The latest in my appreciations of the works of Momus. As always, the views and the interpretations of the songs and ideas are mine alone, and may bear no similarity to what the artist intended.
In 1986, Nick Currie found himself living in a bedsit in Streatham, nurturing the crumbs of the foundation of a solo career, almost half a decade on from the demise of his band The Happy Family, and having already struck out with a couple of EPs.
Now, he decided, it was time to rewrite the Bible. The result was the first fully fledged Momus album, 'Circus Maximus'.
There was no record label arch or artier in 1986 than él Records. A subsidiary company of Cherry Red, the label specialised in aloof, angular, over-intellectualised, well-crafted Pop music, housed in sleeves that even Factory or 4AD would decry as pretentious. And Momus' debut album fitted the bill to a tee.
Adorning the sleeve himself, Nick appears on the front in the guise of Saint Sebastian, pale, thin and gaunt, crucified and shot through with arrows. On the reverse he is the very embodiment of the él artist; well cut suit and tie, angular fringe and razor sharp cheekbones.
And the music itself is a purely European tract, all French chansonnier, Scottish Folk and English chamber Pop. So out of step with the flashy synthetic cheesiness that draped British music of the time that it's little wonder it fell on mainly deaf (or indeed 'tin') ears in it's day. Critics of the day sniped at its lofty, wordy attitudes; Jack Barron of the NME suggesting that Nick was maybe too well read and was trying to condense his appropriated knowledge back into easily digestible soundbites.
The album was split into two sides, something you could do in the days of the vinyl LP, with one side containing the religious songs, and the other dealing with the trials and mores of life itself.
The album starts with one of Momus' most hardy perennial tracks, 'Lucky Like St Sebastian' which contains one of my favourite opening lines of any song or album ever; "Once upon a time there was a man called Saul// Who persecuted Christians till he saw// That the work was bearing fruit for the Christians// So the man changed his opinions and his Christian name to Paul". Now you have to admit that that is not just a million miles away from "Club Tropicana, drinks are free// Fun and sunshine, there's enough for everyone", but is also far removed from anything Morrissey, Michael Stipe or any Indie hero of the mid-Eighties was turning out.
What Momus did was to apply a Presbyterian approach to his religious writing, as opposed to the heavy Catholicism that ran through most of Rock's canon from such artists as Nick Cave, Lou Reed or even Bono. This allowed Momus to focus on the more sexualised texts of the Old Testament without all the baggage of guilt and the-love-of-God-as-a-burden. Thus songs like 'The Lesson Of Sodom (According To Lot)', 'King Solomon's Song And Mine' and 'John The Baptist Jones' not only bristle with a sexual frisson, but also take an almost Pasolini-esque step back and view the subject with a more modernist, matter-of-fact approach....
Side Two's less religiously focused songs are still steeped in the world of literature; 'Rules Of The Game Of Quoits' suggests an air of W. Somerset Maugham or Evelyn Waugh as a middle class English boy and girl become sexually involved, with the rules of the game acting as a metaphor.
And in 'The Rape Of Lucretia' Momus manages to meld ideas from Goethe's 'Faust' with the fall of the Roman Empire...
In the dazzling 'The Day The Circus Came To Town', an uptight Calvinistic Scottish town is liberated by the arrival of the titular Circus and the once timorous community descends into the carnal madness of a work by Goya or Alighieri....
Then there's another of Momus' early classics, 'Paper Wraps Rock' in which Nick ruminates upon the unavailability of the very famous and beautiful (Garbo, Monroe, Helen Of Troy) and which contains a rather spooky reference to Diana Spencer which alludes to her other-worldly beauty being kept behind the double locks and bulletproof glass of her Limousine, as she is perpetually hunted, almost as a sport. We all know how prescient this turned out to be....
'Circus Maximus' is an excellent piece of work, but falls just short of the classic albums he was just about to deliver. Most of the tracks feature intricately picked acoustic guitar backed with heavily atmospheric synthesiser passages. Nick also seems to have found his Momus voice, the tremulous vibrato of his Happy Family vocals replaced with a mellifluous sotto-voce seductiveness that lures the listener in.
There was nothing else like it at the time, and there's precious little like it now!
'For love will endure or not endure
Regardless of where we are'
You can download Circus Maximus here
(This link does not belong to myself or the ~Streetlamp~, so while I can remove it from our page, I cannot delete it from the Internet)