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Creation Advent Calendar 2: Tender Pervert - click opera
February 2010
 
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Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 01:19 am
Creation Advent Calendar 2: Tender Pervert

A few moments ago I was reading a review of Luke Haines' book Bad Vibes in which the caustic auteur of The Auteurs is quoted calling me -- without apparent sarcasm -- "the song-writing genius". If he -- and other Britpop stars like Jarvis Cocker, Justine Frischmann and Brett Anderson -- were listening to me at the end of the 1980s, I'd guess it's because of this album. Tender Pervert is probably my statement as Momus, the same way Ziggy Stardust is Bowie's statement. I think it's probably my best and most definitive album, but I haven't listened to it in a while. Let's play it as we go, and see how it holds up today.

But first, a little background. I'm 28. I'm living in a tiny bedsit just off the King's Road in Chelsea (taken over rather surreptitiously when my french girlfriend leaves for leafier quarters in north London). The Poison Boyfriend has been well-received, critically, and it's time to record a follow-up. Several things that are "in the air" in 1988 contribute to Tender Pervert. First, it's the 20th anniversary of the 1968 student uprisings, and there are documentaries and films from those heady days on TV. Then there's a pervasive disgust with Margaret Thatcher, and particularly her response to the AIDS crisis; she adds insult to injury by banning any material which "promotes homosexuality" as a valid lifestyle. I'm so furious about this that I decide that, if gay people are not only dying but being gagged by the government while dying, it's up to straight people to promote homosexuality in their place.

So Tender Pervert -- bristling with gay themes borrowed from Mishima and elsewhere -- is initially titled The Homosexual. I'm persuaded to change this when Alan McGee tells me Canadian licensee Polygram will refuse to release an album with that title. (McGee will also decide against issuing A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24) as a single "because, to be honest with you Nick, it's got the word "sexual" in it").

Other things that feed into Tender Pervert: my fascination with the totally sexual world of Gainsbourg's Love on the Beat album. A BBC Radio 3 documentary series about the history of French cabaret (which I plan to release here on Click Opera one day; I still have the cassettes). Ovid's poem The Art of Love. Ian Buruma's book about heroes and villains of Japanese culture, "A Japanese Mirror". Mangas my friend Mika Goto was sending me from Japan (along with bunches of roses). The plays and diaries of Joe Orton; his line "Give me the ability to rage correctly" is one of the album's mottos, along with the biblical injunction to "circumcize the foreskin of your heart".

So let's listen to -- and release -- Tender Pervert, shall we? (By the way, these are now high quality mp3s hosted on Ubuweb. Lyrics, reviews and interviews are on the Momus website.)

Momus
Tender Pervert
1988

1. The Angels Are Voyeurs: I think people might have been surprised to hear this song, after looking at the sleeve (and the label) and expecting something more dark, more rock. This is a crisp, light, tight cabaret song sung in an articulate whisper. It doesn't really sound like anything else in late 80s British pop. The conceit of the song is a sexualized take on Rilke's idea of the "watcher angel", which had just been used as a central motif in Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire. These angels are not so benign, though: they maintain a sadistic distance, and they're as excited by the possibility of our self-annihilation as they're aroused by "our cleverness, our nakedness".

How I rate this now: This song floats like a butterfly, but stings like a bee. There's cultural dynamite -- not to mention blasphemy -- in the idea of a masturbating deity. Powered by Dean Klevatt's crisp, crunchy rhythm programming, the song sets up a frame for the subject matter to come, welcomes us into a parallel world where everything is sexual. This is still literary songwriting, but somehow it's a lot less conservative than the worthy short stories on The Poison Boyfriend. We may feel queasy, but there's no turning back.

2. Love On Ice: Faintly discordant synth brass over a Casio beat welcome us to... it's the story of figure-skaters Torvill and Dean, isn't it? Well, not quite. This couple is gay, and it's their manager and PR person who're called Chris and Jane. They're living a ghastly lie, because the more they resemble wedding-cake heterosexuals in the media, the less they express their true homosexuality. The music becomes an increasingly grotesque fairground waltz as the skaters lose to "a couple of Soviets who skated like robots". They try to come out, but it's too late, and anyway, "the ice is a mirror in which people see their nation and their sexuality". It's as if I'm realising that fame isn't really that great a goal.

How I rate this now: This is very Brecht-Weill, very Weimar in its cynicism. It's scrap from an abandoned album about television I was making, but it fits the gay themes of Tender Pervert well. The judges here are giving it four straight eights.

3. I Was A Maoist Intellectual: This is a self-epitaph song in the tradition of Brecht's "Of Poor BB", itself a take on a self-epitaph by medieval french poet Francois Villon. It began life with the lyric "I was an austere mandarin intellectual in the music industry", and I suppose I wanted -- in a spirit of puckish defiance -- to sound as ascetic as possible. Oh, there's another Brecht song I had in mind: To Those Born Later, which has the refrain "that is how I made use of the time on earth allotted me". There's narcissism and self-pity here, tempered by humour ("clutching my forgotten discs in their forgotten format... I gave up ideology the day I lost my looks") and political grit. And lots of cheap Dixons keyboard samples (a cassette that came with the Casio SK1) and clown whistles.



How I rate this now: There's a faux-bitterness to this, a gathering intensity, which makes it more of a Brel song than a Gainsbourg song. Brel songs go down better live (big build to a sharp ending), Gainsbourg songs are nicer to listen to at home. I think I find this a bit too grandstanding and lapel-grabbing now to really love. And it sounds like a guy who reads his own press a little too closely -- but who's decided to "optimize his marginality" and exaggerate all the things he's learned he's not supposed to be. So kudos for that, young Momus.

4. The Homosexual: This is based on a true story; Mike Alway was negotiating with some major label, and some sneery A&R man was dicking him around, not only businesswise, but also teasing him for his effeminacy. Then suddenly this man's wife left him... for Mike. That delicious revenge (for the indie against the major, for the effeminate against the macho, for the musical against the tone deaf, for the post-feminist against the pre-feminist) powers this song, along with the sexual groans of a beautiful German DJ I'd met on tour. I remember writing this song and being very happy with it, and singing it for the first time at some pub gig in Brixton, and the crowd going so quiet that the review said people were holding up fingers to order at the bar.

How I rate this now: It's a good song, of course it is -- a venomous song, a punchy song that hits below the belt, a sweet, hot revenge song. I don't care if Neil Tennant later told me it didn't have enough melodic hooks; it swings a claw hand, this song.



5. Bishonen: There are three very specific sources for this song. One is a song my friend Douglas Benford wrote, called The Landed Gentry (for the Nyman-ish arrangement). One is Jean Bertola's reading of a late Brassens song about impotence called L'Andropause; I was impressed that it had about a hundred verses. And the third is the chapter entitled The Third Sex in Ian Buruma's book "A Japanese Mirror", which is mostly about Mishima's novel Forbidden Colours. Another possible album title was "Evil Beauty # 3". People plotting cruel, aristocratic sexual revenges interested me a lot -- maybe I'd watched Les Liasons Dangereuses a few too many times. Or The Draftsman's Contract.

How I rate this now: This pungent epic could well be the peak of my songwriting career. It continues the album's floating-stinging technique, of light sounds trafficking heavy scenarios. It's redolent of some of the best bits of 1980s postmodernism; without ever dropping the narrative line, the song leads us through a palace of mirrors. And it gets quite moving at the end, surprisingly enough. The narcissism becomes something that makes us care for the character, rather than repelling us. Groomed to die in extraordinary circumstances, he's condemned, like the Christ of Scorcese's Last Temptation, to live on in ignominious normality.



6. Righthand Heart: This track was originally an extra on a limited edition 7" vinyl single (along with a song called The Poison Boyfriend, recorded in 1982). Its raw acoustic sound reflects what I sounded like live at the time; I remember recording this version -- just me and my red semi-acoustic 12-string Baldwin, recorded without an amp -- in one take at Scarf, the studio where engineer Nigel Palmer and I recorded Tender Pervert pretty much alone, with the whine of a Mile End lumber saw coming through the walls from time to time.

How I rate this now: This song shouldn't really be here; I think of the Don't Stop The Night version as the "official" one.

7. A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24): This sounded like a Leonard Cohen song when I demoed it, but Pet Shop Boys samples and an electro bassline really brought it alive. It's yet another song of bitter and twisted sexual insecurity. This is probably where I got the reputation as "Britain's premier psychoanalyst of song"; I had a tendency to see normal things as deeply pathological. In fact, I used to sit in on lectures at the LSE by one Christopher Badcock -- his whole thing was that society itself was sick and needed a shrink. The personal was political, and sexual possessiveness was about a society which valued possessions and property above all else. But my narrator falls in love with his own jealousy and tells his partner to "love the others".

How I rate this now: This is yet more sharp self-parodic psychoanalysis. I like the way the syntax works: "The man the man you broke the heart of broke the heart of" is a nice trick -- one I found myself repeating the other day when I found myself deriding, on some blog, "the tendency to see the decline of things once seen as a sure sign of the decline of things as a sure sign of the decline of things". This album leaves no snub unsquibbed!

8. Ice King: You can hear Prince in this song about a warm man pretending to be a cold man, or possibly a cold man pretending to be a warm man pretending to be a cold man. Swain and Jolley basslines, Casio trumpets, a guarded, hurt narrator; Bryan Ferry should have covered this on one of his solo albums, through gritted teeth.

How I rate this now: Good commercial songwriting -- and psychoanalysis -- though this may be, I can't help feeling that the genre requires greater vocal ability than I'm bringing to bear here.

9. In The Sanatorium: When I gave a copy of Tender Pervert to my friend Bill Prichard to give to Serge Gainsbourg (who'd befriended him), I included a little note which confessed that this song was his Depression au dessus du Jardin "detourné au clef mineur", turned to a minor key -- a riff on his own pun on detournement de mineur. If that's the source of the music, Andre Gide's The Immoralist is the source of the story. The ending repeats the trick in Islington John where a sort of placid, mysterious plateau is reached, and Asian flutes warble. And then -- ghostly in the distance -- comes the line "for love will endure or not endure, regardless of where we are" (from The Threepenny Opera, and already used at the end of Circus Maximus). It's a line which fascinates me for its inbuilt nihilism; it seems to pledge eternal love, but offers nothing but the fatalistic certainty of uncertainty. (I prefer the translation: "For love will endure or not endure, here or in some other place".)

How I rate this now: I actually like this song better than any of the others on Tender Pervert now, because it has mystery and atmosphere. You can draw a direct line from this to, say, Dracula on my current album. There's a story, a situation, but it's more about atmosphere and emotion than about the kind of cleverness and aggression on display in other Tender Pervert songs. Even the narrator's selfishness and evil -- he burns offers of help on the fire, and plans to molest his beloved while she sleeps -- is somehow, well, tender perversion.



10. The Charm of Innocence: More confessions (which raises another possible influence: the Confessions of St Augustine, or possibly Kierkegaard's aesthetic seducer from Either / Or), more mixtures of autobiography with fiction. This narrator is a sort of Dorian Gray; whatever he does, he stays innocent. I remember writing it at the Hayward Gallery, in the middle of a Lucian Freud exhibition. Women there were, indeed, blue cheese. There's a Peter Starstedt quality to this, possibly some Brel (the Algerian whores of the 18th arrondissement could be characters in Next or Jacky). Somehow this song crams an entire novel (I'm thinking Mordecai Richler, Philip Roth, Leonard Cohen) into six minutes. Like the Bishonen, this guy feels guilty for his innocence. If the song at the end of side one is Forbidden Colours, the one at the end of side two is Confessions of a Mask.

How I rate this now: This is weighty stuff, self-therapy as successful art. The flurried strings at the end, as my narrator begs for someone to "paint out the blush of shame", still move.

11. The Angels Are Voyeurs (Reprise): We zoom out, the camera quivering slightly as we come full circle. We really do come full circle; God has an orgasm and a new galaxy is created from his sperm. Do Primal Scream albums finish this way?

How I rate this now: It's still satisfyingly shocking to hear this young man singing "the angels pump their cocks". You can tell he loved early Ian McEwan short stories. He didn't intend to be ignored, that's for sure.

Next: Don't Stop The Night (1989)

59CommentReplyShare

nagrom_the_pink
nagrom_the_pink
nagrom_the_pink
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)

Nevermind, I get it. (Why can't I delete...?)

Edited at 2008-12-12 12:43 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC)

I'm happy to be the first to correct an error: where's track 9?

-Spencer


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 12:52 am (UTC)

Fixed.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 01:34 am (UTC)

I Was A Maoist Intellectual has been my favorite Momus song for a long time. I'm loving your commentaries.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)

This looks slick. Are you still releasing all six albums? I might just wait till you finish and have a nostalgic Momusathon. Well, a Pessoan sort of nostalgia for a past I didn't have.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)

Yes, I'm doing all six. The only problem at the moment is that I can't find my CD copy of Voyager. Back to "Sadako" (the name we give our cellar).


ReplyThread Parent
eptified
eptified
H. Duck
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 01:35 am (UTC)

My favorite momus album (with the possible exception of 'philosophy of')


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)

Re: Charm Of Innocence. In a way, TP feels like a series of novels (perhaps written, or never-written, by the narrator sitting beside the 'pale, two-bar fire'). Maybe that's a narrative twist in my own mind. But the songs can weave together in a labyrinthine way that lends to that. The quasi-autobiography, part-fantasist, part-magic realism.

Of course, everyone should own this record. I wonder if it feels mature because the narrator is looking back a lot, reviewing life, but, as ever, there feels more to it than that.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 03:42 am (UTC)
I also enjoy the commentaries.

I must admit I hung the lyrics to "A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24)" on my dorm room door freshman year!

Too bad I can't bring them to my office job. It would really spice the place up.

Thanks - Robyn


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kingdoma
kingdoma
Allan Kingdom
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 03:45 am (UTC)

I remember seeing a piece about you in the NME which was accompanied by a great photo of you sitting in the Kings Road holding a Baldwin 12 string electric guitar.

Do you have a copy?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 10:12 am (UTC)

Yes, but my press clippings are in the cellar. I'm bringing up boxes one at a time, and haven't reached that one yet.


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panarchist
panarchist
Designated Sleeper
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)

I was wondering if you could also comment on the cover art of your albums.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 12:35 pm (UTC)

Tender Pervert is one of my favourites. Photography and graphic design are both by Thomi Wroblewski, whose work has dated a lot better, I think, than Vici MacDonald's (she did Poison Boyfriend and Don't Stop The Night). Although, actually, Thomi's Monsters of Love sleeve is looking a bit dated now. But Tender Pervert is evergreen, visually.

I chose the location, which you can find on The Word magazine's Album Covers Map (it's in Hyde Park). I wanted blossom shot at night. My pose is copied from a photo of Picasso (taken, I think, by Roland Penrose) making a pose with bull's horns on his head.


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troytheking
troytheking
troytheking
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 06:17 am (UTC)

Very intresting story what you're telling here about "The Homosexual". Well that's a big talent the ability to tell a story of other in a way that people think that it is your own story to be told.

Actually you're killing some legends about your own sexuality & gay-ikon status (in the eye of some journalists) that was so hard to build since the nudity cover on Circus Maximus.

Not to mention some penis churlish talking at the end of "Slender Sherbert" (a fun part indeed).






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troytheking
troytheking
troytheking
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 06:20 am (UTC)

oh I have some dampness marks on the cd... think I gonna sue creation...


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learnaboutruby
learnaboutruby
no thanks
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)

Bishonen is one of the best songs I've ever heard. I think it may have helped an important piece of my personality fall into place. Thank you for writing it.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 08:42 am (UTC)
Culture Deluxe

Hi Nick,

I also gave Joemus ten out of ten on the Culture Deluxe site last week. Please write if you would be willing to answer a few questions via e-mail. Richard at Cherry Red was going to ask you about this. Lastly, did you get my mail about my dissertation project? Cheers. Keith

modelh28@aol.com


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 11:05 am (UTC)
Interesting

Thanks again Momus for the commentary. I'm interested that you rate this album so highly in your career. I do too. At the time it fulfilled all the promise of the tracks I liked best on Poison Boyfriend. It was also the first time I realised that not everyone 'got it': I remember enthusiastically playing a couple of tracks to a friend who just said 'He's got problems!'.

Again, Bishonen - what a piece of work. And how many songs of Japanese romanticism mention Paisley? I was intrigued and surprised that you used such a 'folk club' tune and arrangement. Thanks for sharing your views on the album.

Norman Lamont (http://www.normanlamont.com)


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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting

I'm jealous, as I was also "born in the town of Paisley", but not in a year that rhymes with "Paisley".


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boof_boy
boof_boy
boof_boy
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 11:15 am (UTC)

I'm looking forward to Haines' book. He lived in Portsmouth for a while, where he met Alice, his bass player. I'm from Pompey and nobody had a good word to say about him - however I loved all of his incarnations and think he really is a forgotten genius. I hope you'll do a review when the book comes out.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Fri, Dec. 12th, 2008 11:22 am (UTC)

Hooray, I don't have the next one.

I love Bishounen, it's your one gay moment.


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