October 13, 1998

CitySearch Music

by Kat Kinsman

"Nicholas, don't be ridiculous," Nicholas Currie, a.k.a Momus, admonishes in "The Animal That Desires" from his 1997 album, "Ping Pong." No doubt, though, the canny Scot realizes that it is precisely this brand of extravagant farce which distinguishes him amidst the current spate of aesthete popsters. His low and intimate techno-intellectual tinged croons have garnered him a legion of rapt fans and vehement critics since the early '80s. While The Divine Comedy wryly dissect, and Belle and Sebastian coolly sentimentalize the motions of desire, Momus stands out as the sole chronicler of the sensual absurdity of popping a boner on the subway. On his new album, "The Little Red Songbook," he croons about a love gone wrong—"Not even Vaseline and a lot of mutual pain/could put Humpty Dumpty together again/Like a square peg forced into a round hole/This into that just wouldn't go"—and offers a droll (and thinly-disguised) account of the self-pleasuring proclivities of "Harry K-Tel, the method actor."

The frank accounting of sexual outlandishness is by no means new territory for the 38-year-old performer. From his early days in the Edinburgh band, the Happy Family; to the years at seminal Brit-pop labels él, Creation, 4AD, and Cherry Red; to the songs he's penned for breathy Japanese chanteuse Kahimi Karie, Momus has never shied away from mapping the physiology of lust. Now with an ever-burgeoning base of European and Japanese fans behind him, he is setting out once more to woo the American people into his circle of tender perversion. The Shopping in AmeriKKa Tour, also featuring Karie and French neo-cabaret dandy Gilles Weinzaepflen, hits Fez for four nights this week.

On his last tour of the States, Momus was summoned to Chicago for a session with legendary sculptor/rock-and-roll curator Cynthia Plaster Caster. CitySearch sat down with him to get the long and short of it.

CitySearch: Of course I'm going to ask you a few music-related questions, but what the kids really want to know is, what about Cynthia Plaster Caster?
Momus: Oh my God...Well, actually I was, I think, disappointing to Cynthia, because I think there was potential for her collection, which obviously includes people like Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and all those people. Essentially it wasn't a very erotic experience for me, so I wasn't at my best. In fact, she sent me a little photo strip with herself in a photo booth with my cast on her head and on her nose, and it wasn't actually much bigger than her nose. Sort of an elephant's trunk kind of effect.

CS: Ouch! That can't be good for the ego. But how did she get wind of the fact that maybe you would be someone she'd want to work with, and that she might need to be stocking up on extra plaster?

Gilles and Momus in Hollywood
M: I really don't know. I think someone told her I would be a good person to do. So far as I know, it's still the only cast she's done this year and she doesn't do them that often, so that is rather flattering. Actually, I have a suspicion that it's because I was on Creation Records, and it has an offshoot called Creation Press which is a racy, sadistic kind of imprint, and does books by Gilles de Rais and his followers. The people at Creation were always really obsessed by this legend of, well, my legendary penis, and when you're on a record label for eight years like I was, and you date people who are friends of (Alan) McGee—who runs the label—rumors get back. McGee was more interested in that than he was in my music. So I think Cynthia has been negotiating with Creation Press since she's writing her autobiography, so they probably said, "we know this guy...." She was actually kind of nervous about it.

CS: So what was it about for you? What was your role in the process?

M: I kind of felt that rock and roll has now become the new academic painting. All those gestures of rebellion are actually totally conformist now, and in a way, Cynthia Plaster Caster represents that. She's gone from the really wild, innovative time of rock and roll into the time where it's basically the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Everything in rock and roll now is like plaster. It's like a museum. In a way I felt that the solidification, the lack of spontaneity, my lack of enthusiasm summed up the lack of real sexual energy there is in rock music.

CS: So then what do you think is truly exciting these days? What do you find out there that's shocking?

M: Well, hey, the web is the new rock and roll!

CS: How are you trying to push the web to be more like rock and roll?

M: As far as rock and roll being about primal expression and spontaneity, which it used to be, to me the web is totally about that because I just get an idea and within seconds I can put it on my website.

CS: Well, you have to have the technological background. The medium is fairly organic, but it's built upon a solid framework.

M: The framework, for me is now totally transparent. I got my first Mac relatively late, in '93, and spent about two or three years just learning how it thought and how it worked and now I don't even have to think about it. I just have to think about what I want to say. It's become like a pen and the ink goes straight out into the world and it's totally international, and it's self-publishing—vanity publishing. Ultimately, it's about the written word for me.

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