Fukuyama, however whereas Fukuyama believed a pinnacle of democratic process had been reached, Baudrillard believed that further progress was just impossible, and the utopias that both the left and the right political wings dreamed of were illusions. He also wrote about hyperreality: the idea that reality and simulations of reality were (or would become) indistinguishable. Baudrillard decided not to take part in the documentary and instead we got the Man of Letters documentary about Momus, and this song. The section of Man of Letters featuring the song is here: Momus is a member of The Orgasm Party and in his party political broadcast tries to persuade you to turn out for him. How could you resist? Subsequently the song was recorded by Laila France on the album Orgonon. This recording by Momus could have been a 20 Vodka Jellies oddity but has been kept for Ping Pong. It is very simply about the power of Orgasms: the energy released by them, which enables them and that is put into obtaining them. It relates to the experiments of Wilhelm Reich in capturing the universal force “Orgone” through experiments with “orgone accumulators” at his home refuge “Orgonon”. The song asks us to think about how all the achievements of mankind, all the heads of state, all the scientists, artists and achievers, all exist only because someone wanted an orgasm, and all the machinery of the world that keeps society running does so chiefly because we want orgasms.

The song begins with a funky beat, bass riff and a keyboard, playing short chords as an acoustic guitar as the verse builds the necessary tension, Momus’ voice quiet as he relays the party message to a serious sounding tune:

“For the sensation of orgasm
Civilisations must rise and fall
For the sensations of orgasm
We build the society of spectacle”

A pretty and more optimistic sounding chorus follows, musically very similar to something like “Amongst Women Only“, slow, seductive, slightly squelchy. Our Human Rights and our lawyers give us freedom, with which we can practice the release of energy.

“Oh these are beautiful powers
And these are beautiful human rights
And we have beautiful lawyers
Freedom is keeping us up all night”

It is interesting that in this second verse, the new order “allow the transgressions…”, a million miles from the world of “Song in Contravention“, where many such acts carried illegality. A circling keyboard line plays above.

“For the sensation of orgasm
Cultures accumulate energy
And for the pleasure of citizens
Allow the transgressions of chemistry”

This chorus seems to attack the tendency of “citizens” to elect by “desire” and to elect “pretty things”: to vote for the most pleasing telegenically. Some “electronic”, “data” type sound effects play in the background.

“Oh these are beautiful powers
And we are dutiful citizens
And we elect by desire
Yes we elect only pretty things”

Again the idea of an election is compared to sexual appeal: the power and transfer of power given by the voters is comparable to the release of orgone. For the last of these four lines, there’s a multi-tracked low backing voice from Momus.

“Famous performers who win applause
From the anonymous everywhere
Show us that life is just metaphors
Sex is the air and the atmosphere”

He now critiques the performance of lovers, who, like all lovers, feel that they invented sex:

“Oh you’re such beautiful movers
And your performance was fabulous
You think because you are lovers
You were the ones who invented this”

A short instrumental break follows featuring some of the sexual noises you would expect, similar to “Amongst Women Only“.
As this song is – if anything – about communication between individuals and between levels of society, the comparison is now made to a Tower of Babel, an attempt to breach heaven rendered futile by the inability to communicate.

“Each day I build a great tower
Where they speak thousands of languages
Oh these are beautiful flowers
And these are fabulous sandwiches”

Sex is intercourse, as is discourse and communication, sexual congress is compared to political congress, and the ability to voice your opinions is compared to the right to scream in pleasure, or pain, whatever is your thing.

“All the sensations of orgasm
Here in the congress of intercourse
These are the rights of the citizen
You may shout till your voice is hoarse”

The chorus now has double tracked vocals all the way through. The cynicism of the “political ideal” we have been sold is laid bare now. Yes we have beautiful colours, and lovely arithmetic (which allows the building of the towers, the breeding of the flowers, and the mass production of sandwiches), but the political system we have is indeed what makes us sick. Mentally, physically, psychically and morally. As is so often the case with Momus, the beauty of the melody and the instrumentation disguises the coldness and bile released in the words.

“Oh these are beautiful colours
And this is lovely arithmetic
This system’s been designed for us
It’s such a pity it makes us sick”

The sexual noises continue as the song, unusually, fades out during the verse. This denies us an ending or release, appropriately enough. Just as the political and social system we have metaphorically promises all sorts of orgasms it never provides. The healthcare orgasm, the fair benefits system orgasm, the education jizz fest..
It’s cleverly delivered, notice how Momus sings very slightly off note for “love” in “love police” to lay emphasis on how dystopian this kindly-sounding-system would actually be.

“All the sensations of orgasm
Empower me afresh with a rush release
All the sensations of orgasm
Patrolling the borders with love police”

This is a very pretty song, disguising a disgust at politics and leading us on a science-fictional trip to some Brave New World that would definitely be hell. I feel it may have slid in better to a slot on 20 Vodka Jellies, but it’s still welcome here as a slight aside, before diving into the world of Shibuya-Kei.

Anthem of Shibuya
Following the Second World War, Japanese culture was shattered. However, the Jewel Voice Broadcast was heard only as an echo to the children of the 60s and 70s, who by the 1980s began to create a new cultural movement of their own, inclusive of traditional Japanese music and theatre, but incorporating outsider influences. There were those who sought to maintain cultural isolation, to stand fast, but the young magpied jazz, bossa nova, ye-ye, lounge music and English and US pop and rock influences into their music. This was particularly true of young urban Japanese, whose genre of City Pop united all these disparate influences. Two bands in particular: Pizzicato 5 and Flipper’s Guitar were recording albums mixing loungecore elements with pastiches of 60s European pop. Initially their albums could be mistaken for pastiches, but by 1990 a distinctive genre was emerging which included new musical elements. This gained particular traction in the consumer district of West Tokyo called Shibuya, and the movement became known as Shibuya-Kei. Flipper’s Guitar included Keigo Oyamada, and a compliation album in 1990 called Fab Gear included Flipper’s Guitar and Momus, and solidified the sound of retro-futurism that characterises Shibuya-Kei. Also the Flipper’s Guitar album Camera Talk and song “Young, Alive, In Love” came out that year, definitive texts of the genre. Other artists became key players in Shibuya-Kei during the 90s including Kahimi Karie and Momus. It is fair to say that Keigo Oyamada’s album Fantasma in 1997 (recording as Cornelius by now) defined and idealised the genre to such an extent, popularising it worldwide, that it also killed the genre by negating the possibility of playing with the definition of it. It would equally be simplistic to say Shibuya-Kei/Japan equates to Britpop/UK, but may help to give a shorthand to understanding what the genre was. Momus describes the scene in Shibuya in the 90s as a product of Japanese teenage girls, who wear “lolita” space costumes, speak an arcane slang which “the business men who are queuing up to buy their underwear cannot understand”, buy pink gadgets and Cornelius records, and no doubt spend a huge amount of money. Shibuya also had great record shops, and large numbers of love hotels. Momus points out that the area has zero crime – which seems unlikely but could have been true at the time. It is also interesting that he feels he needs to defend Shibuya in this way. I would never have thought that more-respectable-than-you-think love hotels and rich teenage girls added up to a huge crime spree, but thank you for confirming that.

It sounds great, to be fair. This song is a celebration of a place, time and scene that Momus clearly loved and was an essential part of. For this he has written a national anthem: this is the time, and this is the record of the time.

The song opens with a fanfare, played on a synth, indicating the presence of the royal family of Shibuya. The Time Out review of Ping Pong described this element of the song as a reference to “The Winner Takes It All” by Abba. I can see that the verse chord sequence might bring that to mind, but I don’t see it very clearly at all. Anyway, a keyboard now comes in playing the main riff with bass accompanying. A chk chk sound guitar effect is in the background, and an acoustic guitar sound plays as well, playing individual finger picked notes. Momus delivery is optimistic and bright. On the words “with this national anthem…” another keyboard joins in playing a circling phrase echoing the anthemic opening.
Seagulls Screaming Kiss Her Kiss her” was a song by UK band XTC on their album The Big Express from 1984, and the Japanese band of the same name took their name from it. The Japanese band were formed by Aiha Higurashi and released their first album Give them Back to Me in 1996.
Violent Onshen Geisha is one of the stage names of musician, writer and actor Masaya Nakahara. As Violent Onshen Geisha he had released several albums by 1996. He went on to record as Hair Stylistics, and remixed tracks by artists including Cornelius.
Eli is a Japanese singer who was originally in a band called Love Tambourines, after they split up her first solo release was the album Bitch in Zion. Her style which moves between jazz to pop, to rock and has incorporated electronic and experimental music made her part of Shibuya-Kei.
“The most beautiful girls in Japan” is a value judgement, not having been to every part of Japan (or in fact any part of Japan), I’ll take his word for it.

“Seagull Screaming Kiss Her
Violent Onshen Geisha
Elli Bitch in Zion
The most beautiful girls in Japan
With this national anthem
This patriotic song
We salute Shibuya
Tokyo, Japan”

The pleasing melodies with their syncopated beats come together with a snare beat replicating the movement of a typewriter to take us into the chorus. The bass piano part becomes more strident, and an organ joins in the second half to play more joyous chords. The chorus is pretty, happy and victorious. After the chorus we return to the quieter opening to the first verse and move onto verse two after a reprise of the fanfare. Clearly “all the information we need to stay alive” is a slight exaggeration, as Momus is talking about fashion magazines CUTiE, Spring and Olive. “Kirei Ni Naritai” (I want to be beautiful) is a 1996 Shibuya-Kei album by Kohji Miyamoto.

“All the information
We need to stay alive
Cutie, Spring and Olive
Kileini Naritai
My electric organ
Plays a little tune
The anthem of Shibuya
Tokyo, Japan”

Following that reprise of the fanfare, the second verse talks about trends in Shibuya. A Lycée is a French secondary school or high school. There are international schools in Shibuya including lycées. This verse confirms that the snare drum sound is intended to be a typewriter, specifically an Olivetti. Chupa Chups is a brand of confectionery best known for fruit flavoured lollipops, particularly popular with the girls of Shibuya. Castella or Kasutera is a moist sponge cake similar to Madeira cake, originally from Portugal but popular in Japan and in Shibuya at the time.

“Walking in Shibuya
Clothes and record shops
All the little lycee girls
Wearing super-loose socks
We type on Olivettis
We suck on Chuppa Chaps
Munching baby castera cake
And Shibuya rocks”

The second chorus follows the arrangement of the first as he celebrates more famous individuals. The song stops dead after this for the middle eight to begin. Archigram is an architectural movement started in the 1960s, intended as a newsletter containing hypothetical projects. Hinano I am not sure: I suspect these lyrics – from the imomus.com site – may not be correct. Is Hinano a person or a restaurant? Perhaps someone could shed light…
Kyoko Okazaki is a manga artist born in Shibuya, with her work set in the 80s and 90s, featuring unconventional heroes and strong female characters. Keigo Oyamada is of course the musician Cornelius, and Bruce Lee… is Bruce Lee. Who was born in Hong Kong, so is rightly mentioned on the album.

“Archigram and Hinano
Kyoko Okasaki
Keigo Oyamada
The magnificent Bruce Lee
My electric organ
Plays this little tune
The anthem of Shibuya
Tokyo, Japan”

A chiming synth sound plays chords behind the middle eight. A pretty tinkling piano sound plays over this, and the snare pattern continues. The lines are just about fashion, who is in, who is out. “Choberi gu” is Extremely Good, “Choberi ba” Extremely Bad, so, who is in, who is very bad this week? This is referring to the frenzied buzz of fashionable change in Shibuya.

“Qui est in?
Qui est out?
Cho bery goo?
Cho bery ba?
In Shibuya
In Shibuya”

We return to the main riff and the song goes quiet apart from the snare, and a buzzing electric sound that is joined by the circling keyboard, then the pretty guitar part, then the bass, piano and synth chords followed by further guitar and then Momus and the organ part fill the sound as he returns to sing:

“All the information
we need to stay alive
the spirit of Shibuya
Tokyo, Japan”

This song is triumphant and open-hearted. Momus loves Tokyo and loves Shibuya and adores the artistic movement he is a part of there. There is an element of crowd-pleasing, of course, in singing a paean to his most accepting audience, but I find it uplifting even as the most gai of gaijin. We remain in Japan for the next two songs.

Lolitapop Dollhouse
Recorded by Kahimi Karie on the 1997 album Larme de Crocodile, this is a Momus-voiced demo. Again, it would not have been out of place on 20 Vodka Jellies, but here affords an opportunity for him to wear a female Avatar mask, a fact which seems to have passed some reviewers by. The Q magazine review by David Sheppard discussed the topics covered by Ping Pong, including “let’s not be coy, paedophilia (Lolitapop Dollhouse)[sic]”. This was a lazy reading of this particular track, which ignores the premise of the song. In the 1990s Japanese society was changing. Momus in talking about the way Japanese women are changing says “the sound of their domestic dollhouses being demolished is deafening”. Shibuya-Kei allowed one sector of society – young Japanese women – to express their individuality in particular ways unique to themselves. The song is narrated by a woman who is breaking out of her Dolls House – a reference to Ibsen’s play – questioning traditional gender roles.
The young women enjoying “lolita pop” (also the name of a popular Swedish band of the 80s) used the concept of a young woman playing with and enjoying her sexuality and forcefully denying her given gender role to generate a youth culture. If it was paedophilia as the review claimed, it wouldn’t be from the girl’s point of view, it wouldn’t have her emphatically denying what she is supposed to be and hammering, tearing and generally acting rather than being acted on.
Why the school uniforms then, you might ask, why the lollipops and trappings of childhood? Japanese schools have uniforms for middle and high school, generally for students up to 18. After this they go to University and then to work. In the 1990s this would still be stressed, high powered learning and a lacerating work culture with little work-life balance. In short, school years might be the only years that many students would have a social life, be able to hang out after school. So the uniform would be of a piece with that time, and for older teens and those in their 20s that uniform might paradoxially represent one of the most liberated times that they would have in their lives, as society placed its crushing demands on them later, hammering in any errant nails. These images that to the reviewer seem perverse are in fact from a feminist point of view, liberating and empowering. “Lolita” has its connotations, but they are empowering ones rather than demeaning in this context. Are the schoolgirl costumes also attractive to men? Yes, men are idiots and attracted to lots of looks, the outfits are revealing, they are human. But it is young girls in the costumes? Well, young women. It isn’t actually children is it? That would be a very different matter.

The song features harmonica playing sampled from a Beck bootleg. On later copies (not the one I have) Beck’s people asked for a credit: they preferred for people to think he had played on the record and supported Shibuya-Kei than draw attention to the bootleg. File-sharing was in its infancy at this point, “bootlegs” were still literal tapes and CDs you got from dodgy stalls at record fairs and markets, or by mail order, or recorded yourself.

It is a frantic song, starting with guitar power chords sampled and looped, then snare drums introduce a brutal rhythm and chords thrashed out on piano and guitar with the harmonica sample tying in well. The four bar four chord riff loops twice then settles on the base chord played four times before a funky organ riff joins in to introduce the verse, which seems to be almost mono-chord, like a drone or raga, giving a dreamlike and mantra like feel to what is being said. Sterling Morrison used a Fender Jaguar when the Velvets reunited in the 90s by the way. It is of course a classic guitar with designs by various icons including Kurt Cobain.

“Tell me I’m allowed to play the Fender Jaguar
Like the Velvet Underground
Tell me I’m allowed to hammer on a drumkit
Crazy for the love of sound”

The chorus brings a change of chord: the instrumentation all comes in, including the harmonica sample, and thrashes out the point, that the singer will destroy the “playhouse” she is supposed to be confined to – the role females are supposed to accept – in a “babypop wall of sound”.

“I’m gonna tear my playhouse down (Lolitapop Dollhouse)
In a babypop wall of sound (Lolitapop Dollhouse)”

After this chorus the song stops dead, then restarts with intro, although the organ is allowed this time to play the verse melody as an introduction. The second verse adds a high synth line playing a melodic counterpoint to the chaos that is going on under the lyrics, playing melodically pleasing harmonies. The verse talks about how “bad girls” – girls who do not conform – do what they want to do. They are of course, not really “bad”, except in the eyes of the doll house.

“Bad girls are exactly who they want to be
And bad girls see exactly who they want to see
Bad girls are allowed because they’re just too proud
To care what people say, they do it anyway”

“I’m gonna tear my playhouse down (Lolitapop Dollhouse)
In a babypop wall of sound (Lolitapop Dollhouse)”

The song stops dead again and returns with the organ playing slow chords under the middle eight, with no drums, but the guitar and harmonica thrashing out their differences under the plaintive vocal. The singer is sick of the Doll House – of being a porcelain doll in a “porcelain world” and plays on the images of Victoriana that are part of Shibuya-Kei but more so part of Momus imagery.

“I’m sick of being Alice in Wonderland
Sick of living in Victorian England
I’m sick of being a porcelain girl in a porcelain world
Is that all you ever wanted me to be?”

The drums come in again after an explosion of snare hits and the introduction is again repeated with the harmonica more present, going into the verse again with the overhanging synth line coming in on the third line to accentuate the introduction of love and escape into the lyrics. “shooting with the junkies” is an idle threat, the “bad girl” threatening to become genuinely bad if you do not act now and “take me how you found me” – as myself. For the first time though the singer asks their lover/friend to “smash the walls around me” – needing help to escape.

“If you want me I’ll be shooting with the junkies
If you want me I’ll be swinging with the monkeys
If you really love me smash the walls around me
If you really want me take me how you found me”

“I’m gonna tear my playhouse down (Lolitapop Dollhouse)
In a babypop wall of sound (Lolitapop Dollhouse)”

The song breaks down. The organ plays the cool riff, with the drums kicking in. The vocals come in now with a call and response scheme. The final section is based on “Success“, a song by Iggy Pop, in which Iggy improvises a list of things he will do now he is famous, and David Bowie copies him on backing vocals. Here, Momus is parroting himself. Here, the singer is talking about the things she will do if/now she is free. The lyrics also reference “The Sound of the Crowd” by The Human League. The song fades out.

“Tell me I’m allowed to be
(Baby you’re allowed to be)
Tell me I’m allowed to see
(Baby you’re allowed to see)
Tell me I’m allowed to touch the world around me
(Baby you’re allowed to touch the world around you)
Tell me I can make love to anyone anywhere
(Baby you can make love to anyone anywhere)
Jump into the crowd
When I’m wet with sweat and the music is loud
(Baby you’re allowed to jump into the crowd
When you’re wet with sweat and the music is loud)
That’s great!
(That’s so great!)”

An empowering, feminist and Shibuya-Kei anthem, given to the Goddess of those parts (despite her living in Paris), this is an ideal avatar for Momus to briefly wear. I would have liked to hear a song in which he literally was Kahimi, or one of the other ladies he wrote songs for, singing about their relationship with Momus. I wonder if he does that in a later work. I wonder how he would describe himself in a song which began: “Tell me Ms Karie, what is it like working for Momus?”

Tamagotchi Press Officer
The Tamagotchi was a toy released in 1996 by Bandai in Japan and 1997 worldwide. It consisted of an egg shaped shell containing a circuit board, with an LCD display. Upon the display would appear an egg, from the egg would hatch a pet. The pet required feeding (by pressing a button), keeping happy (by playing mini-games or giving snacks) and disciplining (by throwing the device out of a high window). The screen would become infested by blips indicating poo, which would need cleaning up or the Tamagotchi would become sick and possibly die. The pet would grow from baby to child to teenager to adult and eventually would die, perhaps leaving children or becoming the end of its line. Tamagotchis were ridiculously popular initially, with Bandai deliberately restricting supplies to increase interest. Over 80 million of the devices have been sold, there have been numerous iterations and many video game versions for different platforms.

Having purchased one in Chinatown Momus noticed how limited the thing was. Like ourselves and as noted in “Afterglow” on Voyager: “We eat, we sleep, we shit and fuck and die”. We are basically Tamagotchis. Momus also noted how as celebrities become more famous and successful, they are required to actually do less and to have less of an opinion. Talented people are expected to talk and communicate as well as perform, but Mariah Carey merely needs to be wheeled out once a year to bellow “All I want for Christmas” melismatically and god forbid she should voice an opinion or exist outside of that. So he imagined a Tamagotchi having a press officer, a bouncer to the world who refuses any interaction beyond what is permitted by the shell-like device and circuit board that house the Careys, Biebers and Dions of this world.

The music is loungecore, a bossa nova with percussion, plucked acoustic guitar and piano chords playing as the song begins at once. The verse is sung by the press officer, who discusses his clients negative publicity campaign:

“The Tamagotchi will speak to no-one today
He does not even read your paper anyway
We cannot guarantee he will appear at Cannes
And if he does he’ll do no one-to-ones”

The bridge seems to be more minor key, outlining the requirements of the Tamagotchi, which are quite simple (compared to a Carey). The vocal is double tracked, Momus speaks the lines in a low voice intended to mirror the gruff officer:

“He is asleep
And when he wakes he will need to be fed
Then he will sing
Then he will go back to bed”

The chorus includes a “quacking” sound from a synth which could plausibly be mimicking the voice of the Tamagotchi itself. The second “please” is said by one voice, and sounds pleading.

“No interviews with Mr Tamagotchi today
We are dismayed by your attempts to invade his privacy
Please go away! Please, go away! Goodbye”

A short solo performed by the quacking sound plays, followed by a description of the Tamagotchis many successes. These include an exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, a rock concert at the Nippon Budokan stadium in Tokyo and a book “I, Tamagotchi” which most likely pastiches the book “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov, dealing as it must with aspects of sentience in algorithmic lifeforms.

“His painting exhibition is at Andrea Rosen
His rock band rocks the Buddokan
And his book ‘I, Tamagotchi’ is in its third impression this week
But Mr Tamagotchi is asleep”

The chorus returns, with the duck.

“No interviews with Mr Tamagotchi today
We are dismayed by your attempts to invade his privacy
Please go away! Please, go away!

The song fades out with the press officer continuing his insistence on nothingness.

“Please go away! Good day! (Hoppit!)
No interviews today”

A brief, amusing skit about the nature of celebrity and the public willingness to accept a blank canvas more readily than a creative or invested intelligence.

Space Jews
Simply enough, in this song Jews are extraterrestrials. They have infiltrated the human race by artificially inseminating Mary to produce Jesus and have tampered with, or rather, improved, the human race ever since. Momus believes them to be hyperevolute and on a mission to guide humanity to colonise the stars in peace and prosperity: outer space is “the promised land”. Evidence for this includes the Jewish influence on astrophysics, psychoanalysis and the absurdly large number of Nobel prizes they have in proportion to their numbers. Since this is either true or false, and a simple sci-fi concept not much unlike Scientology, there isn’t a great deal to add.

The song opens of course with an alien sounding jews harp synth sound, with acoustic guitar sounds playing picked chord patterns. The tune is pretty and stops to start again with tinkling synth notes accompanying, and a bass sound accentuating the spaciness of the piece, like a ship’s engine, ray gun or transporter beam. The verse ends with a subtle flute noise and a sampled beat kicking in to play through the chorus.

“They have us taped
They have us pat
They are extraterrestrial, extraterritorial
Where did they come from? No-one can say” – you just did!
“One possible explanation is that they”

The drums come in here, and on the second “jews from outer space” before “they gave us a messiah” an otherwordly effect is placed on the voice to suggest, again, the alien.

“Are Space Jews
Jews from outer space
Sent to walk amongst us
To improve the human race
Space Jews
Jews from outer space”

The rest of the chorus is accompanied by a synth effect which I think is similar to the “old man” effect on the Slender Sherbet version of “Bishonen“.

“They gave us a messiah
They gave us a morality
They help us lead good lives from up above
They are Space Jews
They’re giving us a message of love”

The second verse continues with the synth effect added, with electric piano and further spacey effects. (Not Kevin) “Goys” are non-jews.

“For them we’re clear
They see right through
All the stupid and murderous things we do…or would like to
The Nobel prize never goes to the goys
Who split the atom?
Einstein, Oppenheimer and the Freuds
Every one of them”

“Space Jews
Jews from outer space
Sent to walk amongst us
To improve the human race
Space Jews
Jews from outer space
They’re doctors and they’re lawyers
They’re astronaut philosophers
They’re holding up a mirror from above
They are Space Jews
They’re bringing us a message of love”

A brassy keyboard sound plays after this, a descending run of notes suggesting drama, and a slightly “prog” note as we head into the next verse. Further sci-fi sounds suggesting “taking off” play, portamento runs up the keyboard, the effects again slightly playing on the Jews harp sound. Mr Spock is identified as a Jew, a position he would see as highly illogical.

“We are from Earth
But they’re from space
And that’s where we’ll all go one day
If we have enough faith
Together we’ll colonise the stars
They can take us that far
Mr Spock on the Enterprise will be our guide
Vulcans too are Space Jews…”

The final section uses the chorus melody to explain the appeal of following the Space Jews. To become like them, you merely need to want to.

“And I really admire them
I really want to be like them
And when you want to be one
That’s all you need to feel like one”

Momus now quotes a German philosopher and musician, sociologist and psychologist who must have come from the stars.

“For in the words of one of them
Theodor Adorno:
‘Soul is just the longing
Of those with no soul
For redemption'”

The ability to be redeemed comes from the desire to be redeemed.

“So why don’t you come and join them?
Space Jews
We’re bringing you a vision of love”

The final line uses “we” identifying Momus as a Jew now, tenderly singing us into his spaceship and taking us home to Gematria. An interesting song and idea, the otherworldliness of Jewish people addressed in an amusing, ironic manner.

My Kindly Friend the Censor
Another loungecore song, soft jazz sounds with an acoustic guitar, percussion and gentle electric piano, tinkling bells and complete obscenity.
Given the language used in modern pop it is hard to imagine actual censorship ever having existed, but censorship there was. When the top 40 was actually important, airplay on major radio stations was even more essential than it is now, and the sort of language and subject matter that Momus deals in was hardly going to be played at drivetime on Radio 1. Momus is concerned with the idea of self-censorship, that artists should conform to the most narrow minded of their potential audience to avoid offence. Momus believes that “criminalising” the expression of truth drives it underground and creates more criminality. He would happily “ride roughshod over the feelings of the narrow minded in the interests of openness”. Offence is a good thing, it encourages discussion. Avoiding offence is a crime the world seems to be happily sliding into.

As Stephen Fry has said: “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”

There is a piece of stand up by Stewart Lee, in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (S3E4) that is also relevant, in which he talks about “offensive language” and context, referring to a sentence spoken by his father which contained only eight words and managed to be sexist, racist, sizist and blasphemous at the same time: the most offensive single sentence he has ever heard. He then bemoans the fact that in the current climate on BBC2 he cannot say the sentence, which he finds ironic because he has in fact used all the words in it in the previous twenty minutes, but “none of you found them offensive because of the context in which they were used”.

So to highlight the absurdity of this, and especially considering that some of Momus’ most controversial songs (“The Guitar Lesson” for example) contain no “bad” language whatsoever, he proceeds to self-censor his Song of Songs: his “kindly friend the censor” is all the more pernicious for being within Momus’ own mind as he metaphorically “stands over him” (Lad in hand, as Mrs. Doyle would no doubt add). The melody and chords used seem to shift up joyfully towards the line “you gaze back with a smile” but fall back again as he manages not to (unacceptable) before time.

“I insert my (censored noun)
Into your welcoming (omit)
And ease it slowly down
The whole length of your (unfit)
I begin to (taboo verb) you
As you gaze back with a smile
Which almost triggers my (word missing)
But don’t (unacceptable)”

A low buzzing synth sound is added, a device adding depth and a sense of foreboding. Or representing some other kind of device.

“My enormous (word deleted)
Is in between your lips
You clasp my (crossed out plural)
With one hand on my hips
I feel your warm (unsuitable)
I’m about to (slang, taboo)
I love being (questionably phrased)
You clearly love it too”

The key point of the song is made clear in the chorus: the censor “collects” the words that leave our mouths, preventing them from “offending” innocents, or grandmothers (in my experience the most unshockable of all). But the censor knows not that by doing so, he has removed the point of the song, its most important parts. The buzzing sound now follows and melodically affects the chorus: sometimes it sounds like the backing sound in “Bishonen“, to me. The chorus descends at the end, as the “parts” are found missing.

“But there is someone standing over us, here for our own good
Who takes the words out of our mouths as we do the deed
He collects them in a bag with a peevish little sigh
In case innocents or grandmothers should somehow happen by
Oh our kindly friend the censor has our best interests at heart
But my love song is now missing all its most important parts”

The instrumental break uses whistling and a glockenspiel sound to follow the verse melody, the buzzing sound accompanied by a theremin effect. The song moves into the third verse: in the second half of this the theremin sound returns, reminiscent of a Mike Oldfield track (is it “Etude”?)

“I give you (inadmissible)
You respond with (phrase removed)
I (cut) you then (blue-pencil) you
With (obscene: restricted use)
We (substitute a euphemism)
I (censored) in your (too obscene)
Finally (edit) on your (blank)
Just thinking of it makes me want to (criminal act)”

In the last chorus Momus rebels and opens up the small bag containing his dirtiness. When he does this and reads some of the not-very shocking words, the music stops and the reading is accompanied by sampled power guitar chords, staccato and menacing in a sarcastic manner. The music continues as it was afterwards, just as anyone hearing those words would of course continue in reality unaffected afterwards.

“But there is someone standing over me, here for my own good
He hands me back the words I need to sing about my deed
They are wrapped up like confetti in a small brown paper bag
With some non-transparent sellotape so you can’t peep through the cracks
Oh my kindly friend the censor I am shocked
When I open it and read ‘vagina’, ‘penis’, ‘suck’, ‘cunt’, ‘cock'”.

The final coda sums up what Momus is trying to say: criminalising the expression of humanity is itself a criminal act, concentrating the essence of “obscene” until it is meaningless. The song concludes with the buzzing sound and a keyboard chord combining as a pedal note, the percussion skitting in for one last hit.

“Oh my kindly friend the censor, this cannot be what you mean
To distill the very essence of obscene?”

There is never anything very obscene about expressions of humanity. The idea of offence, the idea of self-censorship remains, with the populace of 2020 taking it further, cowardly “cancelling” that which offends, an act which has to be external unless we find some way to cancel ourselves.

The Animal That Desires
British artist Georgina Starr, part of the wave of “Young British Artists” of the 1990s with Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, had previously used the Momus song “Rhetoric” as part of a show. In 1997 she was preparing a new show – “Tuberama“. If you have ever sat on a tube, train or bus and wondered about the lives of everyone else around you, and their thoughts and fantasies, or wondered if you were all transported to a desert island or alien planet, who would become the leader, who would pair up and who would end up on the barbecue: then “Tuberama” would speak to you. It was about the silence and repression of a tube train, and the secret thoughts and fantasies of those on it. This became an installation featuring a musical animation with songs written by most notably Oliver Hangl and Joby Talbot (a member of The Divine Comedy at the time) which premiered at the Ikon gallery in Birmingham. Momus spoke with Georgina a great deal about the project, and this song came out of those conversations. It is about a man who in the silence of the tube train believes himself to be the only individual on Earth who has sexual desires, while everyone else reproduces asexually, and must conceal his abominable lust, until loneliness forces him to cry out for consolation.

This song is a slow jam, starting with an introductory melody, almost a spy theme sound as the main character conceals his nature, played on a wind-like synth sound, with squelchy, animal like noises underlying the main vocal. A synth noise which seems to replicate the sound of a tube train speeding away into a tunnel plays through parts of the verse.

“I am cursed with a strange delusion:
I imagine myself to be
The only creature in the world that desires
And reproduces sexually”

The song moves up a key and a trilling, perhaps mandolin sound accompanies the next bridge:

“And everybody else is an amoeba
A tapeworm, a eunuch or virus”

Momus had in mind a Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out must be hammered in” when writing the next hook: when the character finally shouts out in loneliness or reveals any of his thoughts he is put down immediately, he must conform to the repression and asexuality around him. He uses his own name, as this must be a situation he has felt he found himself in.

“(Nicholas, don’t be so ridiculous, Nicholas)”

In the second verse he tries, in vain to conceal his vein.

“So I sit on the tube trying desperately to conceal
This embarrassing anomaly
This sin particular to me”

The bridge section moves up a key again, as he opines and an extra line is added which moves this section into the appropriate key for the midsection:

“For I, uniquely, must carry the rose
I, uniquely, have a cock beneath my clothes
And dream uniquely lewd dreams in front of multiplex screens”

The midsection here is very pretty, high pitched with a string sound accompanying the angelic ascent of the voice and melody, as he declares himself a martyr, being punished for the sin of all mankind, “which reminds me of someone”: a line which is reminiscent of “I am not Jesus, but I have the same initials” from Pulp’s “Dishes” the following year.

Which reminds me of someone
But I am not like Him”

The tune and song slowly wind down during the next few lines, towards his feelings of shame:

“I am the only animal in the world that desires
Wandering lost amidst cathedral spires
Sacrificed on behalf of the general
Possessor of an unruly genital”

The opening theme is reprised before the following verse, in which a backing vocal appears. Having wandered among “cathedral spires” he is now wandering in a graveyard, the anithetic locale for sexuality, and therefore a potent sexual palace, and a place where he can declaim his feelings.
The scansion of the last line allows for an upbeat on the final two words “uniquely unforgiving”, increasing the tension and emotion in the following lines from “Somebody…”

“Amongst the dead I beat my breast
Proclaim my sinful proclivity
For simply living outside captivity
Sexually, as if I were unique, and the world uniquely unforgiving”

The next two lines are emotional, the first slightly louder and suffixed by a descending piano line, which places emphasis on the drama of the words before in a way you might recognise from 1.Outside‘s use of piano.

“Somebody please understand me!
Tell me you feel the same way!”

But the world is having none of it.

“(Nicholas, don’t be so ridiculous Nicholas)”.

The verse that follows has a louder synth line following the melody. It uses the same trick of scansion as before to lead us emotionally upwards from “surreal..” to ..”in your eyes”. I think he’s getting a bit boastful with this “outlandishly physical zeal”.

“So I sit on the bus trying furiously to conceal
This inexplicable lust, this outlandishly physical zeal
That, if I were to reveal, would seem simply surreal

In your eyes when you realise
I think differently from you
Amidst the phallic towers
Amidst the birds, the bees and flowers
The people too”.

The midsection in which he canonises and crucifies himself is repeated. The synth effects of the tube train and animal noises continue louder until the end of this section, when the song breaks down partly.

Which reminds me of someone
But I am not like Him
I am the only animal in the world that desires
Being ushered towards my funeral pyre
The example, the victim, the criminal
Possessor of an unruly genital”

Quieter for a time, the lyric becomes this simple refrain. A second voice joins, then the piano plays a circling tune underneath, further backing vocals are added, as if many people on the tube are secretly feeling the same (at least in Nicholas’ head).

“Won’t someone understand me
Help me bear the strain
Say they feel the same way
Say I’m not to blame”

The length of the song’s conclusion, as the vocals then the music fade out, provides a rather epic and progressive feel to the track, which could easily have fitted into such a musical as Georgina envisaged. It’s a fascinating song from a psychological viewpoint again, with the singer both feeling repressed and simultaneously considering themselves some kind of sexual anomaly, so virile they are. It is popularity of another sort that occupies Momus on the next track, however.

How to Get – And Stay – Famous
1996 saw the release of Julian Schabel’s debut feature film Basquiat. It is a fictionalised acount of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life as a post-modernist artist. He is portrayed by Jeffrey Wright, currently best known for his role in the HBO tv adaptation of Westworld. Bowie stars as Andy Warhol, and the prestigious cast includes Gary Oldman, Claire Forlani, Dennis Hopper and many others. The film follows his early career and his life up to his death of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. Basquiat was linked with a street artist who used the tag Samo and took this nickname on himself. Momus upon seeing the film with Anthony Reynolds (of Jack/Jacques and the album How to Make Love which Momus had collaborated on) said “We liked the scene where the young Samo says to his friend ‘How long does it take to get famous in this town, three, maybe four years?’ It seemed so simple, to define it that way and get started on a predictable path of creation which would lead inevitably to glory. To me, it seems like a much more massive task.” Reynolds had plans to become famous, which did not really come to fruition.

This song is about fame, the type that comes with success in the musical arena, and is about Momus himself, the situation in which he finds himself and the inevitable bitterness that follows a failed bid for fame. It is framed as a prayer to God, who having created the universe and sacrificed his only son for us, finds us disinterested in his career, even failing to acknowledge his existence. The previous song compared Momus to JC, now he seems to compare himself to YHWH. It’s a promotion of sorts, at least two letters longer.

The lyrics suggest that this is a subject he feels strongly about on a personal level. Although he would no doubt claim the song to be an ironic discussion of the nature of fame, and the career he had enjoyed, or endured, thus far, there seems to be a genuine bitterness that fame did not beckon for him, when it had done for some of his peers.

Befitting the modality of the subject matter, the music borrows from liturgical forms as well as the blues tradition. It is long, portentous and grandiose both in its instrumentation and its prosodic implementation of melody and tone. Accordingly, it opens with a solemn and funereal organ part, accompanied by slow percussion and brass horn sounds, playing minor key accompaniment. There is a thumping bass and bass drum playing together on the first beat of each second bar, in 3/4 time.
A synthesizer chord fades in along with vocal harmonies as the verse progresses. The verse is about the length of time he has been waiting to get famous in this town, and bemoans his age. Momus was 37 at this point, hardly a prime age for becoming a pop star. His slightly pessimistic estimation of his lifespan gives him 74 years, basically the “three score years and ten” defined by the Lord in the book of Psalms.

“Lord, tell me how long it’s going to take me to get famous?
Will it take a week in vaudeville, a season in pantomime, two years on the west end stage
A decade or maybe more?
Because I can’t afford to wait till I’m dribbling, bald, toothless, spineless and brainless
I don’t believe in your afterlife and your posterity
But, if they exist, I must be at least half the way there”

The verse lifts a key now, not to sound joyful but to raise the plea to heaven, falling back down on the “whiskey bar”, the ruin of many a poor boy. In this verse he asks for the road to fame or the road to destruction.

“And Lord, what if it takes a decade?
I am no longer young
Show me the road to fame, Lord, show me that road
Or just the road to the next whiskey bar”

The second verse is about the requirements for fame: does he need to become stylish, does he need to learn slick dance routines. Does he need to self-censor, as highlighted in the previous song, in order to gain fame? It is “the hardest thing of all” to be harmless – acceptable to the record buying public – when his talent is for being, as he describes himself, confrontational.

“And Lord what will it take to get me to be and to stay famous?
Am I going to have to sell my soul to the stylists and the tailors of this world
If I’m not to go down in history as one of the failures”

The key change upwards comes here:

“Lord, teach me the boy band dance routines
Above all teach me to be tame, bland, blind and blameless
Cos that’s the hardest thing of all, to be aggressive and yet remain harmless”

His voice and the vocal melody rise to a crescendo over the next two lines, with an angry outpouring against the bland and empty commerciality he is expected to fall into, being completely against his own nature, shouting into a void:

“To edit out my impure thoughts when you know so well, Lord, that I’m shameless
Principled, amoral, provocative, confrontational and shameless”

The music breaks through the anger now into a pretty sequence accompanied by higher synth and organ chords as Momus sings of God’s rise to fame. God would also have endured aeons of obscurity before anything he created even had the capacity to imagine a higher being, or give him a name.

“And Lord, how long did it take you to get famous?
After you’d created this fantastic planet and all the animals upon it, that creep about upon its surface
It must’ve taken a million years or more before
Anyone even thought to give a name to the nameless”

The music falls back here, describing the “backlash” God endured from atheists but rising to a climax again, climbing in half steps – 12 steps, the biblical number of steps on Jacob’s Ladder to heaven – as Momus describes the problem of a “difficult third album”:

“And then, in the blinking of an eye the backlash came
The cynics crowded round saying you didn’t even exist
Oh, fashion is fickle, Lord, you know that more than I do
The backlash always comes, no matter what you’ve done
Created a world or that difficult third album”

The music drops into a void here, just the synthesizer bed and piano chords underlying the Lord’s voice in the wilderness: and his admission of his own absence in the modern world. Could this section and lyric have influenced the Radiohead song “How to Disappear Completely“?

“And the Lord said:
Don’t ask me, I have no idea
All I know how to do is how to hide
How to hide and disappear”

The next verse begins solemnly and quietly, as the first did. From the second line a woodwind sound joins the song, playing fifths and circling the singer’s increasing tension and madness.

Why does Momus often use fifths? Standard musical chords are based on the first, the third note and the fifth note of the scale being used to produce the major chord, which is a positive, upbeat sound. Flattening the third note by moving it down a half step produces a minor chord, which sounds negative, and sad, to be simplistic. If you play fifths, as a chord or as two separate notes, and miss out the middle note, then you do not specify to the listener whether the chord or interval is a positive or negative sensation or mode, and thus maintain mystery, tension and ambiguity: cornerstones of Momus’ lyrical and thematic agenda.

Like Iggy Pop, Momus describes what he will do with his Success. His vocal style in this verse is very declamatory, he sounds exactly as if he were famous, and a diva, and it had gone to his head. The desire to make babies surfaces again, and presumably not to kill or eat them this time. He describes arriving home in a limousine while a crowd – townspeople who may well be known to him – stand around foaming at the mouth “like dogs with rabies”: you can’t help wondering if the Beatles privately used such language to describe their maniacal fans. You also wonder if he really feels about his hometown and people in this way.

“Lord tell me, where will it take me, what strange place will it take me, being famous?
Am I destined to be rich beyond the wildest dreams of men
Will I rest at last between the breasts and legs of delicate oriental girls, and make babies?
Will I be transported back to the house where I was born in a limousine twenty foot long
While a crowd stands by foaming at the mouth like dogs with rabies”

He continues to declaim how he will be borne by his fans through the stadium, ending with a quotation from “Shot by Both Sides” by Magazine as tribute to Howard Devoto, the last few words voiced more quietly as a wink to the knowing. Devoto was in a sense recoiling from the mob mentality of the punk crowd, here Momus considers giving himself to it.

“Will I be borne on the shoulders of the crowd
Will I be taken from the back of the stadium to the front of the stadium to the back of the stadium
Tossed around and shocked by what was allowed?”

The next part of the verse becomes more specific and impassioned in its enquiries as it progresses. I am sure Momus did not sleep with anyone to get famous. Or maybe he did and that was the problem. He did not do drugs that much, saying:

“I’m too nonconformist to take drugs. I have an agenda, a vision, and I’ve got to deliver it to the world on a shoestring. Drugs would get in the way, drugs would distract and divert me and destroy my mission, with all its tight economies of scale. McGee used to say ‘There’s this drug called ecstasy and you’re going to love it’ and I’d just smile. I’d be at some big Creation party where everyone was on ecstasy, and I’d be straight, soberly seducing beautiful girls with big wide pupils. I was probably having the most extraordinary time of all, just witnessing the madness in a normal frame of mind.”

What soundtracks did he do? Not many, Blue for Derek Jarman, the next significant one seems to be The Low Down, a film directed by Jamie Thraves in 2000 and starring Littlefinger. Or Aidan Gillen, as he probably prefers to be known. On that film Currie worked with Fred Thomas of the band Saturday Looks Good to Me. It is on Amazon Prime.

The way his vocal builds up in angst and frustration in this verse is impressive, building up to an impassioned cry “we all use the same tricks if we’re able”, leading straight into the next verse which gets to the heart of the matter.

“And Lord, who do you have to sleep with in this town
Who do you have to go down on to get famous?
Lord tell me what soundtracks do I have to do, what drugs do I have to do, how old is too old
How many free copies should I give away with every album sold?
I’m not trying to say I’m fit to dine at your table
All I’m saying is we all use the same tricks if we’re able”

For the first time in the song one stanza ends with an impassioned high note and leads into another straight away, this becomes the emotional centre of the song. Momus sings about friends he has seen become famous, people who may have worked with him, taken advice from him, who have become famous, achieved what he aimed for once, and left him behind. While he “smiled in my corner alone”, not as popular, not as famous, not as required. Which “friends” is he referring to?

Is it Neil Hannon, who he once bought pizza and offered him advice, telling him not to end up a cult figure like himself, but when Hannon became popular, found his releases then to be “glib”? Is it Brett Anderson or Justine Frischmann, both of whom he was friends with and who went on to phenomenal success with Suede and Elastica respectively? Was it Nick Heyward of Haircut 100, who he was once mistaken for on a cross-channel ferry?

Whoever it was, he clearly genuinely finds enormous frustration in the fact that their talents, their “inner birds”, were allowed to fly, while his own “inner bird” was trapped under cellophane, under a glass ceiling or transparent cage, in other words, he never saw or understood the reason why he was not famous, or not allowed to be famous, the reason why his own bid for fame did not succeed was invisible to him – or kept invisible to him. This verse is genuinely moving, it was unnerving in fact to listen to an album by an artist you loved and hear this cri de coeur about his own life: listening to it you genuinely want to give him a hug or just shake everyone in the street until they agree to buy something by him. Whatever he says, this is not ironic, he is genuinely frustrated to tears by the lack of recognition he receives for what he does, which he knows fully well is equal or superior to what his “friends” have produced. Inside the narrative of the song, the emotion comes from the fact that the Lord must be responsible for this situation, and therefore Nick is almost crying when he begs him to explain, simply, “Why?”.

“Lord, I have friends, I’ve watched them, one by one, become famous
While they complimented me on my songs, I smiled in my corner alone, watched their inner birds
Spread their wings and fly
Though I had an inner bird too, Lord, You know, mine remained a swan in cellophane
Trapped under a glass ceiling, a bird in a transparent cage
Lord, why do this to me? Why let me die having given me a bird and never let it fly?
Lord, why? Why?”

The song maintains its emotional charge as it moves onto the next verse, in which the singer also moves on to the fame of the Lord, and discusses the reasons for his actions. The Lord sent his son down to “walk the planet” and do tricks “much better than ours”: a line which mirrors “much sexier than ours” from “The Angels are Voyeurs“. Note the almost Pastor like intonation of “You who sent your dearly beloved son..” which you might hear in church.

“And Lord, tell me, how long did it take you to get famous?
You who sent your dearly beloved son down to walk the planet earth and be amongst us
You who chose to give him sensational powers so he could do tricks much better than ours
And work miracles to impress us?”

The chord change now is so melancholy it kills me, as even God has to work for his advertising revenue, and the sadness of this revelation and the subsequent death comes through:

“Lord, you did it for the publicity, I know, I understand
But then the backlash came, we turned on your son and he was slain”

Again, the climb to heaven, which the Son achieved on the third day, or third album if you prefer:

“No matter what you’ve done, the backlash always comes
Created a world, given your son, or your difficult third album”

The instrumentation drops out again, leaving the synth and piano:

“And the Lord said:

Don’t ask me, I have no idea
All I know how to do is how to hide and disappear”

The piano now plays the 12 half notes, and then disappears itself, for Momus to respond to the Lord, begging him to share the secret of obscurity, how to disappear completely and with respect and dignity, not to be forgotten but to remove oneself by choice: appropriately all the instruments are gone now, apart from a hanging synth chord which fades, and Momus own voice, which fades out itself on the last line, finally giving him the invisibility he requested.

“So I said:

Lord, if that is all you can say to me
Share with me the secret of your immaculate obscurity”

This song is the heart of Ping Pong, a genuine and highly emotional appeal to a non-existent authority for some kind of explanation, an answer to that final question which children ask all the time but which as adults we give up all hope of ever receiving closure on: Why?
It also feels like the final chapter and closing of the book on any hope, idea or intention of pleasing the public or gaining fame, chart placings or any kind of critical acceptance. From now on, it’s just for Momus, and for us.

From the dramatic catharsis of “How to..” we move onto the drifting sands of “2PM“. Inspired by Alison Spritzler-Rose’s poem “The Museum of Forgotten Things“, which was a long poem about human history, “2PM” is a similarly rambling piece of time travel, moving through the ages of man and touching on various ephemera along the way, fascinated by the traces of things that persist. The Sphynx was a symbol of Egyptian mythology, part Lion, part God, which guarded the Pyramids. In Greek legend the Sphynx was a creature which devoured travellers unless they could correctly answer its riddle: “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?”. The answer is Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs for much of their life and has a walking stick (a third leg), when old. The riddle serves as a reprise of sorts in the song, and a form to wrap the lyrics around.

It is possible of course that the riddle serves as a synecdoche for the whole of Ping Pong: which starts after all with a song about a baby, followed by songs about youthful sexual awakening, cultural participation and rebellion, moves on to songs about middle aged disillusionment and regret and ends with a long rambling walk into the night, a confusion of memories and images such as may be experienced before death. During our lives we wear many faces and avatar masks, in this song it could be a death mask. Except of course that this song is set at two in the afternoon, middle age, the age of disillusionment and where Momus sees himself now.

The song begins with a bossa nova beat, a Spanish guitar sound playing chords over the percussion and bass, with some finger picking of the main chord structures. A bell like sound, something like a notification at an airport, announces our departure onto the voyage. There are few changes to the main backing during the song, with some effects, like wind, eerily moving in and out of frame as we proceed. This allows the song to hypnotise us, as Momus voice, in “Closer to You” mode, seduces tenderly. I will present each verse and then an attempt at an explanation, or, rather, a description, the meaning of each verse being somewhat elusive.

“Post morning, pre-mortem
I promised the ghost of Meleager
I would marry Deianira
So I went to Calydon where Oeneus was king
Stopping to fight the river god Achelous on the way
I won when I broke his horn”

He begins by confirming we are in the afternoon, but before the time of our deaths.
Meleager was an Argonaut, and a hero who led the famous Calydonian Boar hunt. He features in Homer’s Iliad. His mother was informed that he would live for as long as an ember in her fireplace withstood the flame, and she kept it safe until a certain time. When the ember expired he did too. In the afterlife he met Heracles and asked him to take a message of love to Meleager’s sister Deianira, and recommended Heracles to marry her. So at this point, Momus is being Heracles, perhaps the song describes his labours.
Deianira does marry Heracles, and after he kills the centaur Nessus, and she fears Heracles is being unfaithful, she dips a shirt into the Centaur’s blood secretly and gives it to Heracles to wear (I’m not entirely sure why this ensures his fidelity, but there you go). She discovers that the blood is poisonous too late to save Heracles who dies, and takes her own life in grief and remorse.
Oeneus was Deianira’s father, and Achelous the river god was a shape-shifter who also wanted to marry her. Heracles does fight and defeat him, and does break off his horn, and wins the girl.

“In the pyramid at Giza
I become lost in a succession of chambers
I am blind like Homer yet strangely I still see
Screenprinted cows and silver foil
Gigantic ants scuttling on a motherboard
While I sew with Ariadne, the white rabbit
Scurries away down next door’s burrow”

Homer is believed to have been blind, and was gifted by the Gods with vision and the poetic art. Momus is comparing himself to Homer now, and his blindness, running headlong again into his prophetic powers of foreshadowing.
Screenprinted cows and silver foil is presumably a reference to Andy Warhol.
Not sure about the gigantic ants on a motherboard, but a moth caught in a computer is the origin of the word “bug”. Momus is playing with images of time here, deliberately creating anachronism by mixing such a technological image with a fantastical idea related to mythology, the circuitry on Motherboards looks much like a labyrinth or maze, and Ariadne is a character in mythology who provided Theseus with the thread that enabled him to penetrate the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur. The White Rabbit is a reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with Alice similarly lost in another world.

“Two in the afternoon
In an ephemeral hospital
The radio therapy ward is filled with tiny lights
A pile of dim barely perceptible earth in a heap
And spiritual distant music
At two in the afternoon”

The “Ephemeral Hospital” was an arts centre and studio in Paris in the 18th Arrondissement founded on the site of a former hospital. He seems to describe life in the art collective in this verse. If you google the phrase “Ephemeral Hospital” (without the quotes) the first result is about quarantine hospitals built in New York during the 18th and 19th centuries as a line of defence against plagues and disease such as smallpox. The phrase “Ephemeral hospital” seems to have been used previously for hospitals related to venereal and other highly contagious outbreaks. Some more foreshadowing of things as they are.

“I wander in Venice with Von Aschenbach
Seeking a lost child in a red cape
Coughing blood
And the swine of Circe come running to their deaths
Maddened by the singing of the sirens
Winter fog rolling in off the lido
Sometimes a god crosses your path here unannounced
In the pyramid the mummy grows mouldy at the last
At two in the afternoon”

Death in Venice is a novella by Thomas Mann from 1912, in which a famous author called Gustav von Aschenbach goes to Venice suffering from writer’s block and becomes infatuated with a beautiful young boy. He never speaks to or touches the boy, but suffers a ruinous passion for him as Venice and the writer himself are consumed by cholera, no doubt coughing blood.
Don’t Look Now is a film directed by Nicholas Roeg based on a Daphne du Maurier short story, in which a married couple move to Venice after the death by drowning of their daughter. The husband sees visions of a child in a red cape – his daughter, who a psychic tells him is trying to contact him to warn him of danger.
Circe was in Greek mythology the daughter of the sun god. She had the power to change the forms of men, and turned Odysseus’ men into swine. Circe gave Odysseus a warning about the Sirens and told him to protect his men from them by plugging their ears with wax.

“Haile Selassi orders a stamp collection to be brought
Lifts the stamps with tweezers and places them back
I leave him to his pastime
For time will probably pass regardless
I strike out from Alexandria to the Athenian apartment
Of my ninth year
Lycabetus blasted in monastic rock
The hot mountains snow capped with marble
Dust storms over Psychico
Lime Cordial on Eucalyptus Square
Where is it now?
And where also my Parisian child bride?
Into the sea they flow
With Villon’s medieval snow”

Haile Selassi was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, with some interruptions. Was he a stamp collector? Maybe. What is truly shocking about these lines is that it is the first time I have really considered that fact that pastime means something you do to pass-time. I think previously I thought it was somehow related to the word pastoral.

Momus lived in Greece when he was a child, so the next lines are literally true. Lycabetus is a hill in Athens, Psychico is a suburb of Athens, Eucalyptus Square I am not sure about but presumably another location in Athens. Momus asks where these places are now… also where his “Parisian child bride” is, which could only mean Shazna. His memories of these places and people flow into the sea, into the past, he then paraphrases François Villon’s poem “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (Ballad of ladies of times gone by) with its famous line “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”. They are gone, with his memories, into a sea of regrets.

Momus sings the “chorus” outlining the sphynx’s riddle:

“Four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon
Three at evening,
Flat on our backs by dawn”

“Two in the afternoon
Gracchus the hunter joins me now
He offers me the oars and I row
From one Greek island to the next
While Gracchus writes, if it be possible so deep in death to write
The secrets of the world
In the margins of a little girl’s spidery pencilled Spice Girls scrapbook
Picked up from the ground in Hackney”

The Hunter Gracchus” is a short story by Franz Kafka about an (un)dead hunter whose boat arrives at a port. The mayor of the port speaks with the dead hunter about the manner of his death and his destiny, which is to wander aimlessly and eternally over the seas. In this song he writes his stories and secrets into a Spice Girls scrapbook, the phenomenally successful UK girl band of the mid to late 90s. Hackney is a region in London.

“The crows of Tokyo are sombre umbrellas
Flapping atop telegraph poles in the rainy season
A writer hurries by dressed in a restrained check pattern
Composing in his head the 31st syllable of a tanka”

Crows seem to be an issue in Tokyo, with 600 attacks on humans a year. However, according to tokyoweekender.com:
“According to the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, two of Japan’s oldest written records, a gigantic crow known as the Yatagarasu guided the mythical first emperor of Japan to the part of the country now known as Nara. This crow, which is often depicted with three legs, can be found at the Kumano shrines of Japan, and even more commonly, on the uniforms of the Samurai Blue – Japan’s national soccer team.”
A tanka is a descriptive poem which has five lines and 31 syllables. It should completely encapsulate an event, or a mood. I am surprised he did not take the opportunity to make this verse into a tanka. We have described before the restrictive nature of Japanese society which might lead to the “restrained check pattern” clothing Momus describes, or he may be referring to a specific writer he knows.

“Leigh Bowery is sitting at his sewing machine
Corpulent, pale eyed
Flash forward: he is stammering “a few more days”
As they threaten to turn off his life support machine
And the ECG bleep goes spastic”

Leigh Bowery was an Australian performance artist known for his flamboyance and for controversial performances including a simulation of giving birth. He was the muse of the painter Lucien Freud and inspired the character played by Boy George in his musical Taboo. He also formed the band Minty, which was not a success in his time with them, although they did release an album in 1997. He created his extraordinary costumes himself, and his appearance was deliberately grotesque. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan James described a portrait of him by Lucien Freud thusly: “Bowery is a character out of Renaissance art – perhaps Silenus, the companion of Dionysus. His flesh is a magnificent ruin, at once damaged and riotously alive”. Leigh Bowery died of AIDS in 1994 at the Middlesex Hospital in London.

“Slavic women decorate their anguish with ullulations
The mongolian terror is fresh in their memories
Grim dawn comes from the east bringing carrion
Over the grass of the highlands
Gulls girn, denouncing all culprits
The skull prickles, the hairs rise
Poe indulges in voluptuous melancholia, polysyllabic
Like the grass the horsemen know
We perish”

This verse seems to turn us to the terror of the Mongols, as they savaged their way across Europe led by Genghis Khan. The birds picking at the carrion “girn”, which can mean to gurn or pull a face, but also means to complaing, in this case denouncing the killers. Edgar Allan Poe is now pastiched, his gothic and sesquipedalian writing imitated. The melancholia which fills his work is in the final line: like the grass, we too must perish. A chorus follows.

“For me it’s 2PM
For the moment life goes on”

“And the Minotaur plays Nintendo
Basho squats before the emperor
The former thirteen and a half year old genius
Exposes himself in a subway passage
To a halfwit girl he scares half out of her wits
As Brahms completes his Requiem”

Matsuo Basho was a great Japanese poet, the master of Haiku.
Who is the “thirteen and a half year old genius”?
And why is he reducing a girl to, mathematically, a quarter of her potential wits?
Was Basho renowned at a young age?

“Shakespeare and the Bishop Of Winchester
Are teasing the fraus in the stews of Southwark
They are baiting bears in the nearby pit
The arena has been flooded
Shakespeare and the Bishop take their seats for the re-enactment of
The sea battle between the Genji and Haike
The imperial boat is already on fire
The battle was lost centuries before”

The Bishop of Winchester, according to Momus, responsible for administering the red light district in London in the 17th Century (and for long before): prostitutes supplied were known as “Winchester Geese”. The Bishop and Shakespeare watch the re-enactment of a civil war sea battle between two Japanese clans who fought to control Japan. The ruling clan, and Emperor, perished. Since this battle was in the 12th century, it is true for Shakespeare and the Bishop to know the battle was lost centuries before them.

“Deianira agrees to be my wife
We purchase an ivy green Lexus, flagship of the range
And live, discreetly luxurious, in a premier shell loft conversion in the Hollywood hills
The converted observatory at Palo Alto”

Finally our Heracles has his wife, and they retire to live in style, in the modern world, in an observatory which once looked out and into the past. The loft conversion sounds lovely, but however idyllic the lifestyle, he should be very wary if she buys him a shirt for Christmas. The chorus is repeated and the song and now the album, fade out. It is 2PM. It is not the end of the day just yet.

“Three at evening,
Flat on our backs by dawn
For me it’s 2PM
For the moment life goes on

Four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon
Three at evening
Flat on our backs by dawn …”

This song is best read as a meditation on death and a love of remains: the traces of dust that represent empires past. The enormous amount of referencing, the impenetrable-to-most name dropping and plundering from history, seems to be a celebration of Momus’ own obscurity. As I said at the end of the last song, from now on the work is just to please him, as if saying, “it’s only knock and knowall, but I like it”.

Reviews of Ping Pong were mixed, as the excerpts I have quoted will have suggested. The NME gave it 2/10 and described it as a self-indulgent opus of drool and jism. Q magazine gave it 3/5 and chucked in the old nonsense about paedophilia, misunderstanding entirely. Mojo loved both this and Orgonon, calling him the most underrated man in pop. Time Out were enthusiastic, as were Melody Maker. It’s a fantastic album, consistent, intelligent and challenging while being accessible. Some of the lyrics and sounds are of their time, but Momus is always prescient and seems to speak directly to us: to the future listener.

The EuroKong tour to promote the album: the first of two tours specifically for Ping Pong: took place from 27th November to 14th December. Momus travelled and performed with Toog. This is recorded in a tour diary on imomus.com. Beginning in Folkestone, Momus shows his slightly snobbish side in his description of the people he sees there, a snobbishness which seems to come out in these diaries whenever he interacts with the general public who aren’t fans:
“At the Folkestone terminal we marvel at the fat slobs in tracksuits wheeling trolleys stacked high with duty free beer. These people’s arms are nothing more than ring pull pullers. If someone tore them off they’d probably tug the cans open with their dentures.”
Their tour sees them playing in Berlin, Thessaloniki and Athens. In Athens the “Lord Byron of Cyberspace” visits his old childhood haunts and for some reason confuses the word “perplexes” with “annoys” in the following sentence: “Gilles buys a kazoo and a jew’s harp in Athens’ biggest music store and perplexes people on the street by twanging and trumpeting wherever we go”. While on the go, Momus is using the Roland PMA5 and also updating his website via his Nokia.
On the boat back from Greece to Italy overnight from the 7th to 8th December it seems that tapwater used to rinse Momus’ lens case infected a contact lens and gave him a not yet detectable infection of acanthamoeba keratitis. Once in Italy they drive from Bari to Venice, and then to Vienna to perform, then to Munich, then to Paris.
In Paris they meet Shazna and go to a gallery show of Florence Manlik. The Paris concert is on La Péniche 6/8: a moored boat which is a concert venue and still open now. The concert is a success, indeed, all the gigs seem to have gone well. At the end of the Paris concert he writes: “Shazna, sitting behind me, is in tears. She was there, in different circumstances, at the birth of so many of these songs. During ‘Enlightenment’ I break down myself as I sing”.

It is however on the day of this concert that Momus woke with his right eye red and weeping. A month later it would be diagnosed as an amoebic infection, requiring treatment but stubborn, rare, and possibly intractable. The eye infection worsened over the following two months and he woke on his 38th birthday with the eye frosted over, leading to a two year battle against the amoeba eventually requiring a corneal graft to prevent infection spreading to his brain. He talks about the infection in an article here where he considers the possibility that by 2010 he might have a cloned replacement eye or technological replacement, and again in this more recent video.

During this tour and this period Momus became more interested in a particular type of nostalgia, one concerned with the future, exemplified perhaps by something like Walter Carlos’ soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange, or The Well-Tempered Synthesizer by the same artist, suggesting a collision of the past with a future technology. He came to describe a certain idea and style as “Analog Baroque”, and was beginning to develop songs and lyrics in this mode. He was also interested in the creation of epigrams: short, witty anecdotes and descriptive pieces which would fit this new style. These concepts would form the core of the next album The Little Red Songbook. The following blog entry will look at his 1998 tour of America, and review The Little Red Songbook, an album which caused a far bigger problem than Momus could have foreseen.

3 thoughts on “Tear my playhouse down … #19 Ping Pong

  1. Loving the blog following its progress through the discography. Don’t forget the immortal but semi-forgotten band Sudden Sway and their fantastic single ‘Sing Song’, available in 8 different versions to suit any mood … and they were a Mike Alway discovery … ‘Spacemate’ and, especially ‘Ko-Opera’, the Sudden Sway swan song are a must!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Re “Jews in Space”: Might this also be a reference to ‘Star Trek’? I recall reading that William Shatner (Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Spock)–both, of course, Jewish men–referred to the series jokingly as “Jews in Space”…


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