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Momus (Nick Currie) (b. 1960)
Momus on UbuWeb
1. Platinum: The album begins with something already very heart-tugging: the voice of my grandfather, Grandpa Currie, asking how often we have to renew the valves in our Sony TV. "There are no valves," I reply, "it's transistorised". Grandpa Currie -- a bit of a timelord himself, a man who fought in World War 1 -- utters a baffled "Oh!" Snatches of sound from The Man Who Fell To Earth, the opening chords of Space Oddity and radio interviewers asking "Who is the real Nick Currie?" give way to a funky beat sampled from a Japanese CD-ROM, and the song Platinum begins. If Voyager contained vast but earthly distances, here we're in space, but it's a nostalgic, claustrophobic place where the astronaut can only wonder what would have happened to him "in a parallel universe". All his achievements have come to nothing, his master tapes are being placed in the safe, and all he has left is to "live the hallelujah now" -- an existential theme that returns many times on this record.
How I rate this now: I still regret speeding this up by a tone at the cut; the original speed can be heard on the Forbidden Software Timemachine compilation. I really wonder how a man so young can sound so old and lost, but that's how I felt at the time, I guess. It's an affecting song.
2. Enlightenment: One of the consequences of entering into a serious relationship with someone was drawing a line across my years of promiscuity and taking an AIDS test, which I did at the Hampstead Hospital. At the time a positive HIV result was a death sentence, so there really was a question hanging over the value of knowing. Momentarily, the waiting room contained dark parallel worlds in which the new relationship could be tragic and fragile -- the relationship of a carer and patient, or two patients. This song sets the experience of waiting to hear the results (negative, when they came) in the context of the value of enlightenment in general, and the historical period called the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the time when it seemed we'd "shortly know all there is to know" and it would be great. Again the musical backing is influenced by my Japan trip, underpinned by a murky Pizzicato 5 sample.
How I rate this now: Obviously I'm spooked-the-fuck-out by the line "Tell me you'll be there when I've only got one eye." The pessimism of a narrator "sick to death of optimism" will be confirmed five years later, when I lose both my partner and my eye. Ah well. It's a good song -- quite Brel-like in its intensity, perhaps a little ropey musically, but built around a powerful metaphor. It's not a song I'd choose to listen to frequently, though; I'm not a big Radiohead fan.
3. You've Changed: This guy really has changed in the year since Voyager, which seemed such a positive and uplifting record, full of faith in a technologically-liberated future. This song is paranoid and jumpy, in a strange time signature. It could be an update on Ballad of the Barrel Organist or Hairstyle of the Devil -- it's about the ghosts that hang around a couple, ghosts of other lovers, ghosts of family, but now there's a sense of history clouding and confusing the picture; the ghosts of former, younger selves.
How I rate this now: I almost really dislike this song, then almost really like it, then it's over, and I'm relieved.
4. Landrover: This is a reworking of an ancient song from 1983. It's about someone searching for a lost love through a lunar landscape in a Space Rover, so it fits the arid and desolate atmosphere of the album. I remember not liking this much when I made the record, but now I love the astronaut's diary: "Tranquility Bay, nocturnal visibility average to good, saline levels close to normal", but later, "Alimentation and oxygen supplies critical... Life functions now endangered, unpredictable... Strange emotional pattern recorded at 300 and again towards dawn... foreboding... Log discontinued").
How I rate this now: This is much better than I remembered it -- spooky in a good way, a nightmarish scene from a lost Kubrick film.
5. Rhetoric: The only song from Timelord that I still perform live, the song that was playing when I married Shazna, the song that played at my friend Jip's funeral and may well play at my own. "The lovely owl upon the bow is swooping down for me, the brambles tangle round and round far as the eye can see, I'll love you till the astronauts go walking on the sun, I'll love you till the reaper comes to wake me with his gun". My diary of June 1993 is rather more prosaic: "At home I get working on music (Shazna has said she'll whip me if I don't). Do a fairly arbitrary chord sequence against the slow Fuse sample, a verse and chorus. Start writing lyrics around the theme 'I'll love you till...' It has a surreal edge, a bit like 'Voyager' when I was writing that." The video makes more play of the idea that this is rhetoric:
How I rate this now: The melancholy astronaut really scores here; a masterpiece of pathos.
6. Suicide Pact: Emotionally, this is where the album really goes as low as it possibly can. An impossible love, a suicide pact, two lovers letting the snow sweep over them where they sleep because there's no possibility for their love anywhere on earth. I think I had David Sylvian's song September in mind when I wrote this; I wanted something delicate and hurt. Strangely enough, this began as a cover version of a song called The Uncertainty of Identity by someone called Alexander Mann -- if the bass seems to be playing a different song, it is.
How I rate this now: One long hugely weary -- yet rather haunting -- sigh. A sense of some enormous, looming loss. It's almost too much to bear.
7. Christmas on Earth: Christmas is heaven for the people who are together with the ones they love, but hell for the people who aren't. The astronaut-timelord singing this is traveling away from earth at the speed of light, knowing that when he returns his friends will all be long dead, and there'll be no-one he can tell the things he's seen, even if he can the words. He's "receiving transmissions they broadcast long ago", celebrating Christmas alone, crooning sentimentally in his capsule; Bing Crosby in the role of Thomas Jerome Newton, perhaps. In this live performance of the song, filmed during my Christmas Tour of Japan in 1993, you hear the beefier version with the drumloop:
How I rate this now: "Try to remember the kind of September..." I'd really rather not, I think. But this is affecting stuff, White Christmas at the speed of light. I took the title from a performance art piece, by the way. I often work around titles. I must've thought "It's Christmas on Earth, but is it also Christmas in space?"
8. Breathless: God, this album is dark! But it ends with -- well, if not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, at least clouds. The astronaut is sitting in the Cafe at the End of the Universe, and there's a shabby covers band playing cruise numbers, and he's sipping at his dram and suddenly nothing is quite so bad as it seemed. There are no happy endings, but if you're over the moon for now, you'll be fine, sailor. Or, as Taylor Parkes eulogized in Melody Maker: "What is left is a cold, crumbling skeleton with one huge teardrop hanging out of its eye... what will survive of him now is love".
It feels, looks and sounds, from Timelord, as if everything should have ended here. In fact, some things did -- my bachelor life in London, my Creation Records contract. But all sorts of new things would begin: success in Japan, work with Kahimi Karie, a new life in Paris, and a sequence of ten albums of much more pleasant, friendly and happy material which continues to this day, and the Joemus album. I could understand fans of very dark and searing music saying that I never touched these depths again, or revealed such powerful feelings of love. They'd be right, but I'm much happier -- surprisingly enough -- being happy, being here on earth, being alive. And when I'm just a cabbage, save me from the spade!
And so Christmas comes to earth, and a lonely astronaut -- traveling at the speed of light away from his record label, his homeland, and the girl he loves -- gazes back at his planet of origin, a tear clouding the eyepiece of his quantum telescope.
It's 1993, and 33-year-old Momus -- the timelord in question -- has fallen in love. He's in love with Japan, which he visited for the first time in 1992, and visits again in 1993, and he's in love with Shazna, a young Londoner whose family comes from Bangladesh. Timelord Momus is living alone in his Cleveland Street flat -- flatmate Vicky has returned to New Zealand, and her Andy Warhol wallpapered bedroom, now equipped with a fearsomely futuristic Apple DuoDock 230 computer, has become the recording studio in which Timelord, the first Momus album recorded entirely at home, takes shape. There's even a rudimentary CompuServe internet connection in the room, so Timelord is also the first Momus album of the internet age.
All sorts of other material -- songs like The End of History and London 1888 -- is supposed to appear on Timelord. Two things change to shorten, focus and darken the album. First, I have to co-write and produce an album called Shyness for The Poison Girlfriend for Nippon Columbia, and shunt some of the songs over there instead. Secondly, events in my personal life get turbulent -- Shazna is sent to Bangladesh, and I decide to focus the album on my relationship with her, dedicate it to her, and release it with a cryptic note on the back, next to a portrait of Shazna as "the Queen of Cherries". WAGTBT, it says: We Are Going To Be Together.
And we are -- the following year we marry and move to Paris. But the Timelord doesn't know that. He thinks he's lost the girl he loves, and he thinks his musical career is pretty much over. As a result, Timelord is a profoundly melancholy album, difficult for me to listen to now. But listen I will. And so shall you, if you can bear your Christmas being darkened by these shadows. (Lyrics, reviews and interviews are here, and you can hear a detailed report of how the album was received by UK local radio in 1993 here.)