I Am A Kitten
This is the English version of a song I wrote in French in a Paris hotel on my honeymoon in July 1994 then recorded the following month with Kahimi Karie. It gave its title to the EP which Crue-l Records released in February 1995, 'I Am A Kitten: Kahimi Karie Sings Momus In Paris'. The next four songs also come from this EP, which went on to sell 60,000 copies in Japan (mostly in Shibuya-ku, the milling, trendy and expensive consumer hub of west Tokyo).
The musical backing was made for a live show at the Autumn / Winter collections of Japanese fashion designer Tsumura, a protegee of Issey Miyake. I wrote English lyrics at the request of Mike Alway.
The song is about a cat who falls tragically in love with a human. It owes something to Natsume Soseki's excellent novel 'I Am A Cat'. 'I Am A Kitten' joins a long list of Momus songs about impossible love. For some reason, whenever I write for Japanese people this theme emerges.
The original demo for Kahimi Karie. I suppose it's the closest I've come to pastiching the early el Records style as exemplified by The Would-Be-Goods or Bad Dream Fancy Dress. At the time they were having songs written for them by Simon Turner or The Monochrome Set, though, I was writing melancholy stuff like 'The Gatecrasher'. I suppose this is me lightening up thanks to a bit of role-playing, slipping into the skin of a Japanese girl.
As producer Bertrand Burgalat pointed out in the studio, beneath the sprightly exterior there's a truly tragic song about sterility and kidnapping lurking. The narrator can't make her belly 'go fat', so she flips anxiously through Vogue Bambini and dreams of snatching other people's infants from their prams.
'We corrupted Swiss chocolate, we laced it with strychnine...' This is so evil, so disenchanted, it could be early Gainsbourg, the period of 'Du Jazz Dans Le Ravin'. I guess it expresses my suspicion of family values, which often seem to say 'fuck the world as long as my own kids get the best'. Again there's the theme of pregnancy, swelling bellies. Why? I must have been broody in 1994.
This is pure Gainsbourg: the melody, the masochism, the Latin. Is it Birkin's 'Babe Alone In Babylone'? Or is it an echo of 'Pull Marine', the song Serge wrote for Isabelle Adjani? There are some neat rolling rhymes riffing on 'ee' and 'oh' sounds. And a real passion in the sense of betrayal the photographer-narrator expresses. I must have seen too many french movies where the rogue male leads some flibberty-gibbet half his age into the toilet and has sex while his official girlfriend stews downstairs.
It all comes together neatly when you realise that Kahimi Karie used to be a professional photographer, and actually took Gainsbourg's photograph when he came to Japan. (She was the only photographer he took his sunglasses off for, just long enough to look into her eyes and say 'Tu es belle').
Giapponese A Roma
Yes, it's in Italian. A freewheeling Japanese girl 'does' Rome, as well as some of the boys from Trastevere. In between visits to Pittura Mettafisica exhibitions. I was a Japanese girl there myself once or twice. The refrain 'voglio vedere la dolce vita' manages to combine references to Fellini, Paolo Conte (I'm singing it as he would) and Josef Beuys (who entitled one of his pieces, a room with wardrobe, 'Voglio vedere mia montagna' -- I want to see my mountains.
This tribute to Italian singer Paolo Conte was written in 1987 and recorded in this version during the Voyager sessions in 1992. Although I'm not crazy about this recording, it's actually one of my best songs from the 'Poision Boyfriend' era. I don't know why it didn't get recorded then.
It contains some lines inspired by the poetry of Cesare Pavese, whose diary 'This Business Of Living' is one of my favourite books.
The End Of History
Written for Noriko Sekiguchi, The Poision Girlfriend, in 1993 and recorded for her album 'Shyness'. This was always my favourite song on that album. The line about 'monstrous little girls, fifty metres tall' was inspired by a painting I saw at a Chelsea Art School degree show. A Japanese student had painted some towering Godzilla-like little girls in school uniforms stomping all over Tokyo. I thought it said a lot about how Japanese women, traditionally meek, were changing. But I don't liberate my female narrator from my own Japanese woman cliche: the situation of impossible love.
Originally intended for 'Timelord' (it did in fact appear on the Japanese release), this surfaced on the b side of 'The Sadness Of Things' on Cherry Red in 1995. It's a 'time machine' song which owes something to Mishima and the rest to Neil Tennant. There is some homoerotic content, ('I watch the sailors on the bus / A little lustfully'... 'Stable boys of easy provenance') so parental advice is recommended.
This song, which appears in a different form as the theme tune to CD ROM-zine Blender, has lyrics by London-based American poetess Alison Spritzler-Rose (who can be seen talking about 'Closer To You' in the 'Man Of Letters' video). It deals with some of the same identity crisis stuff as 'Platinum'.
An Inflatable Doll
This was another of the B side tracks with 'The Sadness Of Things'. It's the first draft of 'I Had A Girl'. I find all the emotion (which is all about Shazna being trapped in Bangladesh) intact in this early version, even though the lyrics are unfocused and abstract. I think I prefer this to the song it turned into. It's not so gushing, and therefore more taut and moving. I think I was trying to write a song a bit like 'September' by David Sylvian: oblique, private, arty and sensual.
This and the three songs that follow were made as an experiment in Grunge in 1993. I was into Nirvana and Pavement and longed to escape from my soft styles. Qualified as 'Afraid To Rock' by the NME, I finally decided to betray everything I had previously stood for and make amends. I even fancied sounding, for a change, like a typical Creation band. Ironically it was Creation who said, on hearing these songs, that I should stick to the Momus formula. (Gertrude Stein on reading Picasso's plays: 'Go to your studio, Pablo, and paint).'
A song for Shazna. As simple as they come, apart from the odd Momusism like 'I know that songs like this exist / I'm just an old postmodernist'. (Come to think of it, that sounds more like Edwyn Collins than me). Listen out for the guitar solo.
'One part of me went missing / One part of me went fishing'. This manages to rock hard and be sensitive at the same time, like Nirvana, its model. Never thought you'd live to hear Momus copying Kurt Cobain, did you?
Presbyterian grunge, the beasts represent temptation. What happens when music made with obvious integrity conquers the world? What do you do with your own integrity when it becomes a commercial formula in itself? Nirvana posed themselves the same question, a question you could say was answered with full integrity by Kurt's untimely death.
Good Morning World
Oh god, talking of integrity... This song was commissioned as a cosmetics commercial for Japan. It aired in the fall of 1995, selling a brand of foundation called Menard. When the record was released in November (sung by Kahimi Karie) it sold 120 000 copies and went to number 5 in the Japanese singles chart. I was stunned and still am. More people know this little tune (with its Soft Machine and Jacques Dutronc '66 feel) than have even heard of Momus.
1993 and the sinister side of the time travel that 'Timelord' dabbled in. Germania is the Italian for Germany, and the title is drawn from the German pavilion at the last Venice Biennale before war broke out, as reconstituted by Anselm Kiefer. There are glancing references to German poet Paul Celan ('Death Is A Master From Germany') and Josef Beuys ('A Thousand Oaks').
Written in 1994. 'I'm in love with Witold Gombrowicz, that sombre Polish man... I find Schonberg's 'Verklarte Nacht' the lovliest thing I've heard...' The name-dropping is only redeemed by the divine stupidity at the end of each verse: 'But when I've lost the taste for the highest and the best / I bounce on an enormous trampoline'. A melody from Chopin by way of Gainsbourg.
The Girl With No Body
A song about anorexia nervosa with a macabre waltz feel. It could almost be a scenario for one of Dario Argento's stylishly decorated slash and gore pics. 'Rosemary wanders the corridors / Across ballet school studio floors...'
This is The Buzzcocks' jerky punk wank song slowed down to trip hop and crooned by me in the style of a lascivious Tony Bennett. Howard Devoto means more to me than almost anybody in pop. And people call me underrated...
I wrote this song for my group The Happy Family in 1982. It was going to be our first single in 1983. Then we split up in the face of 4AD's indifference, and I kept the song until 1993, when it appeared on The Poison Girlfriend album 'Shyness' in ambient form. This is the same reading with my voice replacing Noriko's. It's a song full of the voluptousness of unrequited love, something I used to wallow in.
'Stay nobody for no-one else but me' expresses the wish to be ignored so thoroughly that it becomes a form of attention. A form of negative adulation which pop audiences worldwide (everywhere, in fact, except Japan) were later to lavish on me just as girls once had.
Wasn't it Little Richard who said 'You keep a-knockin' but you can't come in / Come back tomorrow night and try again'?
'Twenty Vodka Jellies' runs for 74 minutes and is released worldwide in September.
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