February 2, 2021

"If I told the truth I'd like to live my life again / Walk around my youth in somebody else's skin."

I saw this tweet and it reminded me I've been meaning to write about Momus again. There was something so unlikely about seeing Momus on the same list as OutKast, Steely Dan and John Coltrane. But, also, those first three Momus albums (Circus Maximus, Poison Boyfriend and Tender Pervert), which I listened to obsessively (to an almost insane degree) in my twenties, are probably the reason I'm a lifelong Momus fan. There's always a part of me that believes those three records (along with two other Momus records from the same period: Monsters of Love and The Ultraconformist) basically changed my life.

So, as I've often mentioned over the years, I've been some sort of obsessive Momus fan. But it's really the strangest kind of fandom. The early Momus records meant so much to me. But since then he's made a lot of records and I've found some of them unlistenable, many of them just okay, and a few of them pretty good. (I still sometimes listen to Ocky Milk and Hypnoprism.) During so many of those years I found myself extremely frustrated by his recorded output. I wanted him to be a Maoist intellectual in the music industry, but it seems he wanted to be some sort perplexing cross between the Pet Shop Boys and a Scottish/Japanese version of Serge Gainsbourg. However, also during that time, on almost every record, there were at least one or two songs that did mean something to me. (Well, definitely not on every record. But often enough.) Not sure I could even make a full list, but a few that come to mind: Song in Contravention, Platinum, Christmas on Earth, I Am a Kitten, Giapponese A Roma, Paolo, I Want You, But I Don't Need YouMiles FranklinNervous HeartbeatDatapanikGibbous Moon, Precocious Young Miss Calloway, The ThunderclownErase. (I especially like the opening lines of Platinum: "If I told the truth I'd like to live my life again / Walk around my youth in somebody else's skin." Which is perhaps the subtext of this entire post.) Over the years this list of individual Momus songs really starts to add up. Many albums I find it hard to listen to all the way through. And many songs I love listening to on repeat. 

And now there is something else. Because, for some reason, 2020 was the year I really started listening to Momus again. Perhaps it began when I read his sort-of-autobiography Niche. (And soon I'll also read the new book about him: Famous for Fifteen People.) And, even though I've listened to every single Momus record hundreds of times each, whether I like them or not, I started to feel his 2018-2020 run was the first time since the beginning he's put out three records in a row that I genuinely like: Pantaloon, Akkordion and Vivid. I'm not sure I would completely recommend these records to someone who is not already a Momus fan. Still, three Momus albums in a row that I rather like. Nothing in the past thirty years of his recorded output suggested to me that this was ever going to happen again. Coming back again to things that gave me solace when I was younger is perhaps also due to the pandemic. And Vivid is a record entirely about the pandemic. Which has also been a solace. (As he sings on the Vivid track September: "And when you think you've reached the end / It’s only the beginning of the end.") (But then I think of the opening lines of his very first single Morality is Vanity: "Seven million people died in the great war / A bout of influenza quadrupled that score / Why pimp to posterity? / Why should they admire us? / All the heroes of Valhalla / Weigh less than a virus.") Even with these records it's mainly only certain songs: Good Time Coming, Glacier, The Poet, Grand Guignol, Inside, Oblivion, September, Empty Paris, Optimism. But the songs I like continue to add up over the years. And the songs I don't like as much seem to fall away.

All of this has something to do with getting older. Momus is ten years older than I am. I've always felt that, as an artist of any kind, when you get older the most likely thing to happen is that one's artistic work becomes less good over time. You start to repeat yourself and the repetitions bring diminishing returns. Or you try to go in some completely new direction and end up doing something you're not nearly as good at. I'm constantly trying to figure out how I might avoid this rather pessimistic assumption from becoming a self-fulfilling reality. And there is some way Momus is both repeating himself and going in new directions all at the same time. Everything is familiar but you can also feel him so often pushing in new directions. I'm not sure what other sixty-year-old pop musicians continue to be so inventive. 

I met Momus in 2016 in Tokyo when he covered some of my songs as part of the project Every Song I've Ever Written. So maybe that also softened me to him somewhat. It was so amazing to hear him cover my teenage songs, which were in some ways imitation Momus songs, and to hear him turn them into real Momus songs. And then the other day I clicked on his new track Coco The Clown in which he sings the lines: "I lack what I lack / but I am what I am / so cut me some slack / I'll cut you some back." And I thought: maybe I should cut him some slack. Perhaps cut myself some as well. And, at the same time, I feel that possibly the only way to keep making good work as an artist over the course of an entire lifetime is to be vigilant with oneself. I'm not sure.

So perhaps a good way to end these rather unfinished thoughts might be with a few lines from the Momus song Brexochasm:

Finally fulfilling my potential
Success arrives belatedly
I’m seeing in the end that mere survival
is serenity…

[Edit: I wasn't paying as much attention to his work around that time, but it now occurs to me that starting in 2010 Momus had another pretty good three album run with: Hypnoprism, Thunderclown and Bibliotek.]


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