Momus

Momus – Public Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 (Cherry Red)

Now in his mid-fifties, and having entertained a career spanning a full thirty years, it’s fair to say that Nicholas Currie (aka Momus) is better known for the infamy, rather than anything approaching mainstream success. This is rather a shame, as this triple disc box set – featuring many of his most memorable and best loved tunes – goes some way to addressing.

When you listen back to these tracks, it’s difficult not to draw the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, Momus was – and is – a little too clever for his own good. You only need to absorb the sleeve notes – in which Currie enlightens us all about the inspirations and ideas behind each song – to draw this conclusion. Even the very first track here, the wonderful, baroque sounding ‘Lucky Like St. Sebastian‘, is described thus: “On the 159 bus up to central London I mused on Kierkegaard’s essay (in ‘Either/Or’) ‘The Rotation Of Crops: boredom says A. the aesthete, is the root of all evil.”
I’m guessing you can see my point now, especially when you read further and discover that he then went on to “devise an album about bread and circuses“. Well quite.

So music for the cerebral cortex it may be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, and neither does it mean that Momus holds infectious pop melodies in ill contempt. Good Lord no. Just listen to the charmingly colourful ‘Stefano Zarelli‘, which sounds like it could have been one of Orange Juice‘s best B-sides, or the Deee-lite sampling, Daft Punk meets Beloved electronica of the warm summer groove ‘Spacewalk‘. One of the most pleasing aspects of Momus’s career however, has been the sheer scope of variation, though you could argue that this is the thing that has held him back from ever going beyond that small but committed niche fan base.

Morality Is Vanity‘ is theatrical, ‘Love Wakes The Devil‘ like a drunken sea shanty, ‘How Do You Find My Sister‘ akin to Pet Shop Boys scratching and sampling while on acid, and ‘Masks Of Bebko‘ sounds – musically at least – like what might be the result if you asked Tom Waits to write the theme tune to a children’s television show. In three decades, Momus has evaded lazy pigeonholing by baffling fans and critics alike with records that bear little to no resemblance to his previous releases. Quite simply, Currie has committed career suicide on a regular basis. I think that deserves the utmost respect.

Perhaps it is fitting then, that this three disc retrospective concludes with ‘The Vaudevillian‘, a showy, Bowie-like composition that features the late, great Sir Norman Wisdom shortly before his death. It is the story of a performer – the Vaudevillian of the title – who dies on stage and is carried off in a coffin. It is tremendously sad and utterly beguiling at the same time.

I would urge anyone unfamiliar with Momus’s work to invest in this excellent compilation. Just be prepared for an unconventional ride and you’ll be okay, I promise.

Public Intellectual – An Anthology, 1986-2016 is out now on Cherry Red Records.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.