Ever since we first started this Blog, Griff has been pestering me to write an article on Momus, almost purely because he knows that Momus stands up there next to Morrissey in my echelon of musical heroes. And that has been the problem in why I've resisted in writing about him for so long. I could never encapsulate what Momus's songs and records have meant over this past (almost) 30 years any more than I could try to explain what Morrissey has meant in my life in a single Blog entry.
BUT.....I did feel that I would have to write something, so what I'm going to do (or attempt to do) is tackle each album that Momus has released, in some sort of chronological pattern. This may become quite a hefty undertaking, and it may become difficult once Momus abandons the formulaic fashion of releasing proper records through a record label, but I may as well give it a go.
It may not be entirely accurate, and some of my interpretations of his songs and lyrics may be vastly incorrect, but that's just it....they're MY interpretations.
So let's start at the beginning, way back before he even was Momus....back when he was Nick Currie of The Happy Family.....
It's March 1982, and 4AD Records have just released the 'Puritans' EP by The Happy Family. This band are comprised of former members of Postcard legends Josef K, who have decided to back Paisley born, Edinburgh-based, literature student Nicholas Currie, who had sent them his lyrics.
The lyrics are deft, intelligent and have a barely-suppressed, delicate fury, borne from Nick's current 'angry young man' status. In future sleeve notes for the re-issues, Nick puts forward the theory that since they scrapped National Service in the UK, the angry young men brigade form gangs instead, and some of those gangs become bands. And in the late 70s/early 80s there was a lot of anger channelled through music.
Lyrically, the three tracks on Puritans; the title track, Innermost Thoughts and The Mistake, bristle with an anti-Calvinistic rancour and a political point of view developed and reflected through the prism of Theodor Adorno's 'Minima Moralia', Nick's most studied reading matter of the time.
Over a staccato rhythm, guitars jangle and chime, more like freshly sharpened knives than a tambourine, and Nick delivers a vocal not unlike Edwyn Collins, of those other Postcard legends, Orange Juice.
"Oh, take these Puritans away!"
It's a perfect slice of knowing, arch post-Punk/Pop, completely of it's time, yet carbon dated due to it's unsparing production. Harsh, yet oddly endearing!
But if Puritans was a quirky, of-it's-time, Indie-pop song, it gave no clues as to the scale and intellectual ferocity of The Happy Family's next release; the album 'The Man On Your Street', released in November of 1982.
The subtitle strap-line of the album should have been a warning; "Songs From The Career Of Dictator Hall: Witnessed And Presented By The Happy Family!". Yes, for their first full length LP The Happy Family delivered a concept album based on the fictional life of a European Fascist dictator known as President Hall.
The album's dramatis peronae comprises four main characters; President Hall; his unknowing nemesis, an Evangelical detergent salesman; Samuel, the salesman's son; and Maria, the daughter of the President.
Nick Currie claims in the sleeve notes of the reissue that his own inner turmoil, at what was a turbulent time in his personal life, led to the creation of an unlovable recording. The album's opaque, obtuse lyrical concerns; the way the listener is dropped into the middle of situations involving characters who have not been properly fleshed out yet; is reminiscent of films of Renoir, Antonioni or Fassbinder, or the books of Thomas Pynchon or Bret Easton Ellis. The listener has to piece together the clues often buried deep and cloaked in political or psychological theories they have no learning in. It was deliberately inpenetrable, Nick casting himself as a hybrid of Mark E Smith and Kasper Hauser.
The music too, offers little relief to the already brain-hurting perplexity of the listening experience. There are few obvious reference points for the listener to identify with. The music shifts from baroque chamber-pop to a forthright Post-Punk jarring, the occasional moments of fluidity often torn asunder by well-executed time signature shifts. The voice has not yet become that which is so beloved of his listeners, and still sounds too mimicking of other contemporary vocalists of that time. All of this leads to an album that could hardly be filed under 'Easy Listening'. I have to confess that of all Nick Currie's records, this is the one I have listened to least. It can't simply be put on as background music, nor can it just be played for a little soothing balm at the end of the working day. It's an album that you have to sit down and tackle in one sitting. Even then, only some of the album's narrative themes become obvious; Hall achieved his wealth and power thanks to a lottery win (though this was a full 12 years before the UK National Lottery would begin); like Bergman's The Silence, all the action takes place in an unnamed European city at a time of war; Maria, daughter of President Hall will fall in love with Samuel, the salesman's son and they will join the Red Brigade to overthrow the dictator; the catalyst for the revolution will take place during March in the city of Turin....the album ends with the words, "March in Turin// Where lovers can win// March in Turin// Only in strange times and places....// Now's our chance// Now!".
Okay, so it's hardly 'Club Tropicana'....but that's the point! In 1982 Nick Currie was an angry young man in a five man army, his music his rifle, his words his bullets. But his first offensive had not quite had the desired effect he had hoped for. Only by venturing out on his own, donning the garb of Momus, the Greek god of Mockery, and creating one of the most dazzling bodies of work in the left-field Pop would he see his planet-sized imagination bear fruit.
The Man On Your Street is not an album I could recommend to everyone, it's a complex enigma that requires both patience and a detective's willingness to investigate; like the books of James Joyce, or the films of Dreyer, you have to WANT to listen to it.
But it's a rewarding challenge, and the first footsteps of a Pop genius.
If you do WANT to listen to album(along with the Puritans EP), you can download it here
(This file does not belong to the ~Streetlamp~. If anyone is unhappy about us posting it, we can remove it from our page, but we cannot remove it from the Internet)