September 10th, 1999
Having so offended transsexual synthesiser pioneer Wendy (ne Walter) Carlos with a tribute song on last year's Little Red Songbook that the resultant brouhaha cost him and his US label $30,000, Nick "Momus" Currie opted to seek patronage in order to pay the legal bills. Accordingly, he offered to write and record a song about anyone who would send him a photo of themselves, accompanied by a 1,000 word description, and, not least of all, a fee of $1000.
A few months later, this is the result: 30 finely-honed aural snapshots of Momus's fans and benefactors, generously spread over two CDs. They're surprisingly detailed portraits, Momus treating each patron to the full panoply of his wit, erudition, and sometimes harsh judgements on their character. Take, for example, "Black and blue-haired schizophrenic, monomaniac, masochistic". With a songwriting style perhaps better suited to the stage revue than rock'n'roll -- Currie is surely the Noel Coward of his era -- Momus brings a restless diversity of approaches to his task. He depicts one patron's contradictions as a dialogue between the Devil and an angel, and he analyses certain of his Japanese fans in terms of their dedication to their 3D graphics company or their strawberry-coloured iMac computer.
Some of the patrons are groups (The Minus 5) or companies (record label Minty Fresh), but all are treated with the same jesting spirit, and most are handled in as bawdy a fashion as possible, as evidenced by song titles such as "Coming On An Intern's Dress" and "Onan The Barbarian" -- it's doubtful, for instance, that Steven Zeeland's mum will get to hear his eponymous ode, though his closest chums will doubtless have a good chuckle at Momus' unbroadcastable account of sodomy in the navy. Occasionally, a more famous benefactor appears among the friends, fans and well-wishers: kitschmeister Jeff Koons, indeed, draws some of the best lines from Momus in an assessment of Koons' kunst in which the composer reflects that: "Context is a game that you can play / And art can help you have a better day".
Musically, Stars Forever finds Momus at his most formulaic, with his trusty drum-machine and synthesiser employed in a variety of guises, and pastiches of everything from Plastic Bertrand to "The Campbells Are Coming" cropping up wherever pertinent -- the latter carrying a droll comedy narrative about how American DJ Tinnitus got to play a Scotsman in a virtual movie called Pixel Claymores.
But whatever the subject-matter or musical style, as Momus notes in his introductory dedication to weirdo music of all kinds, it's always "Music from the roots / Not from corporate suits". And not entirely for the benefit of lawyers, either. Support your local singing satirist: buy this album.
Time Out New York
September 2-9, 1999
(Le Grand Magistery)
Stars Forever, the fourth album released in the US by Nick Currie, an effete, acerbic, perverted Scotsman who has recorded off-kilter baroque synth-pop under the name Momus since the mid-80s, owes the entirety of its existence to a track from his previous release, 1998's The Little Red Songbook. The song is "Walter Carlos", a tribute to the composer of A Clockwork Orange, now known as Wendy Carlos. The transgender Moog pioneer was none too pleased with the references to her former incarnation and slapped Momus with a reported seven-figure lawsuit, which Currie won [sic], but not without incurring whopping legal bills for his U.S. label, the Michigan-based independent Le Grand Magistery.
That's when Momus hit upon the novel idea of what he's termed "patronage pop." Taking his cue from Renaissance master painters who created art on commission, he offered to have his next album consist of "song portraits" composed in the Momus style for the first 30 people (or groups) who forked over $1,000. Reflecting the artist's fan base, the respondents seem to be mainly Italian men, Japanese women or American indie outlets (such as NYC record shop Other Music, PR companies Girlie Action and Team Clermont, and labels Minty Fresh and Reckless Records). "Steven Zeeland" is rendered as a military march, "Matsuko Tamaya" [sic] is clumsy rap, "Team Clermont" delves into Morricone-ish spaghetti Western, and "Tinnitus" is a Scots reel with synthesizers subbing for bagpipes. "Keigo Oyamada" is offered as a mock-Anglican hymn to the Japanese musician known more commonly as Cornelius, and the song for Momus's kindred artist, "Jeff Koons," is shimmery bubblegum suitable to the subject's embrace of artifice.
What Momus keeps in check on Stars Forever is his hedonistic, ultra-candid, confessional side that, in the past, has veered from refreshing to creepy. Composing nonautobiographically means that his hetero queer-boy fascination and Japanese-female fetish still crop up but are now attached to tales of actual people, such as gay men and Japanese women, and refreshingly, there's little room for him to wax misogynistically on songs tooled to glorify their subjects.
Lyrically and musically clever as always, Currie takes a concept that might have been straightjacketing, created under dire circumstances, and crafts cheeky commentary on commercialism and/versus creative freedom.
August 24, 1999
(Le Grand Magistery)
"Stars Forever" is Momus' sellout record, born when the
British cult singer's tiny U.S. label, Le Grand Magistery, ran up legal bills
defending a suit filed after Momus' last record. Transsexual composer Wendy
Carlos, it seems, didn't like the song about her on "The Little Red Songbook"
(1998) and sued. To save Le Grand Magistery, Momus devised an ingenious
plan. His records rarely earn serious amounts of money, so he decided to offer
what he calls "song portraits" for $1,000 apiece. Surprisingly, the idea was
successful: Within eight months he found 30 people (and a couple of small
businesses and record companies) willing to lay out the cash for a tune
dedicated to them.
More than a dozen albums of hilariously cheeky and intelligent songs have
earned Momus (aka Nicholas Currie) a small but obsessive following. His fans
are an eccentric bunch, and on "Stars Forever" they make for good material.
One is a Parisian artist, another a rock star with cats. Artist Jeff Koons paid for
a song, as did a shy Japanese woman and a gay writer with a fetish for soldiers.
To help him prepare for the record, each person "sat,"
or provided Momus with a little information about him-
or herself. Playing off skeletal facts, Momus wrote
stories with wild premises, rarely losing sight of himself.
He rarely plays the part of the objective bystander --
instead, he interjects himself into one fan's proposal to
his girlfriend, or he wonders about sleeping with one of
his pen-pal fans. There are surprisingly few
straightforward songs (Miles Franklin, however, is "single, 32, working in I.T.").
Instead, Momus tells the sort of imaginative and slightly bent tales that he's told
before, songs in the past that have called God a "tender pervert" or posited "the
cultural meaning of coming in a girl's mouth."
Musically, Momus deftly switches moods and styles even though he limits
himself to electro-pop keyboards and drum machines. Each tune has a distinct
personality -- there isn't a single template. There are a few bouncy synth tracks
alongside bits of disco as well as trip-hop, hip-hop, a swashbuckling sailor song,
an impressively schlocky ballad and an over-the-top western theme. The only
song that seems forced is dedicated to an Internet newsgroup, the Indiepop list,
which had 40 members who wanted to be mentioned.
Even though the project is commercial, listening to "Stars Forever" never feels
like listening to two hours of jingles. At times, the songs are simply Momus
songs, unforced and as natural as anything he's written. Lesser artists might have
taken a more literal approach to portraiture, spewing facts in rhyming couplets.
But Momus' subversive streak creates songs that people would never have
written about themselves. About the gay writer with the military fetish, Momus
sings: "On a military base or a battleship deck/Let me come in his ass with my
tongue down his neck." For $1,000, these fans didn't get exact representations
of themselves. They got something better -- a chance to become part of
Momus' twisted world.
Forty portraits of willing sitters (and possibly sinners) is like a trip to the ultimate karaoke boutique, especially when your posers include Jeff Koons, Cornelius and a gaggle of Japanese fangirls. Result: a Vaudevillian romp through dozens of musical styles; the best a lion's roar rap for a shy girl from Tokyo. Investigate.
September 18th 1999
4.5 stars out of 5
No other way to settle an enormous legal bill, Momus recorded this collection of musical portraits for various patrons at $1,000 a pop. Unsurprisingly, it's wonderful, in a bleepy, clonky, Divine Comedy-ish kinda way, especially "Nicky My Friend", a song for one of Momus' own groupies. [sic]
See also Jonathan Romney's excellent article in The Guardian, September 29th 1999
Tower Records' Top Magazine
Great story, this. That peculiar little fellow who likes to call himself Momus goes bankrupt and faces a colossal legal bill. Trouble is, he's broke. What to do? Bingo: he places an advert on the internet advertising his wares. Pay the man $1000 and he'll write you a song. Bizarrely, he is inundated with offers and, crucially, cheques that don't bounce. And the results can be heard on Stars Forever (Analog Baroque) ** which, although intriguing, is mostly a load of old arse. An acquired taste at the best of times, he sounds like a Pet Shop Boy with all fluid melody removed. What remains, therefore, is self-conscious artiness, and tiresome witticisms to a disco beat. The bloke wears an eye patch, you know.
All Music Guide Website
(Le Grand Magistery)
Grand artistic statement or money-grubbing sham? Befitting Momus' standing as contemporary pop's most eminent provocateur, Stars Forever is both -- a double-disc collection of analog-baroque cameos commissioned for $1000 each in the name of saving the singer's label from the ravages of legal fees, it's a frequently brilliant treatise on the never-ending battle between art and commerce, rising to the heights of the former as often as it succumbs to the depths of the latter. The idea behind Stars Forever is simple -- 30 "patrons" (among them everyone from modern artist Jeff Koons to hip NYC record store Other Music to the crazy kids who contribute to the online Indiepop List service) fork over a grand each for the honor of being eternally immortalized in a Momus song -- but the long-term ramifications of the project are complex and unsettling, and the paradoxes and questions it provokes are
myriad. After all, who among us is truly fit to judge Momus' actions and intents? Should we respect the honesty of his "patronage pop" or deplore its capitalist shamelessness? Do these songs rob his music of the perversely personal bent which makes him special, or do they lift him out of the rut of self-obsession and offer an entirely new creative path? And what if the profits went not to a struggling indie label but to Sony? Furthermore, I'm getting paid to write this review -- how hypocritical is that? Perhaps the greatest value of Stars Forever is as a litmus test which forces each listener to answer
these questions and countless others for themselves -- admire the record or despise it, it might just change your perception of pop music and the business which drives it forever.