The name Nick Currie, much like his alias of “Momus,” draws little more from most Americans than a confused head tilt, clouded eyes or general disinterest. Until now, Momus – who took his appellation from Greek mythology's sarcastic little god who venomously mocked other gods, resulting in his permanent expulsion from Mount Olympus – has remained a mystery upon our shores, although his output includes over a dozen albums, multiple contributions to other musical acts, and influence, influence, influence. 1998 marks his second domestic release, Ping Pong (Le Grand Magistery), and an American tour, dubbed “Amerikong,” which together could result in his gaining well-deserved fans beyond those lucky enough to have unearthed his works previously.
Currie, a tall, lanky, oversize-bespectacled Scot, speaks gently, dishing up a host of politely phrased explanations when questions are aimed his way, though he has no problem expounding on the joys of rape, sexual jealousy, hatred and the other immoral horrors within his songs. He once labeled himself “a sort of compulsive confessor, but to the extent that I confess even things I haven't done”; his catalogue of recordings attests to said mindset and has gained him such fans as Pulp, the Magnetic Fields and the Pet Shop Boys.
In the early '80s, Currie was busy at work with the Happy Family on 4AD, releasing a single, “Puritans,” and a full-length LP, The Man on Your Street. Shortly thereafter, Currie made the name switch to Momus and released The Beast With 3 Backs on the “loungecore” label el Records. Momus then became a Creation act and scored his first hit, “The Hairstyle of the Devil,” a catchy, curious little ditty dealing with Momusy themes of sex and jealousy. Several other Momus staples were hatched at Creation, including “The Homosexual,” which tells the story of a much-abused Englishman who, labeled gay because of his fey mannerisms, exacts his revenge by sleeping with his tormentors' women, showing them a much better time to boot.
A segue: In fact, for quite some time, Currie's sexuality was rather befuddling. Says Currie, dressed in a women's shirt, “I'm sexually fairly heterosexual, but culturally and emotionally quite homosexual. I've always been attracted to the homosexual culture, because it's a culture which puts private activity at the heart of its public identity, and that's a brave and necessary thing to do, because a lot of the problems in the world come from people separating their cock from their balls. In public they talk about things that in private they're not doing, so out gay people are a great antidote to that.” Further causing fans to go googly-eyed in pondering his preference is the presence of his touring partner, tall, lanky, sexually ambiguous Frenchman Gilles, “the handsome Parisian.” Together, the cabaret-friendly duo flirt up a suspicious storm in between performing their respective tunes. Currie admits an attraction to the offhandedly innocent Gilles, saying, “I think he looks really good, and I like him a lot, and we're almost like a couple . . . but there isn't a sexual element. It's homosocial rather than homosexual.”
In 1995 Momus hopped to Cherry Red with The Philosophy of Momus, a 19-song effort that perhaps best represents his range of styles – confessional, cabaret, satire and even love songs – and then Slender Sherbert, which boasted modern re-dos of many Momus classics. Finally, in 1997, domestic label Le Grand Magistery treated us to a vast sampler of alternate takes, rare tracks and assorted Momus hodgepodge with 20 Vodka Jellies, leading up to Ping Pong's near return to the el days of loungecore.
Momus ponders this regression and offers, “I think that what I did was rediscover the original motives for making Momus records, which were more satirical, more to do with storytelling, and more to do with taking conventional productions and turning them on their heads. 'My Pervert Doppelganger' could be a music-hall routine from 1908, or the London vaudeville stage.” The slap-happy composition chronicles its author's apparent schizophrenia, or possibly that of his clone, who's on a sexual rampage, resulting in much confusion and unjust repercussions (“Whenever that pervert shows his face my friends all think he's me”). “His Majesty the Baby” is a seething “A Modest Proposal”-type satire of baby hatred (“Crooked smiles from toothless gums/A grating voice and a stinky bum”), its malicious lyrical content carried by an unexpectedly bouncing bass and smile-stirring musical whirl.
As an introduction to Momus' catalogue, Ping Pong is strangely unrepresentative of things recently past – there are few straightforward pop songs, and the album is almost entirely consistent in its style, whereas previous outings usually prescribed to a smorgasbord philosophy. However, since sexuality figures heavily into Momus' most memorable tunes, “The Animal That Desires” surely ranks as classic (“For I, uniquely, must carry the rose/I, uniquely, have a cock beneath my clothes/and dream uniquely lewd dreams in front of multiplex screens”), and there's plenty of evidence attesting to Momus' complex literary sense.
Less cabaret in style and instrumentation is “Space Jews,” a rather melodic ode to Jewish folks, seen as extraterrestrial, who were “sent to walk amongst us/to improve the human race/they're bringing us a message of love.” Although tinged with a typically skewed charm, there's something oddly touching about this tune. “My utopia is a world in which everybody is part of some weird subgroup, and they all accept that about each other,” Currie says sweetly. “In a way, the States is that world. It's a country of misfits all kind of communicating and working together and accepting their differences. Europe is still not quite like that. Instead there's a white European mainstream, and people of different colors and persuasions are kind of the outsiders. It worries me . . . I think we have to say these people are different, but what about it? So what?”
As for his extracurricular activities, Currie's been writing songs for such diverse performers as Japanese hit chick Kahimi Karie and French wanna-rocker Laila France. “I like to write for somebody. It's almost like an art director or stylist saying, 'Let's dress somebody like a Barbie doll.' Kahimi Karie is almost my Japanese Barbie doll, and I can tell her what dress she's gonna be wearing. It's a kind of psychic and cultural transvestitism which goes on when I work, because I get to be a cute Japanese girl. That fascinates me, having my fantasy endorsed by this person who goes along with it.” Additionally, he's remixed Pizzicato 5's “Trailer Music” single and collaborated with Jacques, whose home's another intellipop label, Setanta.
Things are happening, wheels are turning, and Momus is finally rolling into Los Angeles. Stir up some friends for the occasion – until Stephen Duffy or Boo Hewardine break through, Momus represents America's greatest hope for smart, aesthetic material, bitten with wit, decorated by originality, and unlike anything you've ever heard. This epiphany caused me to shift and ask him how he feels about this sudden dam breaking. “Well, since I'm nominated as one of Time Out New York's 98 people to watch in '98, in the intro to which they say, 'This is fresh, young, new talent and a few old dogs who've learned new tricks,' I guess I come under the latter category. My sensibility was maybe a little bit ahead of its time with the loungecore thing in the '80s, and that's sort of come back.
“Also, I think what's happened is that my fans tend to start off as nerdy, misunderstood adolescents but in later life end up being editors for magazines and TV programs, so my media profile now is amazingly exaggerated. Every single person who ever bought a Momus record is now either in Pulp or in Suede, or they're running the arts pages of the local newspaper. I'm delighted that there's a certain momentum in my career, that it's never tailed off. It's always been a very gentle upward slope, but at this rate of improvement I'll probably be 'famous' in 2037, when I'm dead.”
Momus makes an in-store appearance at No Life Records on Wednesday, February 18, and performs at LunaPark on Thursday, February 19.