Momus (Nick Currie) (b. 1960)
Momus on UbuWeb
Don't Stop The Night (1989)
1. Trust Me, I'm A Doctor: The title might sound like Morrissey winking in the direction of the Carry On films, but the acid squelch of the music flags the year more enthusiastically than Morrissey would ever have done. The lyric unfurls a scenario of anhedonia; the doctor character touches his patients up, but with a disturbing lack of enthusiasm. He's too old, too jaded. The aggressive guitars and chilly pianos have a Magazine-like, John Barry quality, and you can almost imagine Devoto singing this tale of desultory, distanced, cold lust. The doctor warms up towards the end of the song, but can only hazard the guess that he may -- just may -- one day be able to experience feelings of pleasure and pain again. He doesn't seem to care which.
How I rate this now: Two years before Primal Scream are hailed for pioneering the amalgamation of rock and house music, I think I'm making a pretty good job of it here. But I worry about the man singing this song; weltschmertz and anomie seem to rule his world, rather than love. He sounds louche and bored. Let's hope he's exaggerating for effect.
2. Righthand Heart: The theme of detached, sexual sickness continues in this funky (a Gilbert O'Sullivan sample, oddly enough) reading of an old song about having sex with a dextrocardiac girl at a party. (It's a real but rare medical condition affecting one in 12,019 people.) It sounds like one of the "evil" songs on Prince's Black Album (which he cancelled, of course, releasing the much more positive Lovesexy instead). The rap sections are genuinely creepy; the narrator witnesses a sex scene involving Robert Mapplethorpe's Man in a Polyester Suit (illustrated below). Actually, that would have made a great image for the sleeve: not only was the album almost called The Negro (or possibly Haggard Masturbator, as I joked to Creation's Dick Green at the time), the reviews spluttered with exasperation: "What is it with Momus? How does this soft and tender poet lead his life guided by what dangles between his legs?"
How I rate this now: The combination of funk and alienation is exciting, and I like the processing on the drum machine and voice. Listening to this again I actually get goosebumps. The unrelenting, provocative, sick sexuality on display here is meant as a short, sharp shock to the London of 1989. And yet it also speaks the era's language just a little too well; Tory MPs were spanking each other for pleasure, Charles and Diana were making squidgy phonecalls, and in the cinemas people were watching Scandal.
3. Lord of the Dance: If Hairstyle and Trust Me, I'm a Doctor represent some kind of embrace of the acid house style (I somehow managed to avoid any ecstasy consumption, despite McGee's efforts to make me try it), this song shows me reaching beyond it to another, less documented subcultural music happening in late 80s Britain: bhangra. I made a trip out to Southhall and came back with a pile of records featuring this new electronic music made by second generation Punjabi Sikhs. Samples from these records provided the rhythm for this song in which the prophets of major world religions become transvestite disco divas. (When McGee heard this he thought it said "Jesus Christ is a disco sleaze machine" -- and loved it.) Well, if Madonna could combine blasphemy and disco, I could too. Trust me, though, to add Karl Kraus references (I'd seen Robert David MacDonald's production of Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind at the Glasgow Citizens' theatre).
How I rate this now: This was designed to be a single, but Creation and Out Promotions agreed that it didn't have commercial potential. The subject-matter was too risqué and it wasn't as strong a song as Hairstyle of the Devil. I kind of agree with that now. But I remember gay rock writer Kris Kirk saying -- shortly before he died of AIDS -- this was his favourite song ever.
4. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Oh, here we go. It's my take on the boy band and celeb culture which would dominate the next twenty years of British culture. The music is a pastiche of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, who get referenced in the chorus. It's a tacky, high-contrast song about someone who's lost out in the grab for glitz, and opted to become a voyeur. While the richer, more successful rival gets the girl and the gold, our narrator lies alone reading Success by Martin Amis. God, the 80s were vile! "Goodbye to the 1980s -- who's gonna love your babies?" The answer, of course, was Tony Blair.
How I rate this now: This is a good example of a parody almost becoming the thing it's attacking. I really think this could have been a hit. I can certainly imagine Kylie, Jason or Rick Astley taking it to the top of the charts in 96 different countries. And I know that Cornelius has always wanted to remix this track and turn it into a Michael Jackson number. He couldn't though: we stabbed the master tapes with a silver dagger and then performed an exorcism. The spirit of Margaret Thatcher was in them.
5. How Do You Find My Sister?: The title comes from a 1963 soundtrack song by Serge Gainsbourg, Comment Trouvez Vous Ma Soeur?. But the tale that unfolds -- of a man who becomes his own sister's pimp, renting her out to decadent diplomats and politicians, and eventually Henry Kissinger -- owes more to Wedekind's Lulu. The music matches a rap beat to doo-wop backing vocals, and ends up sounding a bit like something off Malcolm McLaren's Duck Rock. The effect is impressively obnoxious, with lots of good smutty jokes, like the one about the Tory whip who spanks Lulu and his own daughter "until his pants were soaking". The "DJ -- Ringmaster" shouts refer to the production of Lulu in which Wedekind himself played a Ringmaster, whipping Lulu around a circus ring like a beast. Thanks to his strategic blackmail, the narrator is knighted, and demands blow jobs from the clients who formerly snubbed him. If the guy in Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is an 80s loser, this is an 80s winner -- and a pretty ugly human being.
How I rate this now: Love the song, hate the era it commemorates.
6. Hairstyle of the Devil: I was friends with Annie Anxiety Bandez, who gave me an album of hers called Jackomo, containing a cover version of Charles Aznavour's song Yesterday When I Was Young. I took the chords and turned them into Hairstyle of the Devil -- a Paris chassis powered by a Detroit engine (in the form of Kevin Saunderson samples). The story is about the homosocial bond that can develop between two men dating the same woman, when all they hear about their rival is pillowtalk.
How I rate this now: It's one of my best songs, and best lyrics, and best productions to boot. It should have been the song that made me a star, really. You can hear the ambition in it. But it's probably a bit too nasty and too clever to have done that. And it lacks the common touch that people like Pulp and Blur had. And I wasn't as pretty as Jarvis or Damon. And it's actually a bit misogynistic, this song, with all its "shut up, don't answer back" stuff, and its focus on the man rather than the woman. So I probably deserved the public's snub. And, you know, while I find this coldly impressive (like a song made by someone on cocaine), it leaves me rather cold. I don't have much affection for it, or the person who made it. He desperately needed to get out of Britain and abandon promiscuity (he did both a couple of years later).
7. Don't Stop The Night: In one sense this is an exercise in arrangement; taking the acoustic ballad from my first Momus EP and turning it into a Sylvester-style hi-energy disco workout. But the song -- with its cold theme of triangular love and sexual voyeurism -- undoubtedly fits the album's theme. And the ambivalence of the "stop the night / don't stop the night" backing vocal sums up the album's attitude to the 80s. I like to think the "look who's here, through the wardrobe door" line directly informs Pulp's Babies -- this was also the year I received a letter from the band asking me to produce them. I never replied.
How I rate this now: This has a really nice energy -- it makes you want to dance, especially at the end -- and I think it marks my emergence from the disgust and detachment of the other songs into the kind of pure, guilt-free, morality-free celebration you hear on my next album, Hippopotamomus. The return of appetite.
8. Amongst Women Only: This also signposts Hippopotamomus (it's quite similar to The Painter and his Model), and goes some way -- with its lesbian imagery -- to correcting the misogynist imagery of the previous songs. The girl abandons the narrator in order to "abandon herself much more skillfully". This is music trying to get close to "the sensation of orgasm". It's influenced, obviously, massively, by Serge Gainsbourg. You can hear that in the way puns like "harems full of eastern promise... cuity" are delivered, and in the cascading strings and the murmured vocal. This was the year the NME published my article about Gainsbourg... in the World Music section!
How I rate this now: Slight, but pleasant. And, really, you can't lose with orgasm on your side.
9. The Guitar Lesson: Sexual Crimes of the Professional Classes reaches... guitar teachers, smearing them with pedophile allegations and thereby ensuring I would never be employed as one myself. The song starts with a cruel, erotic, unsettling painting by Balthus (note that the teacher there is female, by the way) and the chords from Leo Ferré's glorious song Avec Le Temps. It ends in a discreet blur and the scream of police sirens.
How I rate this now: It's not as good as Avec Le Temps -- almost nothing in popular music is -- but it's strong, and it fits this dark, decadent album like a glove.
10. The Cabriolet: From pedophilia to necrophilia -- where will this album go next? There's a whiff of Ballard's Crash about this, a whiff of Warm Leatherette, and a whiff of Gainsbourg. As the atmospheric story unfolds, smooth as blue velvet, we're seduced but also sickened. The car crashes through the chevrons of the steep bend warning, the music soars, and the narrator begins to fuck his partner, repeating (unknown to him) the gesture of Howard Devoto's sick character in Permafrost. Something extraordinary happens at the end, though: the words "I love you" appear. Death has ended the anhedonia and detachment we've seen throughout this album. You don't know who you want till they're gone, I guess.
How I rate this now: Goosebumps again. God, this was good stuff, dark stuff; what Ian McEwan and David Lynch would have done if they'd been songwriters. (And to think it started off a silly song about Boy George!)
11. Shaftesbury Avenue: It almost turns into West End Girls, this song. There's some of the same hunger, as our pale sinner strides (no doubt in a long black coat) "all alone through the entertainment zone". In a way, it's as if he's abandoned the sleazy sex of Soho, crossed Shaftesbury Avenue and strayed into Chinatown, and with it into a bigger world than Britain can supply -- the dawning of the world of 1990s globalisation. And it's perfectly prophetic that this Momus should spot an Asian girl and fix on her as the person most likely to "make me somebody". Because, if Britain wouldn't do that for our poor underfed and overlooked pop star, Japan shortly would. The future, for this man, lay not in Britpop but in Asia.
How I rate this now: This guy has hungry eyes, and bloody great firework displays of ambition are bursting in them.
It's 1989 in the UK. Margaret Thatcher has deregulated pretty much everything, AIDS is ravaging the gay world, the drug of choice is ecstasy, Acid House is outraging the tabloids, and the charts are dominated by The Pet Shop Boys and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. I'm touring my Tender Pervert songs in France and Switzerland with an electronica band called The Beloved. When I get back to London I book time at Scarf Studio at Mile End and lay down a single with engineer Nigel Palmer. When the results emerge there's a flurry of excitement at Creation and Out Promotion, the press and radio promotion company upstairs from them on Clerkenwell Road; with its Kevin Saunderson-styled rhythms and elaborate plot, The Hairstyle of the Devil sounds like a hit single. It's about Nicki Kefalas (one half of FAC 161) and a web of lust involving me and the owner of one of the indie labels pioneering the new club sound, house.
When it's released in early 1989 Hairstyle becomes what's known as a "radio hit". DJ Steve Wright gives it lots of daytime Radio 1 play, the video gets shown on TV (eclipsed by the premiere of Madonna's Like A Prayer vid on the other channel), it gets Single of the Week reviews and goes to number 2 in the indie chart. It merely grazes the actual UK Top 100, though (the first Creation Records single ever to do so, but not the last). Scarf studio moves to Ipswich, and I faithfully follow, staying in a grim boarding house while I record a bhangra-powered follow-up to Hairstyle, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But both Creation and I seem to lose interest in hit singles after Hairstyle. It's not really what either of us want Momus to be (there's a strong feeling that McGee's schoolmates in Primal Scream should be the chart stars). Later that year I book time in a new studio, this time in Fulham, called The Spike. Here -- at the height of an exceptionally hot summer -- I record the last Momus album of the 80s with a mild-mannered, spliffed-up Tony Hancock fan called Doug Martin.
Don't Stop The Night is originally entitled Sexual Crimes of the Professional Classes. It seems to be posited on the idea that you can sicken your way to success. It's my most British album -- a work that both reflects and satirizes, both loves and hates, the declining days of Tory sleaze and yuppie greed; the UK's "long night of the soul". Let's say hello again to this "goodbye to the 1980s". Lyrics, reviews and interviews are here.
Next: Hippopotamomus (1991)