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How To Write A Momus Review

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Lesson Three: Vexed, Peeved And Perplexed

The orders for Brian Grey's review can only have come from very high up the command structure. The views expressed are systematic and deadly. We must find those responsible and bring them to justice.

The Mire Magazine
Minimaltober 1999 Issue

Stars Forever (Analog Baroque CD)

Why, in 1999, do some artists still insist on making music this cluttered and impure?

The new record from Momus, Stars Forever, simply has too much happening. It's what Gestalt theorists would call a problem of figure and ground. Take the sleeve. The subdued greeny-grey wood-effect background on its own with a bit of tasteful type would have made a very nice ECM sleeve. But Momus had to spoil it by putting lots of pictures of painters, princes and pirates on top.

A similar over-abundance afflicts the music. In these times of Post Rock and Advanced Electronic Listening Music, the eradication of song structures and lyrics has been almost completely successful. Groups like Air, Cassius and Daft Punk have proved that you can take minimalism to the masses. We are getting closer daily to the triumph of ground over figure. Thanks to Tortoise, Kreidler and Stereolab, millions now living will never hear a pop lyric. Nothing, now, sounds more anachronistic and less intelligent than narrative.

In this climate, Momus arrives like a holy fool with thirty songs crammed with words, stories and semi-fictitious identities purloined from the subjects of these musical portraits. He calls this Analog Baroque. In fact it's closer to the wretched British tradition of variety music hall, which jazz and electronica artists have always correctly scorned for its cheap wise-cracking, crass populism and the excessive decoration of its music.

Music hall (or vaudeville) died a death when it metamorphosed into its evil twin, the Saturday night TV variety special, somewhere mid-century. Since then it's been spotted in the odd Paul McCartney song or the work of self-conscious neo-cabaret groups like the Tiger Lillies. Serious musicheads have ignored it, and mostly it's gone away.

The tragedy is that, had Momus erased the story-telling tropes and released this record as thirty instrumentals, it would have been one of the best albums Warp never released, sitting alongside Autechre, Plaid and Boards Of Canada for sonic inventiveness and textural interest. For the time has never been more right for the combination he's hit on here of analogue exotica and baroque or folk-derived musical structures. (One caveat: there would still be too many chord changes.)

If Momus could get rid of the words, the chords and any trace of the infuriatingly catchy melodies that infest this record, Stars Forever could be one of The Mire's albums of the year. What a pity he had to spoil everything trying to revive that dead concept, content.

Why, in 1999, do some artists still insist on making records this interesting? There is, finally, only one solution. Close your eyes and block out all that human interest stuff using your ears as filters. I call it musical cleansing.

Brian Grey

Momo Magazine felt rather differently about the record. Read Dave Documento's review here.

Read what the Mo' Musical Express thought here.

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