Log in

Look back in opus numbers - click opera
February 2010
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:04 am
Look back in opus numbers

Don't Look Back, an event organized by All Tomorrow's Parties, is "the season that invites artists to perform seminal records live in their entirety". Coming up later this year they've got House of Love performing their first Creation album and Sonic Youth performing Daydream Nation.

But why's it called "Don't Look Back"? Surely "Do Look Back" would sum up better what this kind of event is all about? Where did this idea begin? And how would I feel if someone invited me to perform, say, "Circus Maximus" or "Ping Pong" in a penguin suit at the Royal Festival Hall?

I feel pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. It clearly represents a museumification -- if not a mummification -- of pop music, a shift to the kind of classical music mindset where performers are reduced to interpreters of a canon, doing a "repertory" of set, venerated masterpieces. Bob Dylan performs his Opus 6! (Implication: when he's dead and gone, someone else will perform it with the same reverence. Or possibly more.) It's part of the Mojo-retro-necro shift I've noticed happening to this once-vital art form, and to that extent I deplore it.

I think you can see the process taking shape in the 1990s, when Philip Glass made (rather bad) symphonic versions of Bowie and Eno's albums Low (recorded fresh and spontaneous in 1976, made into a bad symphony in 1992) and "Heroes" (recorded fresh and spontaneous in 1977, made into a bad symphony in 1996). Bowie performed the Low album in its entirety when he came to Berlin in 2003.

It isn't just the kind of person who reads Mojo and wants rock music to be "classic" who wants this kind of event to happen, though. Fine art, when it turns its attention to popular music, is currently very interested in the idea of "faithful" reconstructions. Take my friends Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. By day they actually work in the music industry. By night they're artists, and you're likely to find them staging a reconstruction of the Ziggy farewell concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, or a live re-enactment of The Cramps' seminal 1978 performance at Napa Mental Institute.

Note that word "seminal", which crops up both in the BBC's plug for Forsyth and Pollard and the blurb for Don't Look Back. "Seminal" is a nasty word, a word that suggests that artists shoot their load and can then only do a sort of "repetition-gurning" thing whereby they mime the resulting orgasm for coins for the rest of their lives. "Seminal" annoys me the same way "iconic" annoys me. "Iconic" is the favourite word of the appalling Kirsty Wark on the dreadful Newsnight Review, the BBC's dismal arts review programme. "Iconic" basically means "something famous, something you'll have heard of even if you aren't much into art and culture". It plugs right into repetition culture, celebrity culture, Top 10 lists, soundbites.

So when artists are invited to perform (for coins) their "seminal" and "iconic" albums, they're basically being told to knuckle under and accept that they probably only made one statement loud enough to reach the back of the hall -- or even to fill the hall -- one statement the people who don't particularly care about art might care to hear. Of course, some artists do only make one important statement, one good album, or have one hit song that touches sublimity and gets inside everybody and makes the Classic Radio playlists. It's a dismal thing, that, almost a curse. I'd much rather have, you know, The Fall. Or me. Productivity, process, pluralism, those are the things. In fact, given that Eno believes so much in process and texture, I'd imagine he must have been appalled, secretly, by Philip Glass's vulgar treatment of Low and "Heroes". He's probably too diplomatic to say it, though. And I genuinely believe Bowie was delighted by the whole thing.

Then again, there are some things to be said for the pop opus trend. First of all, it reminds musicians that they aren't just satisfying themselves when they make music. A finished record becomes the property of the public who embraces it. And some records are embraced much more widely and forcefully than others. Why not allow the public to time travel by revisiting a record they particularly liked, a record that became a part of their lives? It could be a powerful communal experience.

Secondly, if this does represent a museumification of pop music, is that necessarily a bad thing? Sure, vitality is great ("energy is eternal delight", says Blake's hellish proverb). But a certain kind of calm, dead quality can be lovely too. I've waxed lyrical about embalming fluid often enough in these pages, in essays like Classicism and Atrocity and Museums are better than clubs. Who needs raw spontaneous animal vitality when deadness and classicism can be so marble-lovely?

Thirdly, I did have an idea recently, an idea for a series of art shows that would take place over the next twenty years. Each show would reproduce an album of mine. The gallery would be full of contemporaneous memorabilia, and I'd be sitting there, singing that year's songs. The idea would be to try to recapture and capitalize, in the art world, on an unfulfilled potential, an excessive, over-qualified creativity squandered in the ephemeral pop world. Turning failure into success, I would offer myself that impossibility, a second bite at the cherry.

But why save such a good idea for the art world? I'd like to announce, today, that I am prepared to accept commissions to perform selected albums from my back catalogue in their entirety in chandelier-filled concert halls. Should I receive such a commission, I shall restore the records as painstakingly as the Donald Sutherland character in "Don't Look Now" restores Venetian frescoes. I shall scour eBay for the exact electronic devices I used to record said albums, and turn thrift stores inside out to find the shabby corduroy suits and ill-advised early acid house ravewear I was sporting as I recorded them. Wigs reproducing the perm and dye jobs I let Vidal Sassoon hairdressing students crop and chop into my hair will be acquired and adapted. I shall re-read diaries to get into the exact emotional state I was in when I was "the tender pervert" and "the poison boyfriend".

The fee I will require for each reconstructed album will be one million dollars. Eternity doesn't come cheap, you know.


Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)

None of this recreation stuff out of you. I wanna hear more remixes and see some Curly Carl breakdance videos. Wearing your Berufskleidung of course. :)

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)


Yes, I'm still alive. You're quite right. But for a million dollars, I'd play dead, live in concert.

ReplyThread Parent

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:20 am (UTC)

I prefer to see this more as a reaction to the fragmentation of pop over the last few years, an attempt to reintroduce coherence and focus to a BODY of work. Certain contemporary musicians have begun performing new records in their entirety too. It seems natural to me that mp3 culture will have its corollary in the return to the opus. Your positive take on this would be far more interesting than the more obvious reaction in your post. Funnily enough, me and some friends were joking yesterday that you'd be waiting by the phone once you heard about the House of Love gig!

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)

Paragraphs 8,9, and 10 are positive. 11 shades over into sarcasm, it's true, but I think I can see some good points in the opus system's favour. It's certainly a way to create a slightly more special evening than "Here's an artist who'll play a bunch of songs, old and new."

ReplyThread Parent Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

Kurious Oranj - (Anonymous) Expand
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:51 am (UTC)

I think the fee should should be in guineas.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 12:10 pm (UTC)

One million dollars is 473,332 guineas, give or take the odd wooden thrupenny bit.

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 12:18 pm (UTC)
die roboter rubo

what do you think of terre taemlitz piano varioations of kraftwerk?

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
Re: die roboter rubo

I bought her Gary Numan record at a time when I was also buying, for instance, the Senor Coconut and Balanescu Quartet Kraftwerk records. Late 90s. I'm now rather bored with that whole thing. Avant-novelty cover versions, essentially.

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 12:50 pm (UTC)
Don't Look Now...

So who, or what, will haunt you while you restore your frescoes from the past? And will you meet the same untimely end that Donald did? Don't Look Now must be one of the most truly frightening movies I've ever seen... I felt like I needed a Lysol shower afterward, or to scrape off the outer 3 or 4 layers of epidermis. I'm not sure if I should be disturbed that I almost enjoyed the steamy Sutherland-Julie Christie love scene.

Bête Noire
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC)

The entire idea does seem to be a gigantic waste of time, and even if the album selected is a shining example of the old, what would it sound like now?

It is sad to listen to some artists perform their older songs, songs written before their sweeping world tours that have ended with their voices sounding tired, and no longer as capable. It does not happen to everyone, but should be taken into consideration.

I just wonder how many people are going to be Looking Back In Anger?


Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)

The sleeve for The Ultraconformist is just atrocious.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 01:49 pm (UTC)

It is, but it's a cracking album.

ReplyThread Parent

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 02:38 pm (UTC)

It's always the heavy guitar bands that are held up to classic status, too. I mean, early-mid Sonic Youth is great, but there's "classic" electronic-based music, too ... it just seems to be considered more ephemeral. Unless, of course, it fuses it with rock ala Stereolab (even then, they're sealed in the tomb of the 90s).

I wonder if we'll swing away from guitars again - it's getting so boring, just a few guys wanking with some WaCkY pedals.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)

there is collusion between the WaCkY pedal industry and the music press

ReplyThread Parent
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)

A major part of the problem with an event like Don't Look Back is that so much pop music (to use a very general term) exists on a continuum of "unpolished" (amateurish, exuberant) and "polished" (professional, calculated). So a band like Sonic Youth, who have become considerably more polished over the course of their career, performing one of their unpolished works runs the risk of coming off like an overly reverent symphonic interpretation of themselves. I can see the right artist being able to do interesting things with the concept--interesting things that aren't what you call "avant-novelty cover versions"--but interesting things would sadly end with a lot of dissatisfied museum-goers.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC)

> "Seminal" is a nasty word, a word that suggests that artists shoot their load and can then only do a sort of "repetition-gurning" thing whereby they mime the resulting orgasm for coins for the rest of their lives.

very well put. i have been thinking about the tragedy of this situation all week. it is not art, it is artifice, and exemplifies the real meaning of the word pretentious.

ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

Sorry I missed that picnic
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)

I think you're missing the appeal here--it's not that of hearing a work you're familiar with, but hearing a work you're familiar with in a new way. Most albums have very different arcs than bands ennact in their live shows, and a lot of classic albums have tracks that bands have never played live, or at least not very rarely. If you want to criticize something, criticize the fact that people are coming to see a setlist rather than a band. But bands can and do perform the albums differently than they were recorded, and the fact that there are built-in expectations allows them to play with this--see, for instance, when Jay-Z performed Reasonable Doubt in its entirety last year in New York. I think it's a concept that can be abused, but most concepts can, and by and large, this one hasn't yet. By making these "event" concerts they're granting the performers license to play around with the existing material.

Sorry I missed that picnic
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)

or at least not very rarely

Er, no "not" there obviously. Also, the point about the albums v. live shows is that putting rules on a performance like "you have to play this album start to finish" can force a band out of its habits and make for a new experience.

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 04:01 pm (UTC)

Will you be making a Curly Carl album? Or maybe a song or two as Carl?

P.S. Love the Timelord cover.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC)

Is there a way to buy your albums, Nick, given that I don't have any credit cards and that I live in Ottawa? I want more than the albums I got in Japan.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)

The Creation ones -- from Poison Boyfriend to Timelord -- are out of print and unavailable. The others should be available through Cherry Red or Darla. You can buy mp3s through iTunes and eMusic.

ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)

It is too much emtional attachment to the old. When will people realise that ideas are so much funnier to show than mere catharsis?

alin huma
Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 05:02 pm (UTC)

a shift to the kind of classical music mindset

but also the apotheosis of the remix (era).

you know, someone's probably come up with the cash so have you thought of the location for that momus art school?

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)

I suppose it's only a remix in the sense that reconstruction comes full circle. You know, take it half way and it's deconstruction, take it all the way and it's reconstruction. Back where you started. But with more wrinkles.

Maybe I could hold the art school in your 20m2 apartment in Ginza in May? How many could we squeeze in there? A hundred, if they're small?

ReplyThread Parent Expand

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)

Hey, now wait a minute -- I thought you already committed MySpace-icide!


Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
Look back in opus numbers

Hi Nick

Whilst I do agree with you, especially about words like 'classic' and 'rock', I for one would like to hear some of your old stuff. I remember first seeing you playing with Primal Scream at Dingwalls years ago and Murders just moved me completely. I have since followed the trajectory of your career and whilst not always as moved, there are still far more works of genius then not. I would love to hear Cibachrome, Karin, Noah, Amongst women and a host of others. You as an artist wish to cover new ground and I hoped that the recent post about mp3s would be added to your show sets. I live in hope, and failing that, Hang low isnt half bad either. Thank you for the music, Keith.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 06:19 pm (UTC)

'Seminal' certainly connotes 'masturbatory.'

But I'd love to see Slint do Spiderland anyway.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
$1 million an album

$ 1 million really?

What about Stars Forever, how much did that make you?
30 songs x $1000 = $30,000, by my math.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)

I'm glad there's at least one other person who really dislikes Glass for a reason other than that it's 'boring.'

But I'd really like to know what you think of Stockhausen's statement about how we should listen to 'old' music one day a year and listen to now music the other 364 days.

I mean, I'm not accusing you of calling for 'oral tradition and folk themes only, please,' but you've got to hear the old to use it in any way, you know? I mean, the live vs. recorded mediums don't have to be so fixed, and if you just weren't there for it (missed the show or the release date of the 7''), should those who were have exclusive hold over it? Oh well.

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)

Stockhausen's suggestion comes from Marinetti, I think. Here's the Futurist Manifesto:

"Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know. Reciprocal ferocity of the painters and sculptors who murder each other in the same museum with blows of line and color. To make a visit once a year, as one goes to see the graves of our dead once a year, that we could allow! We can even imagine placing flowers once a year at the feet of the Gioconda! But to take our sadness, our fragile courage and our anxiety to the museum every day, that we cannot admit! Do you want to poison yourselves? Do you want to rot?"

ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

Thu, Feb. 22nd, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)

Of course the one prevailing -if I might rather prosaic- reason behind said artists' desire to revisit past opus numbers is a deficiency of ideas.
It always fascinated me how the music of so many pop musicians became more threadbare of concept with each successive album, you can feel the writing of the music becoming a chore..
How much easier to plug back into that record that the hacks loved and that dove-tailed into the zeitgeist of then.
The audience for this patronisation of the past is a safe bet, the pre and post-turn-of-millenium retro-eclecticism (a la The Top 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time)never really went away.
Nostalgia is an industry and the calendrical span of time for which nostalgia becomes applicable seems to have become ever shorter.
Cable T.V. features programmes with titles such as 'I Remember 2005' so perhaps you need not dig too deep for those journals, Ocky Milk will be a retro-Momus classic by...oh next Tuesday week.
Thomas Scott.

Fri, Feb. 23rd, 2007 12:08 am (UTC)

I think I might have "Fear of Music". OD'd too many times on fileshare.
I wonder why people are still clinging to it and then I hear some Ravel.
Maybe music is like dietary fats. One can suffer from too much of the saturated stuff.

Have you seen the Paul Morley piece from the Observer doing the rounds in blogland?
"almost entirely about online music criticism"

I think the point Morley may be making is we should get back to hating music again.

Fri, Feb. 23rd, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)

If you just know a couple pieces by Ravel, please do yourself a huge favor and dl Le Tombeau de Couperin, preferably the orchestrated version. It's just about one of my favorite pieces of music, out of everything. e-mail me at halcyon@uchicago.edu if you can't find it and I'll send it to you.

ReplyThread Parent

Fri, Feb. 23rd, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)

What, no picture of your lookback album 'Slender Sherbet' ?


Tue, Feb. 27th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)

I think you can guage the size of someone's ego by how often they put pictures of themselves on their album covers.


Fri, Mar. 9th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)




In the year of our lord 1992…

As the Voyager space probe continued its mission orbiting the darkest reaches of
space, back on Earth, a lone pop genius releases his magnum opus.

Under the pseudonym of Momus, Scotsman Nicholas Currie had been recording
an increasingly eclectic body of baroque influenced electronica.

Voyager however was to be his masterpiece. Complete with his art on his sleeve,
in this case a tribute to his idols Bowie and Eno’s own masterpiece Low.

Plagued by accusations and unfounded criticism of being merely a Pet Shop Boys
copyist, Nick resolved to put the record straight once and for all. You see the Pet
Shop Boys never sounded this cerebral this imaginative or indeed this pop before
or indeed since.

Voyager was a fusion of euro pop, electro, (including Dee Lite on Space Walk)
broken house beats and samples, head spinning Murakami like narratives
spanning the globe as it appeared viewed from above by the Voyager space

A witness to the last great alien planet…our own blue Earth. It gives us an insight
into our own fragility as puny earthlings.

On this recording's first track Cibachrome Blue, Momus instructs us to” take a
voyage to the heart of darkness, to the sound of violins, on a sleeper train across
the face of the moon, discover many things…” all underpinned by fractious, brittle
broken beats and deep bass, accompanied by backwards sampled violins we get
a fragmented reportage of the origin of the species as seen by marvel comics
High Evolutionary as opposed to Darwin’s theory.

All of this is murmured in Currie’s gorgeously suggestive half spoken and half
whispered voice intoning scatological lyrical ideas with beautiful soulful backing
vocals. Science, biology, maths and metaphysics all human achievement in a
glorious collision of life affirming emotions along with oblique references to God
as the " originator man…” And that’s just the first track!

This was pop Jim, but not as we know it.

The second track Virtual Reality is so toe tappingly upbeat you’d have to be dead
or footless not to enjoy it. Quirky sound affects and horror of horrors electronic
slap bass make this one of the breeziest tunes on the album. After being lulled
into a false sense of security by the lush synth arrangement a seductive voice
lets us know that “this is just like the real thing…only better, its reality…only

The sheer perversity of the next track is difficult to describe. Vocation gallops
along at a pace. Over a robo cowboy’s funk lite bass line and solid kick drum
backing we are re introduced once more to those annoyingly catchy violins again.
Along with the popiest of choruses it’s hard to stop yourself from singing along to
this one.

“You got to get in the right place, at the right time, in the right style…” This is what
the adjective poptastic was invented for. Pure pop at its very best, now giddy up!

Conquistador asks the question that we’ve all asked ourselves from time to time.”
If I slipped away maybe nobody’d notice…” and within the first bar of its house
like groove you're hooked on pure pop crack.

This is the kind of track that Dee Lite would have died for. Upbeat house rhythms,
congas, 80’s like synth stabs and cheesy affected backing voices, mad noises and
saxophone horns “its not the end of the world there are compensations, maybe
its money…or maybe its drugs?” this all builds up over the most gorgeous of
melodies to a glorious crescendo with everything included and the kitchen sink
with Nick asking at the end “… and what do you do… ooh! If love has left the
arena?” it shouldn’t work and yet it does. It does because Momus makes it work,
because he understands pop and he understands soul. Brilliant!

And speaking of Dee Lite… Space Walk starts off with a cheeky What Is Love?
Sample before droning synths and claps give way to a propulsive bass line over
which Nick (not into drugs) narrates a tale of the off our heads m(E) generation
with his tongue so far in his cheek he may need surgery to help him?


Fri, Mar. 9th, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)

Summer Holiday 1999 kicks off the second side of the album (hey remember
when you actually still had to flip the disc over?) and is possibly one of its most
exquisitely poetic numbers. A narrative of unrequited love and contemplated
suicide set on the beautiful Japanese island of Hokkaido.

It starts up on a few simple bass notes before what appears to be the sound of a
camera aperture clicking away to a gentle Vibraphone accompaniment. Then in
come those fractured beats and a jazzy Herbie Hancock like Clavichord riff.

While in the background a mysterious Japanese girl speaks.

As nick sings “I’d love to see your face from every angle all at once just like the
faces in a cubist composition…” and you realise that pop can still be literate, can
still be thrilling and more importantly can still matter.

And then we become witness to the Afterglow. This is a strong contender for the
best track on the LP. A laidback, sensual groove complete with gorgeous electric
piano and gentle synth swathes.
The repetitive, hypnotic beats accompany your in flight entertainment to an
unspecified destination of the imagination. A returning hallucinatory passenger
disembarks in a Ketamine like state. Pop infusion of lyrical ideas to die for.

It even includes a cheeky little Beatles reference before making the observation...

“While the power drains from the mainframes I’m surfing on the brainwaves
singing, free the slaves, Jesus saves and other bullshit literature washed down in
the rainstorm”

And then the ivories gently tinkling over a gorgeous outrow “Welcome to the
afterglow, welcome to the show…”

We then board the Trans Siberian Express orchestrated by baroque pizzicato
strings and what appears to be furious, epileptic castanets and minor key stabs.

While travelling in that half state between sleep and wakefulness we get
fragmentary imagery of Greek mythology, shamanism and the Dead Sea scrolls
all coupled with allusions to the Epic of Gilgamesh.

All of this silently observed from high above the stratosphere by the space probe

It stares down at us, silently watching and recording as we search the stars
staring back at it.

Voyager starts up on a distant air raid siren before a lone woman’s voice informs
us that “everyone’s trying to get out of the rain” and then cinematic string
samples sweep and soar, so does your heart as the greatest house piano riff of
all time (except maybe Rhythm Is Rhythm’s Strings Of Life melody) bursts through
the clouds. This truly is an affirmation of life made audio. Electronic bass bubbles
and stutters along, while in the background you can hear ghostly spectres of the
StarTek theme.

Beautifully understated verses crackle and pop before unfolding and developing
into a great uplifting chorus. Strings are reintroduced to make us swoon once
more “and I watch Voyager flying blind, through unimaginable space and time…”

This twists and turns before metamorhosising itself into a great break with Nick’s
voice soaring along with the strings and singing “hold me love I cannot catch my
breath, this fear of love is choking me to death, I cant live without you I cant live
with you…” Where as the rest of the album is based on repetition and space this
track is a glorious sonic spectacular of wide screen cinematic explosions.

Melancholia never sounded so fucked up and life affirming as this.

“Everyone’s trying to get out of the rain”

The album ends with an instrumental laboratory like reproduction of Conquistador
re titled, reanimated and re gene spliced as Momutation.

This is the sound of one man mapping the infinite genomes of pop alchemy,
calculating and configuring, splitting atoms and sprinkling space dust, one man on
his own fantastic voyage to the outer reaches of the known, and the unknown
pop universe.

Keith Haworth

Fri, Mar. 9th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC)

Wow, hardly recognized the old fellow in the spruce new coat you've given him!

Thanks, Keith!

ReplyThread Parent