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[whitespace] 'Stars Forever'
If It Ain't Baroque: 'Stars Forever' sees Momus stylishly consolidate his legal bills.

Fop Music

Momus plays the dandy --and just about everyone else-- on 'Stars Forever'

By Christian Bruno

Ponce or the Japanese girl pop star? In either case Momus plays to the hilt, and with delicious pleasure. Though he has had several hits in the UK and Japan over the course of a dozen LPs, the Scottish singer/songwriter/producer has kept a watchful, winking eye on the U.S. as his next conquest. Last year's The Little Red Songbook, his second American release, placed Momus (the musical persona of Nick Currie) in a powdered-wig world of baroque satire and biting sexual innuendo, and planted him in our consciousness with the naughty "hit" "C------ in a Girl's Mouth."

He is also the man on the lips of his cuter-than-Cutie magazine persona Kahimi Karie, penning her hit numbers, including "Good Morning World," the irresistible sugar-coated ode to girldom. Ever a role-player, Momus appreciates the paradoxes as much as the challenges: "With Kahimi, there are so many contrasts: I get to be Eastern although I'm Western, I get to be female although I'm male, I get to be tiny and cute although I'm gangly and not so cute. So much juicy role-playing."

Yet it's often in his non-Momus roles that Momus really shines, as in Kahimi Karie and to a lesser degree in the Thai-born Parisian Laila France, who's propelled by Wilhelm Reich's sex-fueled Orgone energy. Stars Forever, his latest album, incarnates him as a murderous rival to the famous vaudeville star "Maf": "A variety of PacMan, I swallowed him down/there and then, when I gunned/poor Matthew down") as well as a landlubber lapping up salty sailors. The song stylings of Momus are best suited to these nasty first-person tales.

Both he and Karie have been touring the U.S. this fall, riding the surfable wave of new Japanese pop, along with rocker Cornelius and the dance club-oriented Fantastic Plastic Machine. The last two acts have cited Momus as an influence, returning the inspiration by including him in their U.S. invasion. He is virtually unknown here, but that looks to change.

Last year, while talking about The Little Red Songbook, Momus declined to speak about a song titled "Walter Carlos." Little did I know at the time, the track in question--a seemingly harmless time-travel fantasia in which Switched-On Bach composer Wendy Carlos marries her pre-op self, Walter--was spending time in litigious purgatory. The electronic music pioneer Ms. Carlos has legally restrained Mr. Momus from even mentioning it, probably aware of his penchant for attention. The legal bills were as stifling as the gag order. But with resilience hardly in short supply, Momus ultimately devised a solution and an opportunity to save his own record label, Le Grand Magistery.

On Jan. 1, 1999, Momus posted on his website an offer to write a song about anyone interested. Interested and with money, that is. For a paltry $1,000, Momus would paint your portrait through his witty lyrics and electro-pop sounds. Under the pretense of "patronage," as if he were some Old Master, Momus sought to raise the money to cover his legal losses. The 30 musical portraits, each titled with the name of their "sitter," are collected on the double CD Stars Forever. Though at times a tedious listen, the songs are definitely awash with the paradoxes Momus relishes. The stunt probably brought this stardom-seeker more press--including coverage by Spin magazine and the BBC--than a hundred hit records.

"I kind of inverted Warhol's formula, 'In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,' to 'In the future everyone will be famous to 15 people.' " At the time, this applied to his own status, ambitious while addressing a growing cult following stateside. Even in his tune "Ms. X, An Ex-Lover" (from The Little Red Songbook), he describes a specifically restrictive relationship during a period while he "was working on getting famous."

The repellent quality of Stars Forever lies in the premise and the titles themselves. Does one, even a Momus fan, want to spend money on songs about Adam Green, Miles Franklin or Mika Akutsu, that is, strangers? Especially people who have $1,000 to blow like this? In many cases, the portraits are of companies, resulting in a convoluted form of advertising: the N.Y. record store Other Music, for example. Even Girlie Action, Momus' own publicity company, gets a quite fitting paean.

Momus is undeniably a great songwriter working within the pop idiom. His lyrics and music wind neatly together, often drawing in cultural, specifically pop music, references in a clever blend. The Carpenters in the piano-based "Shawn Krueger" get this clever nod: "If I were a Carpenter or Elton John." Also, the fact that he performs and produces all his music is often overlooked, making him more DIY than any East Bay punk-rock group. The Casio-driven ragtime of "Milton Jacobson" frames the tale of vaudeville nostalgia sweetly. He reprises a pet sound from The Little Red Songbook: the synth harpsichord. The postmodern baroque is especially dutiful on "Jeff Koons," where Momus muses on Koons' famous porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

Even cuter is the half-tragic portrait of Kokoro Hirai. The poor Japanese girl was unable to send Momus her biographical material, due to hospitalization. Her relatives supplied the info, regretfully informing him that Kokoro Hirai eats too much chocolate, the cause of her illness. What ensues is a cautionary tale to young girls, wrapped in plaintive words that resemble "Miss Otis Regrets": "Kokuro Hirai cannot write today.... We are writing to see if you can help her stop it."

Could Stars Forever be the time capsule sealing Momus up far into the future? With a fop persona that people can either love or hate, or love to hate, he has definitely made a mark on the underground international music scene. That seems to be his tactic, along with songs bordering on the capricious. "[I] actually try and make people totally uncertain and rather distressingly lost in what they should feel by having beautiful music with really kind of scary, ugly, perverse scenarios being described over the top of it, for instance. Or just kind of confusing the issues."

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From the November 22, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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