Remember you can follow the SadPanda on Twitter - https://twitter.com/StreetlampBlog. To stay updated on the latest articles just follow @StreetlampBlog.

You can talk to the SadPanda too. E-mail: sadpanda@hotmail.co.uk

You can also now find us on Facebook , if that's your thing.

Wikileaks

To re-direct to wikileaks please click here. We will endeavour to keep this redirect updated in the event of an IP address change.

Lovely people who read The Streetlamp

Sunday, 17 June 2012

~Tales Of The Momii~#2: The Early E.Ps

The second in my own personal overview of Momus' recorded career. Once again, I must point out that the interpretations of the lyrics are mine alone, and may not be entirely what the author intended.

In 1983, Nick Currie split up his band The Happy Family, citing differences with label 4AD as the main cause. A catch-all of unreleased tracks was assembled under the name 'The Business Of Living' and released on cassette only by label Les Temps in early 1984. No matter how hard I've scoured the Internet, I simply cannot find a recording of this anywhere, so as it stands I can offer no opinion on it.
In the meantime, Nick moved to London and began putting some new songs together, songs that would see the light of day in July of 1985. Songs that would be released under the moniker, which he would from then on be identified with....Momus; the Greek god of Mockery...

Momus' debut release was a 12", 3-track e.p entitled 'The Beast With Three Backs'. Opening track 'Ballad Of The Barrel Organist' immediately sees a shift away from the angular post-Punk jangle of his previous band and sets out the stall with a predominantly acoustic musical backing, seeming to consist of guitar and autoharp over which Momus details that first night of passion between new lovers. Momus' sexual frankness coupled with his overwrought romanticism have set him apart from almost all other songwriters, even contemporaries like Morrissey or Jarvis Cocker, and the blueprint from which all his subsequent work evolves is found right here.

With 'Third Party, Fire & Theft', the key word seems to be 'sparsity'....over a very basic rhythm that doesn't appear to have been created on anything resembling a drum-kit, the music jitters and jars with recurring gaps of silence as Momus reveals that men may well insure themselves up to the hilt against all kinds of physical damage, but no premium policy can ever protect against the psychological fuck-up of their suburban wives' infidelities at the hands of a serial womaniser..."Any day now the adulterer will arrive in our suburbs//Knock at the door with a Durex to enter our Laura Ashley wives"...
 

Third track, and probably my favourite, is 'Hotel Marquis De Sade' in which Momus paints a vivid picture of a pre-package holiday era Mediterranean hotel in which, in a single room on a single bed, two middle class English boys and an middle class English girl make 'the beast with three backs'. There's an early indication of Momus' genius in the way he conveys naivete with raw sexuality...."And Colin loves Alice// And Alice loves me// And I love the stains on the ceiling// And pump like the sea"...

These "three tracks about threesomes" as Momus himself put it, were released on the él Record label, a label which seemed to suit Momus' early career perfectly, being aesthetically stylish, predominantly European, and very arch and arty. The songs were recorded in Brussels, and it was to Belgium that Momus would look for inspiration for his next release....another three track e.p entitled 'Nicky' which consisted of three interpretations of the songs of Jacques Brel.....

The 'Nicky' e.p was the first record of Momus that I ever purchased, having seen it reviewed in the short-lived music magazine Underground. Released in June of 1986, again on él Records, the three tracks saw Momus take the basic lyrical and musical ideas of Brel and adapt them to suit his own persona. He also dispensed with Brel's orchestral bluster and applied a more minimalist lounge-pop approach, more in the style of  Serge Gainsbourg than Brel himself. At this point in time, all I knew about Jacques Brel is that he was a big influence on Scott Walker, whose altar I worshipped at. It was handy that two of the tracks that Momus covered were also two of Scott's best interpretations; 'Jacky' and 'If You Go Away'.
Lead track 'Nicky' sees Momus adopt a rather different disguise than that of both Brel and Walker, in this tale in which Satan walks among us in various camouflage. In Brel's version the Devil walks the earth as a Spanish Lothario and an opium addicted pimp before ascending to Heaven to reclaim his name of Lucifer. In Momus' version he's a down at heel cabaret artist living in Bromley, Kent and singing to bored housewives. In the finalé he still ends up in Heaven but as a washed up entertainer, 'prancing and Cliff Richard-ing' for bored Angels.....

Brel's 'Ne Me Quitte Pas' aka 'If You Go Away' is one of the greatest doomed love songs of all time, as I already claimed and covered in a previous Blog on Brel. Scott Walker's version remains pretty much the definitive cover version, but Momus' version, retitled 'Don't Leave' (which is actually a closer translation) is still strong stuff. Sticking closer to Brel's own musical palette for this one, Momus conjures up his own imagery of a man knowing his great love is about to end, rather than stick to the translation that Scott (and virtually every one else who has covered the song) have used. Marc Almond, on his own album of Brel covers, also applied this approach....

The third track, 'See A Friend In Tears', I'm afraid is not a song of Brel's that I know at all. Even of the many Jaques Brel albums and CDs that I have, this track never seems to surface, so I can't offer any comparison. However, this is still a fantastic song, and Momus delivers what I feel is one of his best vocals ever, and a style of singing he would move away from as his songs became less chansonnier and more electro-minimalist....

In March of 1987, having left él for Creation Records, Momus delivered a third three track, 12" e.p, this time with all the songs seeming to be about death; 'Murderers, The Hope of Women'.

The title track is one of Momus' most brilliant songs and one that has remained a huge favourite amongst his fanbase. Despite the initially misogynistic appearance of the title, the song's meaning couldn't be further from that. Momus sees women's free, creative and productive lives slowly destroyed by the soul-sapping dependence men inflict upon on them in the name of love and marriage...."In my pipe and slippers// Do I look like Jack the Ripper?" he asks. In a later interview, Momus admitted that such imagery came from the slow dragging down of independent women as they involve themselves in dull, stifling marriages or relationships, parallelling the slow motion death Louise Brooks suffers at the hands of Jack The Ripper at the end of 'Pandora's Box'. Some may find this fatalistic view of relationships a tad OTT, but I'm sure there must have been some women who knew exactly what he was getting at...

Now, middle track 'Eleven Executioners', I have to confess is not one of my favourite songs of his. I just find it a bit too arch and contrived. Plus despite using imagery from Borges and Proust, the lyric remains a little too oblique and uninvolving for me. I'll include it anyway and let you make up your own mind....

Final track, 'What Will Death Be Like?' however, is another classic. Pretty much a list song, Momus decides not to answer his own question and tell us what death will be like, but to rhyme off a huge list of things that make life such a thing of wonder and complexity to be cherished, enjoyed and even feared. Every line of the song begins with the words, "Death will be unlike....", after which Momus lists things as diverse as a garden in Autumn, the paintings of Holbein, roller coasters, Jean Paul Sartre, Narnia, moths flying into flames, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the last day of Summer, Edgar Allen Poe, strippers, Ian Curtis, glimpsing the sea through the boardwalk, the tractatus of Wittgenstein etc etc....

Songs from the 'Beast With Three Backs' and 'Murderers' e.ps were collected on a strange and eclectic album called 'Monsters Of Love' that Creation put out in early 1990, along with a remix of his most successful single 'The Hairstyle Of the Devil', and three 'new' tracks. 

 I don't know if there was anything dodgy or suspect about the album, but when Momus made his Creation albums available for free download, he didn't include this one! Also, on his own very thorough website, he writes revisionary liner notes for every album in his career, again except 'Monsters Of Love'.
Of the three new tracks; 'Monsters Of Love', 'Gilda' and 'Morality Is Vanity', only the last one, I feel, is worthy of appearing amidst some of his finest work. The song evokes early twentieth century bohemian cabaret and contains one of my favourite lines of his, "The ugly, given flattery, grow vain". The song is about fiddling while Rome burns, about having a good time as the world goes to Hell on a handcart, and perhaps that's every bit as relevant now....

These three e.ps were bold and brilliant works at a time when Pop music, even some Indie Pop music, was becoming insufferably synthetic, glib and worthless. Songs of quality musicianship, timeless in their delivery and containing some of the most breathtaking lyrics in Pop's English lexicon. The greatest tragedy of course is that it didn't outsell U2!!

Awake Ye Heathens!!

~Gordon~

The album 'Monsters Of Love' which contains many of the tracks covered in this Blog can be found here

And the EP 'Nicky' can be downloaded here

2 comments:

  1. Nice post about Momus again!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've just downloaded iStripper, and now I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

    ReplyDelete