The latest album from Momus reflects the world situation, his own fascinations, and acknowledges the weight of the past on our own shoulders, how music is the churning outcome of the music that has gone before us.
Krambambuli itself is a wonderful word, tripping from the tongue like an accidental public statement for which we must apologise. It was a short story by German writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, twice Nobel nominated, forgotten, her story is about a dog caught between two masters, a gamekeeper and a poacher. The word also denotes an alcoholic drink from Belarus.
The cover, bright, lively, references new-wave classic Pink Flag by Wire, with retro fonts inspired by the Pelikan ink company, Kelloggs cereal and other artists, with a notable bean shape accidentally recalling the work of David Shrigley.
His music bridges the baroque and the modern, Western and Eastern, with the past ever shadowy behind us and the future a fiery sunrise before us. Sometimes dark and melodramatic, sometimes comic, sometimes sharply pop driven, the album is yet another reminder of his place in the song-writing pantheon of British culture.
A key influence is the relatively obscure singer Megumi Satsu, a dramatic singer who worked in orchestral and synthpop fields, who he sometimes seems to be on this album. On Murder Me he uses a Purcell string piece against a fiercely theatrical vocal, singing love and lust as self-destruction, the dissolution of the self.
Life After Sixty celebrates his own continuation, despite its negative sounding conclusions “Life after Sixty is a dismal cabaret”, is not his own experience, pounded out against a track again inspired by Purcell, this time via his aria The Cold Song, providing us with a highlight of the album.
Theatre of the Self is a synthpop, 80s retro track about the performative nature of modern life: posing and tik-toking our way across the world, using our life as material to post about until there is nothing left of us. Similarly, Hotdesking was inspired by another facet of modern life: the intern working for free on the off chance of one day being paid, a lifestyle probably only accessible to the wealthy to begin with.
There is a less likely inspiration to Captivate: as he channels the Korean girl band NewJeans. There’s a play with the idea of several individuals having to both be unique and saleable and yet work as a precise unit. Captivate’s own lyrics are about “captivation” both as a positive in a relationship and as suggesting imprisonment: being seduced and charmed as the necessary loss of free will in some way. Nonsense lyrics from Lear are utilised, the overall theme of Jealousy and protection of the loved one is borrowed from the Pet Shop Boys. Probably my favourite song at the moment, although as with all Momus albums, that will change daily.
Maybe tomorrow it will be Heliobore, a nonsense song channelling his inner Stanley Unwin, or perhaps The Beast, an older song based on the controversial film by Walerian Borowczyk, and accompanied by a cool sixties beat.
The most common of all Momus tropes: the surface level beauty of a song disguising horrific realities is represented here in Men Are The Problem: a reworking of The Rainbow Connection hiding a suggestion to remove all men from reality, to improve the world. Also lyrically dark, Rimbaud quoting Clearer is almost a state of the nation address, “stop the boats they like to say..” he addresses the world, but the west in particular, and its addiction to both opioids and right-wing rhetoric.
Fanfare is another baroque inspired piece: opening with a sound effect from a Klaus Nomi performance, it straightforwardly attacks the “performative unkindness” of the day, “persecuting everyone who fails”. Of all the songs here, it sounds most like a statement, or agenda. “And now we turn to war, vandalising other places with our denim claws”. As with several songs on the album, the anti-war, anti-Putin sentiment is clearly worn on sleeves.
Pelikan – the title inspired again by the German ink company, contrasts a wonky, sometimes detuned sounding electronic backing against a dark, sinister and murderous story. “In the graveyard they rot and rot, out by the heliport, in the hinterland..” Black ink tells black stories.
Cosmos is a key and excellent track, inspired again by Megami Satsu: or the character that Megami has become on this album – and by Klaus Nomi – the lyric is overblown and foetidly sexual, recalling similarly overblown adolescent lyrics from Momus’ earlier days. “Self-destructively intense he brooks no opposition, The zenith of dissolution, the Satan of the botanical garden”: it could be a Tender Pervert outtake, except for the much more highly developed sense of existential despair that can be heard here: “But we are merely insects, existing on the tail of a turtle, that grows upwards, downwards, sideways, into the concrete cosmos”. The song ends with quotations from Hancock’s Half Hour: an episode parodying beatnik poetry.
The final track seems familiar, reminiscent of The Artist Overwhelmed from Otto Spooky. Dunderheads suggests Handel to us, based on the aria Lascia ch'io pianga - Let Me Weep. In this song, Momus sadly considers the possibility that there may be another world, where we are intelligent as a species, and “not the bungling dunderheads we are”. The childish nature of humanity is hinted to us by the lyric, which misquotes Swallows and Amazons and tells us to “just let Humpty Dumpty” fall.
Krambambuli is an early Christmas present and aperitif, as after two Momus albums last year, we are spoiled with another highly intelligent, enjoyable and thought provoking discussion - which is what these albums are – about the state of the world, of music and of art. I highly recommend it as always.