Momus has not allowed the current restriction to affect his prodigious output one iota: even while trapped in Berlin in the midst of the pandemic he produced last year’s Vivid: a powerful exploration of the situation he found himself in, dealing with lockdown and isolation philosophically and with optimism. He sang of Spring as a time when life might begin anew, and here we are now hoping that the worst is behind us. While travel was briefly permitted he got out of Berlin to Athens and was reunited with his girlfriend. Athens is a key location in Momus’ lore, a place in which he spent time as a teenager and was awakened in many ways. Here it represents liberation, direct democracy and freedoms no longer afforded us, and is a direct contrast to the dead island - Great Britain. Momus was kind enough to invite us on a walking tour of his new album…
Momus - Athenian (American Patchwork/Darla)
I planned to rewrite the Matt Monro song that starts The Italian Job, my favourite film when I was a kid living in Athens. But what emerged is a very Brechtian moral: my narrator won't be good until everybody else is. Pigs grunt fore and aft.
Britain is now the "Toteninsel" in Momus songs, the dead island. Here it's patting itself on its back for saving Greyland for the Grey. Marty Feldman hovers, as does Tony Newley, both Jews who would never have brought their colourful imaginations to the British if isolationism had been our norm back then.
A cheap accordion, a barbershop choir on vocals. Partly influenced by the Fraser Hayes Four, who would pop up on Round the Horne. Mostly about what you can't say on Twitter, that sticky scroll of chatter-natter-nougat. I always giggle when I hear "the Captain fucked Eskimo Nell", and think: "You couldn't say that now."
Under the Volcano
Some kids on Twitter were saying "Momus is so Okay Boomer on this album" and fine, they might have been talking about this one. Cancelling a seedy actor seems such a feeble response to all the actual scalding lava cascading around us.
Same scenario as Dreaming of the Queen by the Pet Shop Boys. Based on that New Yorker staffer caught fiddling with himself on Zoom. Nakedness Aforethought is not presently a crime, but give it time.
Currently my favourite song on the record. It's about the oddly comforting act of reconciling oneself with one's worst fears. And about the fun filters in B612, a Korean face-shifting app.
Coco the Clown
Oh the humiliation of having the facts of life spelled out to you by a clown. Actually I chatted with a Spanish clown once in Barcelona. He told me he'd lived in Cumbernauld and my mind reeled. I imagined walking around the grim shopping centres with him saying to people: "Don't you know who this is? This man is a CLOWN!"
I love how Conan Doyle made the meeting between Holmes and his arch-nemesis Moriarty into a sort of chess game in which all the moves were already apparent to both parties in advance. Respected enemies are projected aspects of the self, so talking to them is like talking to yourself.
I still can't believe that Stereo Total's Françoise Cactus died so young. Not sure what it means to pastiche her style in tribute to her, but the children's refrain ("Ladybird, fly up to heaven") seemed to work. Cried so much I could hardly finish the video.
I'm supposed to be an intellectual songwriter, but this is simplicity itself. I love this person, and say so.
The Drizzle of March
Tom Jobim somehow reminds me of my dad in the 1970s. This song — which I retranslated somewhat freely — is set in a murky present but speaks of "the promise of life in your heart again", so it felt very much right for now.
Wyndham Lewis somehow barged into my album. He started painting what he called Tyros right after the First World War and the flu pandemic of 1918. Tyros burned with enthusiasm for anything new. Their red faces wore acid grins the way a hardy bush bears poisonous berries. A fierce appetite for life could have a bad side.
I really was a teenage existentialist, and although it made me a miseryguts, it did bring something universal. What identity politics (the fake progressivism of our time) lacks is precisely that kind of universal empathy. Out goes "the human condition", in comes "me and my special difference".
Bus Inspector Bill
I slowed down some Benny Hill songs and made them spooky as fuck.
Like Wyndham Lewis, Karl Kraus emerged from the chaos of WW1. With his private satirical newspaper Die Fackel he enraged a lot of people and became a sort of proto-social media star, an ur-blogger. The author of The Last Days of Mankind would have found our doomscrolling amusing and probably pathetic.
The only song really about Athens on an album called Athenian, it pretty much just documents the kind of flaneur urbex I get up to here, riding trams to "swim the mountains and climb the sea".