Lusts of a Moron
IS MOMUS perverted, introspective, or just more candid than most? LEN BROWN meets the man whose songs are a poison heartache.
"If you could have something as melodic, as poppy, as catchy and as perfectly wrought as a Gilbert O'Sullivan song. Then stick something on top of it which is just sexual perversion in a completely embarrassing, blatant form . . . that to me is perfect pop. Shockingly inappropriate, it sweetly comes up to you, rubs itself against you and whispers something dirty in your ear."
Is Momus a pervert? Well, he was going to call his second album 'Lusts Of A Moron' but sadly settled for 'The Poison Boyfriend'.
And although he sings about 'Sex For The Disabled', 'Flame Into Being' (D.H. Lawrence's definition of orgasm) and "the way your nipples look through that thin black cotton top" in voyeur's delight 'Closer To You', Nicholas Currie is less seedy than his alter ego Momus often sounds. Admit that you're only in it for the women?
"Freud said that writers are just in it for fame, money and the love of women, which is pretty true really," Currie muses in his fusty West London flat. "Perhaps you could put in an appeal: 'Poison Boyfriend seeks poison women'".
Like Currie, I've seduced you with sexual connotations. But there's more to life than lust, you know, and there's nothing moronic about Currie's compositions. His candid, confessional lyrics coupled with stirring melodies mark him out from the bedsit crowd as a sensitive singer of one-to-one songs; a spokesman for the shy, whose personal insights strike a chord with his admirers.
"Introversion is like the Tardis in Dr Who. It looks like a little police box from the outside but once you get in it's a fantastic hi-tech palace, inner riches and colours, a superior interior."
He's a reaction against the Beasties "dreamboat lout who could never exist outside a Marvel comic", preferring to confide rather than project a macho who-gives-a-shit image; he treats his listeners as intellectual equals rather than fashionably underestimating their intelligence. As a result, his confessions, his fears - " of the unimaginable that everyone imagines all the time" ('Three Wars') - give rise to accusations of wilful miserablism, generally slung at fellow realists and Creation artists.
"It's much better to be in love with your own talents and skills and cleverness than to be in love with your own pathetic failings. The best therapy is seeing things in the worst possible light for just a moment, admitting to yourself how bad things are so that the only way to go is up. It's catharsis."
Momus, like most of us, has grown to like himself. It's not that he's grotesque or gruesome, just that he's unusual looking, and that he's overcome "intellectual self-hate" . But he's got this theory, aired in 'Closer To You', that beautiful people don't make great artists.
"It's the difference between being something really good and doing something really good. And in a way it's better to be a hunchback dwarf like Alexander Pope and those great poets who worked incredibly hard because they were so repulsive."
"Momus was kicked off Mount Olympus for saying that when Zeus designed men he should've stuck a little window in their chests so the Gods could check up exactly what they were feeling.
"Being Momus I'm saying everyone should have these little windows, and maybe that I'm the voyeur who goes up and sticks his eye against the window, the peep show, and passes that on. The informer of the pop world."
Momus in Love
Nancy Culp questions Nick Currie's unhealthy obsession with wrinkly Frenchmen, the Morrissey connection, and why his work's just too damn clever for the pop world. Plus, of course, loads about sex... Well, a bit anyway
In these rather safe times it's something of a relief to find someone who doesn't shrink from life's harsh realities. Nick Currie (aka Momus) positively revels in them. Since his fine and fresh re-interpretations of some of French composer Jacques Brel's songs last year on the EP 'Nicky', the self-mocking and incisive observatory powers of Momus have produced one of this year's finest singles, 'Murderers The Hope Of Women' and now a new album, "The Poison Boyfriend'.
It's an album stuffed with a veritable cavalcade of misfits, social unmentionables and funny poignant stories. Nick says he sets out to 'speak the unspeakable'. He does so with an enviable flair.
Having left behind Brel as 'last year's thing', Nick has alighted on the rather ghastly figure of Serge Gainsbourg - the man who made Jane Birkin and heavy breathing famous with the 1969 hit 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus' - as something of a kindred spirit.
"I don't know if you know of him," enthuses Nick, "but he's a bastard!
Brel was too saintly for me... Serge, he's completely unpalatable in a lot of ways
ways. The last LP of his I bought was 'Rock
Around The Bunker' and it's all about
Hitler and the SS. It's a very bad Mel
Brooks-type spoof on Nazism and,
being a Jew, he can get away with
that sort of thing. It's his combination
of being hard and being seductive that
appeals to me. He did one whole
album about girls' insides and farting
and defecation! He's just obsessed with
things that are taboo and are not nice to talk about.
And he has this negative power because of it."
In a similar way, Nick also manages
to bring the truly revolting to life. The
album's opening character, "The Gatecrasher', for instance, absent mindedly eats his own earwax whilst pouring scorn on the rest of the world. In the light of the general tone of much of the album, could this be Nick himself talking?
"Well, it was me when I was about 20. Or that's probably how I liked to think of myself. 'Cause a lot of this album is drawing on the ideas of adolescence. As it says in 'Flame Into Being', it's drawing on that period where you're just about getting over all your complexes but you're still very emotional. It's a very distraught time but you're proud of yourself and your failings and I suppose the gatecrasher is someone who's proud of being a social outcast."
Was your own adolescence like that?
"It was unhappy but it was kind of gloriously unhappy. I enjoyed every minute of it! I think someone's got to come out and say it! It's a source of endless satisfaction. Millions of people are sustained by a sense of being hard-done-by."
You could be forgiven here for thinking this was Morrissey talking and not Nick Currie, but Nick believes that they have a lot in common. Both he and Morrissey write hilarious but at the same time sad lyrics, glorifying miserable states. Both also tend to end up intellectualising love and sex too much. A case of all thinking and not enough doing perhaps? "I was thinking today about sex in terms of genetics," answes Nick.
"Hugely intellectualising it! It's so mysterious because it's the attraction of two genetic systems and I find all that really quite mystical."
Some people just do it on a gut, animal level though, without all this thinking.
"Yes, but the way it actually happens... You can describe it scientifically. It's incredibly complex but you don't sit down and do sums about your genes."
It sounds like you do.
"I certainly do not! My God! I'm as impulsive as anyone. I'm very misleading!"
Nevertheless, from the songs, you sound as if you hold a very pessimistic view of relationships.
"I don't know. . . You get different things from different people and I haven't yet really committed myself to one person and found everything in that one person. It's really interesting that you find the characters so unlikeable and the treatment of them detached and unsympathetic because I think I've often had problems..." he trails off. "Maybe I have a very masculine way of looking at things. To a lot of girls, it doesn't appeal to them... In some of the reviews the critics were saying 'Momus writes songs about failures and losers and he writes songs about people like me'".
So where does Nick see his career going? After all, with such sensitive and acoustic-based songs, it seems unlikely that Momus will be on "TOTP'. Nick acts a trifle affronted at this suggestion and points out that it took Serge Gainsbourg more than 25 years to sell over a dozen records and he's now one of France's biggest stars.
"And he's now pushing 60!" he exclaims. "I could be like Serge Gainsbourg just by constantly being a dirty old man!"
Have a listen to 'Closer To You' for further evidence of Momus' future
direction perhaps? But maybe not.
"Always in the back of my mind I say that, after 30, I'm going to be a writer of books." Nick is now 27 but, as he says, a lot can happen in three years. I've been on all the indie labels that'll take me so I'll have to sign to a major and make pop records because what the hell, I like pop. I could be Scritti Politti or something. I don't think that's so far fetched. It just means that the IQ content of your work has to drop by 20 points or so. I probably don't come across as ambitious but I actually am."
Nick goes on to add how he "should sell more records" and how he "should be up there with Morrissey and people like that". He also admits to getting more than a joyous pang "when I get compared to other bands on the Creation label. One review referred to me as 'the only genius on Creation' and I was sort of snickering up my sleeve".
It turns out that Nick desperately wants to be "glamorous" and "fantastically desired by millions of people," too.
"You know, I'm always lumped in with the timid and the outsiders but it's easy to write about those sort of people. I'd much rather be the Blow Monkeys and just be seducing! The position I'm in with Creation, they've got their 'pop' side and the 'worthy' side. You stay on Creation and get subsidised by the likes of the Weather Prophets who, to me, are a hundred times more 'worthy' than I am. They're studiously trying to be simple and direct because that's what you're supposed to be and I'm just being myself. I'm just owning up to things that everyone experiences. He stops and grins "I hope!"
Record Mirror, March 7th 1987
Story by Stuart Bailie
Dirty Phone Calls To God
That's what Momus calls his songs. But the weirdness doesn't stop there...
"I like to see my songs as dirty phone calls to God," says Momus, he of the elegantly wasted physique and the high-calibre intellect. These are songs that centre around sex, death and religion; songs that perplex and stimulate. At times you'll be tempted to guffaw at the pretensions involved, though he might also leave you bug-eyed at some of his more profound observations.
He is indeed a curious old bird. In his younger days he was with Edinburgh band the Happy Family, who released a concept album about a salesman whose wife left him for a fascist dictator. "It was a very immature kind of a thing" Momus notes. But it was also quite humorous."
After winding up his university studies, he released an EP, 'Beast With Three Backs followed by an album, 'Circus Maximus', which dealt with (among other things) the death of Old Testament values and the shortcomings of the consumer society. There were, incidentally, some fine tunes in there also.
Momus favourites include Brecht, David Bowie, Jacques Brel and Leonard Cohen; the heavyweights of the songwriting world and some would say, an extremely dour bunch of characters. So are we to level the same criticism at this young man? Is he a miserable, sensitive type? Are we to suppose that Momus is given to starving in his garret?
"I think I'm actually a very happy person" he responds with some cheerfulness. "You wouldn't realise it to listen to my records. I don't know what it is, really."
Last year's 'Nicky' EP is where many of us came in, as Momus (alias Nick Currie) took to translating three Jacques Brel songs with great dexterity. Partly due to financial restraints the recordings were limited mainly to voice and acoustic guitar, yet this starkness actually reinforces the gut-mincing quality of Brel's work. 'See A Friend In Tears', which was written just before Brel's death of cancer, is particularly moving.
And now we have 'Murderers, The Hope Of Women', the latest in a Momus tradition of vaguely unsettling, intriguing Iyrics, cushioned by a melodic, folksy tune. There are images of knives, of contraceptive pills, of Jack the Ripper and the dreariness of marriage. Just what is going on in this man's head?
"I just feel like I'm a kind a sampling machine held up to our culture, and women are part of our culture. In a way, the song's a feminist anthem and in a way it's psychopathic. It should sound like a love song and it should sound like a death threat.
It's a song about socialisation, it's about having to get this mask welded onto your face and this mask determining how you're meant to act - even in something as intimate as a love relationship. There is always this sense of fatality also, when you think, 'My God, this must be the one. I've got to stay with this person forever.'
And so the conversation turns to Morrissey's "polymorphous perversity" ; to Millie Jackson; lobotomies and Martin Luther's toilet habits. What then are we to make of the fellow? A gentleman and a scholar... most probably. And then again he is, without the slightest doubt, a curious old bird.
"No good nipples here today, laments Momus, perched angularly amidst what, in one of his songs, he describes as "that wild octagon of mirrors the Tate calls a coffee shop".
This pale, polite, almost prim Scotsman seems an unlikely voyeur, but he's practising for later life. "I started off as a saintly young man, but you can't be that for ever."
In fact, he started as a deity: Momus takes his name from the Greek god of laughter and mockery (though he'll answer to Nicholas Currie), sainthood came later with his criminally neglected first LP, 'Circus Maximus', on whose cover he was portrayed as the martyr St Sebastian, his spindly body shot through with arrows.
The music within this violent sleeve was deceptively gentle, pretty acoustic guitar melodies wrapped around bizarre, literary lyrics. Complex, tongue-in-cheek allegories traced democracy and bourgeois institutions back to sordid sexual hanky-panky in Biblical times - charming episodes like Lot committing incest with his two daughters and Salome demanding John The Baptist's head on a plate.
Momus has since moved from El to the suitably Biblical-sounding Creation Records, who've just released his second LP, 'The Poison Boyfriend'. "'Circus Maximus' was my brush with classicism - avoiding anything romantic, using historical allusions - it was all rather academic," he explains. "I got sick of the discipline, and 'The Poison Boyfriend' is a reaction against that."
Musically, certainly, it's as far plusher affair, with shades of Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel. Lyrically, it's as eccentrically brilliant as before - recurring themes of sex and death are explored in metaphors as convoluted as crossword puzzle clues. These acutely observed modern fables usually have a slightly perverted edge: Margaret Thatcher becomes a female body builder and tapeworms writhe in the Irish sea.
The saintly Momus is unabashed: "The album's a cross between Mills & Boon and the Marquis de Sade. In my songs the milk of human kindness is past its sell-by date..."
Pretentious? He's almost wilfully so. "The world is crying out for someone to get rid of all these boozing, groin-thrusting pop stars. What we need is someone who's willing to stand up and be good, honest and unpretentiously pretentious."