Too Sexy For Your Cat

"Old Friend, New Flame" finds the narrator silently stealing his friend's new lover through the adroit rearrangement of magnetic poetry on the fridge.

After 10 years of import-only releases to the U.S. market, the cult

popularity of Momus in the States proves the validity of two seemingly

well-worn cliches: first, that good things come to those who wait, and

second, that if you keep doing what you do for long enough, fashion will

eventually catch up with you.

OK, perhaps I made the second one up, but it seems especially

applicable to Momus, a.k.a. 37-year-old Scotsman Nick Currie, who was

dividing his time between Paris and Tokyo long before those cities

became indie cultural meccas, and who has been writing vaguely

danceable, provocatively intellectual and indisputably witty loungecore

ditties full of name-dropping and sexual jealousy since before Beck or

Alanis Morissette were out of their teens. After seeing his first-ever

American release, Ping Pong, rewarded with top 20 college-album

status and a sold-out tour last year, Momus has returned, armed with

extra self- assurance, for one of his sharpest and most entertaining

albums to date.

The Little Red Songbook is best examined as a concept. Its title

is a tribute to the Danish sexual guide "The Little Red Schoolbook"

(banned in Currie's native U.K. when he was a child), offering no

illusions about the album's preferred lyrical topic. The cover picture

of Momus in powdered wig, fingering a Moog synthesizer, is accompanied

by the words "Please enjoy Analog Baroque," indicating a musical theme,

too. If Currie's sudden fascination for vintage keyboards and sampling

of Nintendo games for basslines seems surprisingly behind the bandwagon

for someone who has spent so long in the wilderness of trendiness, then

at least it's tempered by his decision to perform most songs on

harpsichord -- in honor of baroque music -- and to keep them mostly

under the two-minute mark to ensure that the lyrics are brief enough to

qualify as "epigrams."

The outcome of such precise preparation is effortlessly entertaining.

Certainly, there are few lyricists out there who can match Momus'

sharp-witted repartee about sexual desire. "Old Friend, New Flame" finds

the narrator silently stealing his friend's new lover through the adroit

rearrangement of magnetic poetry on the fridge; "Born to be Adored" is

self-explanatory, if only partially autobiographical; "Coming In A

Girl's Mouth" lightheartedly debates the desires behind sexual

domination; and "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With" is a hilarious take on

ingratiating award acceptance speeches, inspired by artist Tracy Emin's

"tent" art that named her real-life past lovers. (Momus names Emin,

among other supposed conquests, before stating, "Thank you from the

bottom of my heart, and from the heart of my bottom I know it must be

rotten to provide the raw material for art.")

When not engaging his narrators in potentially malicious sexual

pursuits, Momus turns his astute observational eye to the lives of those

already more famous than he: "MC Escher" imagines the subliminal artist

as a rapper; "Walter Carlos" honors the musician behind "Switched On

Bach," now known thanks to genetic engineering as Wendy, and who Momus

imagines travelling back through time to marry him/herself; "Who Is Mr.

Jones" sympathizes with Bob Dylan constantly being asked to explain his

own lyrical characters; and "The Symphonies of Beethoven" collects all

the album's obsessions together by paying lyrical tribute to classical

music, the Moog, Walter Carlos and the soundtrack to "Clockwork Orange."

There is a naive jollity to Momus' music that can appear over-pronounced

on Songbook, the harpsichords and simple melodies sometimes

suggesting that this is merely novelty, throwaway music for this

would-be Oscar Wilde to drop his pithy witticisms upon. The decision to

append 10 "karaoke" versions to the 16 vocal songs, with fans invited to

send in their own self-sung lyrics in a competition to feature on the

next Momus album, only furthers this notion of frivolity. But it would

be foolish to dismiss the musical merits of an artist whose prolific

nature and constant development suggests that he will still be

entertaining -- and educating -- us in 10 or 20 years, long after

current media darlings have been forgotten and buried.