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Yikes! Momus John Robinson says Momus, our ambassador from the world of outsider pop is spoiling us

Yikes! Momus

John Robinson says Momus, our ambassador from the world of outsider pop is spoiling us

by John Robinson,
first published: May, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

Inspired by the state of the world, Yikes! is comic, serious, doom laden and optimistic.

Yikes ArtYikes! / 20 Frisky Whiskies
Darla Records
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Another year, and two new albums from Momus, sold together by Darla Records and containing 36 tracks between them. Our ambassador from the world of outsider pop is spoiling us! We have Yikes! – his new, state-of-the-nation album, and 20 Frisky Whiskies – an album of re-workings, curios and oddities which is a sequel of sorts to his 1996 compilation 20 Vodka Jellies.

Inspired by the state of the world, Yikes! is comic, serious, doom laden and optimistic. The title itself has been chosen for its multiple interpretations, an almost understated response to the dreadful state of things. On this new album, Momus has been inspired by the soundtrack to Poor Things by Jerskin Fendrix, with the unusual sounds he has obtained from orchestral instruments, and by the songs of Léo Ferré amongst others. Despite that, this is not an experimental album, it’s driven by electro-pop, and the biggest surprise here is a use of AI. Like his 2010 album Hypnoprism, this is an album of hooks, of pop catnip, but also there is the spectre of war and apocalypse, zombie annihilation, and horrific imagery.

He opens with Codependency, in which he rails against therapy and therapeutic methods. He sees them as providing facile solutions, re-naming normal human sensations in order to sell medication. For example, renaming love as “co-dependency”. The music borrows from French pop, from Brel, and maybe a touch of Abba’s The Day Before You Came. Since any aspect of our normal lives could become pathologized, and its treatment then monetized, the song brings in horror imagery, as the relationship it outlines becomes schizoid, to the extent that the singer no longer knows whose body part is whose: “The way I care for you, Can't you see?, More than I care for myself, There's nobody else, But whose hands are these?”.

Becoming You is an album highlight for me, given the recent Post Office scandal, the song follows and is from the point of view of an individual who works within such a corrupt system, not responsible for its existence, but responsible for its administration and slowly realising their culpability within the system: “Enacting your corruption by the hour, Added up to nothing, at the end of every day, But an urgent need to take an endless shower”. With samples from Leo Chadburn among others, it’s a deeply moral song, similar in theme to Civil Servant by Richard Dawson although less immediately angry, more insidious. Like many of us “hoping to get through, without becoming you”.

On Staring a Hole he discusses the importance of human contact, the phrase “staring a hole” into someone allowing him to consider the consequence and threat of eye contact while quoting the Marx Brothers. Although the actual backing here is quite pedestrian, the song cleverly dissects a personal issue for Nick Currie: the need to hide his eye. Being a person with a disability which affects the seat of the soul while being a professional communicator is a dichotomy he addresses here.

Before the War describes our current time as a golden age between the virus and the apocalypse. The executioner is personified as the coming war: “A mass murderer in the Kremlin, A dodderer in the White House, The Middle East a slaughterhouse, again”: delivering this message against samples from French tango, the past colliding and reforming, while also genuinely decrying the opioid crisis, and the homelessness that is a symptom of the death of our capitalist democratic system. Can a class in itself ever really become a class for itself?

Beautiful Human Life is a gorgeous, shiny, ring-modulated electro-pop song which takes its inspiration from a Japanese advert for aftershave, with its tagline being the title. The advert soundtrack mixes with the beat from a Linn drum machine, matched to a poignant lyric about life carrying on without us: “I've had a wonderful life, You made it so beautiful, Let's pass the baton”, with Richard Burton sampled reciting from Hamlet as well, “What a piece of work is a man..”.

Sark. E. Myth is in the style of Mark E. Smith of the Fall. The lyrics concern Mark walking through hell with Damo Suzuki. The music is chaotic, mindlessly repetitive and driving, reminding me of Good Morning World. It’s an extraordinary rush of words.

The AI usage comes on Mondegreen. There is a video on YouTube in which AI continues Blue Monday by New Order, inverting the melody, and Momus has used that here. Concerns about reality, identity and copyright are addressed. A fully loaded pop song: “We've got to dance 'til the walls, Crumble and fall… dancing on borrowed time”. It’s unusually constructed, artistically arranged and the breakdown is amazing. There’s a hint of the 80s returning: the nuclear bomb hangs over us, we are dancing on borrowed time, there are echoes of all those 80s nuclear bomb pop songs.

Threnody harks back to Folktronic musically (possibly inspired by my book about the period!) and is a melange of images and ideas. While the music may be very like previous endeavours – in his own words on YouTube – the “latest in a long series of honking” – the lyrics of this lamentation are mesmeric. Introducing the album’s central theme “Yikes! The executioner has come around again”, he includes Duchamp’s beautifully smashed sculpture The Large Glass: “Strip me like a bachelor and smash me like a glass”, he also quotes from an obscure reworking of the Odyssey and even includes the Groke, the grey solitary antagonist of the Moomins.

Chthonian, in which we witness a zombie invasion on the London Underground, reuses a sound effect from a song on Hippopotamomus, a progression from a song on Oskar Tennis Champion, and combines all this revisionism to keep us beneath the earth. The screen obsessed zombies of the underground are the target, but the singer feels safe against them because “I knew I was a citizen, and nothing bad can ever happen to them”. It’s interesting and timely to compare this lyric and analogy to the opening episode of the last series of Inside No.9, Boo to a Goose. Sleepwalking to our demise.

Canterville is similarly Gothic and haunted: a children’s cautionary tale with horrific imagery, directly inspired by the tales of Struwwelpeter. “You're a naughty boy, you spoodge in a sock, Off with your fingers now, chop chop chop!”. Waterspout uses a nursery rhyme structure as well, his girlfriend providing backing vocals to this dark analogy, we are all spider flesh, and everything is “up the spout”, we are all to be washed away. We also have a tribute to composer Nina Rota, a jazz age meditation about the isolation of the ear pod, the ability to escape into a world created by genius composers. 

The past encroaches often on the album, It’s Impossible is a song originally written for Noriko Sekiguchi - The Poison Girlfriend – in the early 90s, a stately, majestic and doomed ballad of impossible love, containing his view (now revised!) of the Japanese psyche as detached and incapable of, or barred from, passionate expression “Though my life is cold and lonely, Though my life is quiet and still I dream I have you here to hold me, I know it's impossible”. It is of a piece with the songs he wrote for his own album Timelord at that time, similarly dark songs related to his “forbidden” relationship with Shazna Nessa, who he was later to marry.

MomusThe Dinosaurs casts humanity in the role of doomed raptors, creating the climate crisis: effectively launching and then ignoring the comet that will destroy us, inspired no doubt by Don’t Look Up, using When You Wish Upon A Star and Disney motifs. This is followed by a brief, almost sarcastically cheerful welcome to the Third World War in A Little Rain, mocking the “heavy rain” as a “flash, a puff of smoke and that’s the end of us”, representing the blasé attitude of most older people after living all their lives under the Cold War and the threat of annihilation.

There seems to be a tradition recently of every Momus album containing at least one James Bond inspired track. On Yikes! we get This Isn’t Goodbye. The lush, sweeping instrumentation with its John Barry intervals back a lyric reminding us of things that are returning: war, the nuclear threat, Trump. The song asks if we would return to life to fight evil, like King Arthur reborn: to be born only to die again: asking if there is anything worth dying for? Our moment will come, “To be dying again, Heaven knows why, Heaven knows when”. The song shifts through different key changes, the vocal sounding unsure where it is going and where to land, representing the uncertainty we all face currently.

Yikes! is a strong set of statements about uncertainty, the songs sometimes meander, the lyrics can be tumultuous and overwhelming, but that is all in service of portraying our current state of affairs perfectly. At the same time, the album harks to the past, even the cover is an 80s mural from the Paris Metro, with the LWT logo spliced in and Momus lying Lodger-like across it. The songs tie together to convey the feeling that history is cyclic, as the cold war returns, the climate changes, and fools and maniacs take power.

Along with Yikes! we get 20 Frisky Whiskies: a set of bonus tracks recorded over the last couple of decades. Notably there is Murder in The Village – a funny, hyper-critical takedown of Brexit. There is a re-recording of Superstars of Bollywood, a classic Momus track from the 90s, and a new version of Pure Selfishness, a wonderful song from the Shyness album he recorded with The Poison Girlfriend.  There’s Trump, a very direct song about the ex-President which can be compared to the song Bullet for Narcissus on the new Pet Shop Boys album if you like and The Stars Are Out – a song recorded in 2013 attempting to anticipate what the new David Bowie single would sound like. Literally something for everyone: even the slightest Momus songs contain interesting ideas, and the quality of his continued and prolific output is staggering.


Essential Information
Every mention of Momus, some more substantial than others, in Outsideleft, here→

John Robinson

Based in Scunthorpe, England. A writer and reviewer, working as a Computer Science and Media Lecturer and Educator. Sometimes accused of being a music writer called John Robinson, which is not helped by being a music writer called John Robinson. @thranjax
about John Robinson »»

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