On The Job
On the news page this month you can read a list of new songs likely to appear on the next Momus album, codenamed (today at least) 'Ping Pong Champion'.
I don't want to spoil the fantasies flooding in to the new Speculation page about what these songs may be about (like misheard lyrics, these parallel universes are often more satisfying to the speculator than the real thing). But, like a proud parent, I can't resist giving you a few glimpses into the personalities of my babies, maybe a couple of anecdotes about their conception and birth.
My Kindly Friend The Censor
E mail is a very flirty medium. I was corresponding with a poetess and decided it was time we 'made love with language'. But when it came down to it I didn't want to shock (or bore) her with the hackneyed terminology of sexual description. So instead I wrote this song which erases itself as it goes along, then incorporates the censorship:
I insert my (censored noun) into your delicate (omit)
And slide it gently down the whole length of your (unfit)
I won't give the end away, but the phrase 'the return of the repressed' seems apt.
His Majesty The Baby
To a boisterous cabaret backing, this song proposes the execution of His Majesty The Baby. The motive is pure pantomime jealousy. Why should women prefer a 'bald and dribbling little git' to me,
Well versed in fencing, playing the lute and rhetoric
Toilet trained and elegant, an effervescent wit?
Needless to say, the women don't thank me for this revolutionary act of liberation, despite my warning that 'he'll grow up, God willing, a twisted little shit like me'.
The Shoestyle Of The Angel
In the 1980s the ubiquitous songwriting team of Stock, Aitken and Waterman were said to write their hits for Kylie, Jason and the rest by computer. When a song hit the top of the charts they'd simply reverse it for the follow-up single. Well, around the same time I had a bit of an indie hit with 'The Hairstyle Of The Devil'. I listened to it backwards a lot because it had some backwards messages in it about the devil. (Don't ask). And the melody was even more beautiful backwards! So here it is, with not just the music but also the meanings reversed. I had a lot of fun writing these lyrics, which run like a backwards film and are full of Escherian linguistic impossibilities:
The sofa hid behind me while he failed to disappear
So I caught a bus in daylight and our consciences were clear
You hadn't had enough of his disappearing love
And so you never telephoned me
A friend of mine, the 18 year old Asian novelist Bidisha (check out her first novel, just published this month, 'Seahorses', Flamingo) saw the 'Six New Psychosexual Neuroses' section of my CD-ROM and nicknamed me 'Professor Shaftenberg'. Having a new mask handed to me I naturally tried it on in front of the mirror. Here's what I saw:
He's a polyglot, a psychopath, an androgyne
He likes to handcuff Japanese girls hanging upside down
He is rampant like the stallion, he wears the gold medallion
Of the Royal Order Of Reprobates of Lichtenstein
Then, with horrible inevitability, comes the chorus:
Professor Shaftenberg, Professor Shaftenberg
He is sponsored by Lufthansa to screw the pants off Japanese girls
My Pervert Doppelganger
My new flat in London is near a meat market. When I come home at night I see the meat workers in their white suits, carcasses over their shoulders, and beyond, in garish fluorescent light, the meat hanging on hooks. I found a sort of Jeckyll and Hyde story forming in my mind about a Smithfield Ripper.
Can the man in the mirror be me
Or can it be
My pervert doppelganger?
Pale Young Men
Owes something to Devoto's splendid, adrenalin-amphetamine 'Friends Of Mine' on the Buzzcocks' 'Spiral Scratch' EP, or maybe Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side', with its couplet per Factory character. My song is about personalities like Dickon of RoMo band Orlando, and all of London's fey new Glam Bitterati.
How To Get -- And Stay -- Famous
A half-sung, half-rapped outburst of anguish set to music resembling 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' in which I ask the Lord 'Lord, how long will it take me to get -- and to stay -- famous?' Eventually the Lord replies:
Don't ask me, I have no idea
All I know how to do is how to hide and disappear
In that case, I modify my plea, 'share with me the secret of your immaculate obscurity'.
The Anthem Of Shibuya
Nations have anthems, but why shouldn't scenes and sensibilities have them too? This song attempts to make an anthem of the Spirit Of Shibuya, west Tokyo's trendy young consumer and music hub, where styles and fads come and go quicker than you can say 'Kahimi Karie'. No doubt singing about 'superloose socks' will be nothing but nostalgia by the time the record appears in the racks at Wave Shibuya.
The song was written on the back of an envelope, with help from Yoko and Hirono, two Shibuyites in exile, in a Chinese restaurant in the Vietnamese district of Paris.
The Price Of Prada Shoes
This was written for Kahimi Karie. She asked me to write some sad songs for her next album. Since Kahimi is rich and famous and free, I rather cynically thought that her biggest problem was likely to be the price of Prada shoes, and went and wrote a tragic song bemoaning this painful truth. But because it was written in the persona of one of Kahimi's fans, she had, understandably, problems with the idea of singing it. Musically it resembles a 70s French ballad by Michel Polnareff or Francoise Hardy.
I Want You, But I Don't Need You
Working with Anthony of Jack I found myself reassessing some of my early material after seeing it through the lens of his admiration. I started to copy some of his copies of my early themes (in much the same way as I copy Japanese copies of western pop music when I write for Japanese artists). This song could be seen as a repeat of the word games in 'A Complete History Of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24)' (recently victim of a hideous cover version by Manfred Mann).
The title is something I used to tell Shazna. It was meant as the ultimate compliment, since I rank wanting far above merely needing.
The Ritual Suicide Of Mr M. Mouse
I went to EuroDisney and suddenly had a vision that this surreal, tightly controlled fantasia is what the 21st century will look and feel like: everything predigested and processed, candy pink yet sinister... The dwarf pizzerias, the motorised swan boats, the Hans Christian Andersonisation of retail. The austere severity and purism of Modernism will be replaced by this suburban hall of mirrors with its mountains of cardboard, like the fake buildings Mussolini erected on the route to Rome to impress Hitler, rather than the visions of Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe.
It was a stormy night for the tartan babes on the rocky mountain path
When a Bonnie Prince Charlie car commercial went shooting past
The imagery, surreal and suggestive rather than specific, was helped by an infusion of random titles from a catalogue of Japanese literature issued by the Japan Book Publishers' Association.
Tiny King Kong
This was written for Kahimi Karie, the music is by the accordionist Kobayashi, who has also worked with Bjork. It describes a girl a bit like the heroine of Tenessee Williams' 'The Glass Menagerie'. Unable to face reality, lost in a delicate world of tiny glass shapes, she and her imaginary friend Tiny King Kong
See New York city in a fingerprint
An icecube icerink is our skating rink
But in verse two she leans too hard on her microscope and
In tiny pain my tiny world caved in
I'll never see my tiny friend again
Fatboy, The War Photographer
Fatboy is a war photographer with access to all the horrors of the earth. In this song he guides me through some of them, from Kim Jong Il the North Korean dictator-god, who is sitting in a bunker planning the nuclear conquest of Seoul, to the methodical assassination of all the poets, intellectuals and philosophers of Algeria.
A lot of this album seems to be about the death of humanism: the world losing some of its kindness and becoming a harder, harsher place. And the songs take as their lyrical model Brecht's 'A Reader For Those Who Live In Cities'. Brecht wrote these on arriving in Berlin in the 1920s. I was thinking about them while trying to get a visa to live and work in New York, and getting fucked about by US Immigration. 'A passport,' as Brecht noted, 'is more difficult to make than a human being'.
This is a tribute to the era of Gary Numan, Devo and the original Ultravox. At school I used to tap out the digits 0.7734 on my calculator and turn it upside down so it greeted me with a perfunctory 'Hell.o'. It felt like the first shaky steps towards the age of machine communication we now live in, and the soundtrack was the sort of raw, sawtooth sine wave synthpop this song parodies -- affectionately, of course.
Bleep, bleep, zero point seven seven three four
Microchip pioneers, warm leatherette
Atomic Monday, the new romantic stranger
Lights an existential cigarette
The Most Important Man Alive
This is how the British music press described Howard Devoto (of The Buzzcocks, Magazine and Luxuria) in about 1979. Since I'm being feted by younger artists myself now (and getting described in Time Out as a 'veteran wit', which makes me sound very old indeed), I thought it was time I paid my respects to my elders too. So this is a song in the Adrian Mole school of songwriting which says: 'You are, quite simply, the most important man alive' then recaps, in a Dylanesque 20 verses, Devoto's whole career (with some embellishments, such as his years on Mount Parnassus giving songwriting classes to the gods). I'm actually speaking to Howard just now about doing it with him as a duet in which he would sing, with glorious irony, 'I am, quite literally, the most important man alive'. (This is the man who wrote, in his early masterpiece 'Boredom': 'I just came from nowhere / And I'm going straight back there' -- then kept his promise). Our duet, sickeningly smug, would be just about as jazzy-breezy as Bing and Frank on some Olympian golf course whistling and ad libbing their way through Cole Porter's 'What A Swell Party This Is':
Momus:You are, quite simply, the most important man alive
I'd like to thank you for simply being in my life
Devoto: I never meant to leave much of a mark
On a world I'm content to leave in the dark
Momus: But you are, quite simply, the most important man alive
Ping Pong Champion
A German artist on a phone link up between Shanghai and London spoke about his next project, 'A Ping Pong Book Of Faxes'. I thought the title was great, and went home and wrote a song about a sumo wrestler who wakes up every morning and decides whether to be a sumo, a ping pong champion, or something else. The music is like Kurt Weill if he were born in a Chinese opera.
Identity is not a fixture
Like a match in a championship callendar
It can be rescheduled at the drop of a hat
And I am a ping pong champion
Momus, London, May 1997
On The Couch
On The ROM