Create 1 - Procreate
(Cherry Red Records)
In his autobiography, Alan McGee makes very few references to Nicholas Currie (AKA Momus), one of the most idiosyncratic artists, and probably the finest songwriter, to be signed to his label, Creation Records.
One of the few mentions of young Nick comes when Primal Scream and Momus are on tour together. Whilst in the middle of the 'no man's land' partition between the former East and West Berlin, Primal frontman Bobby Gillespie phones McGee to explain that the band can't stand Momus any longer, that he's been driving them 'nuts' on the tour bus and would it be at all possible to abandon him there so that they can carry on with their partying without him? Although sympathetic to Gillespie's concerns, McGee informs him that it's not a good idea. The tour continued.
This story speaks volumes of Momus's relationship with Creation Records. Despite producing six (mostly) well received albums and a handful of singles (Hairstyle of the Devil being the first Creation single to make the Top 100), he was frequently regarded as an outsider, an oddball, always on the periphery. Although his fertile imagination would be responsible for intelligent tales that focused on hidden passions, society's ills, sexuality, mortality and our darkest desires, he never made anything as obviously hedonistic as Loaded or Rocks. Furthermore, unlike My Bloody Valentine who virtually sank the label producing their headline grabbingly expensive 'Loveless' album, Momus made his music on the cheap and recouped all of his expenses. He just tinkered away unnoticed.
Allegedly, Momus departed Creation the same week that they signed Oasis. The unfortunate 'Loaded' generation (the magazine, not the Primal Scream song), was in it's ascendancy. The well documented partying at Creation carried on without him.
Momus has been extremely prolific in the time since he left Creation, so much so that it feels strange to pause and look back at his music from thirty years ago. But this isn't an exercise in nostalgia, it's an opportunity to reevaluate some remarkable music and to see how young Nick developed his craft.
Released on Cherry Red, Create 1 - Procreate consists of the first three albums Momus made for Creation between 1987 - 1989 as well as a clutch of singles and b-sides from the period (the second edition will follow in March 2018). First up is 'The Poison Boyfriend. It's the record that Momus is least fond of, regarding it as too produced and polished, it's certainly the album that has dated the most. Eighties drum sounds cloud out the chorus of Flame into Being and the tinny, echoey production of Sex for the Disabled mars the entire song.
But there is so much to delight at on The Poison Boyfriend. Violets, which reflects on the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland (amongst other things) mixes a bouyant faux- folk accordians with vivid imagery and the bitter conclusion of 'treat me like an equal...till it hurts'.
Momus shows his Brel influence most on the startling Three Wars, comparing the eras of the great wars of the twentieth century with the critical moments and upheavals of a persons life. In other hands this could have been a little crass, but Momus frequently touches recognisable and painfully truthful nerves.
The soulful closer Closer to You is Momus at his most seductive, yet this isn't a mere flirtation, it's often too close for comfort. Voyeurism and the ugliness of sexual obsession would become a familiar theme of Momus's records for a long time to come.
Momus wanted to title his next album 'The Homosexual' - in the age of Clause 28 and public pandemonium about AIDS he felt that it was down to a straight man to create music that addressed gay issues. However McGee got the jitters and asked him to reconsider, and thus it became 'Tender Pervert'.
If there is anything as conventional as a 'classic' Momus album then Tender Pervert is the likeliest contender. There's the tale of a pair of gay ice skaters (named Jane and Chris!) on Love on Ice and the confession of an efite man who uses his camp persona to charm and bed the wives of those who have taunted him on The Homosexual. His fascination with Japan is introduced in The Bishonen, whilst I Was a Maoist Intellectual in the Music Industry charts the rise and fall of an overly cerebral pop star (possibly forced to tour with Primal Scream).
Most captivating of all is 'A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24)' a song of anxious sexual insecurity that takes a lovers concerns ('I'm jealous of the men you knew before in a life that I can never be a part of ...' etc.) and extends it into a long list of suffocating possessiveness. It fizzes with synths and samples, an engaging electro pop song that would pave the way for the album that followed. Apparently, it could have been a single if McGee hadn't mithered about the word 'sexual' being in the title.
The NME once suggested that Momus could be the 'perverted third member of the Pet Shop Boys'. They may have reached this conclusion after listening to his third album for Creation: 'Don't Stop The Night. The album has all the delirious synth pop delights of Tennant and Lowe but the lyrical content is far more disquieting than they could ever imagine.
Originally entitled Sexual Crimes of the Professional Classes, the album portays a society of corrupt (and corrupting), individuals at the end of the 1980s. The aspirational narrator of 'Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous' is feeling lost in yuppie society and only has Martin Amis and Brett Easton Ellis novels for company. The protagonist of How Do You Find My Sister pimps his sibling to high class clients and the rejected lover of Amongst Women Only fantasises about his his ex partner masturbating alone or in female company. They are all damaged characters and you can clearly feel the disillusion and despair in each of their voices.
The Guitar Lesson has a tune inspired by Leo Ferré's beautiful ballad Avec Le Temps but the beauty stops there as the gentle melody is juxtaposed against the recollection of the softly spoken abuser. It's a troubling listen.
You can tell that Momus was a fan of the macabre short stories of young Ian McEwan when listening to The Cabriolet. In the song the drunken narrator crashes his car after a party, killing his passenger and, having failed to find her attractive whilst she was alive, suddenly falls in love with her. JG Ballard's novel 'Crash' is an obvious point of reference, as is The Normal's Warm Leatherette that was inspired by the book. The Cabriolet is far more twisted than Daniel Miller's song though. The crash survivor wants to be poetic ('in the sudden shock of silence, with the morning star above you...'), then there is the declaration of 'I love you', and the dramatic swell of strings that closes the song. It's a horrifying and compelling track.
Finally, Don't Stop The Night does contain the closest thing Momus ever came to a hit single. Bizarrely it was Single of the Week on Steve Wright's Radio One daytime show. It's an irresistibly infectious hi-energy production that should have filled dance floors. The song tells of the fascination between a woman's two lovers ('the inexplicable charisma of the rival...'), the philandering 'devil" is an obnoxious creation, probably too complex for the upper reaches of the charts. The single stalled at number 97.
The bonus tracks on Create 1- Procreate were previously housed on the Monsters of Love compilation of singles. Of the early acoustic songs, the seven minute What Will Death Be Like is one of Momus's most bewildering compositions, a list of over fifty examples from art, music, politics, film, literature that death won't be. It shows what a precocious talent young Nick was.
The influence of the music compiled on Create 1 - Procreate can be heard on the decadent swagger of Suede (Brett Anderson once described The Poison Boyfriend as a 'great lost album') and the intimate observations of Jarvis Cocker. It's probably safe to suggest that Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian has some of these albums in his collection. It's time to appreciate the genius of this unique songwriter and Create 1 - Procreate is a fabulous place to start.
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Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.