Momus and Tricky
I'll master your language, and in the meantime, I create my own

Tricky, `Christiansands'

On the surface they look like complete opposites. The stereotypes abound if you look at the apparent facts about their early lives. Nick was public school, an international upbringing. Adrian bunked off, stayed at home, made a few inroads into a life of crime. And the stereotypes that are the world's stock in trade carry on into the present day. Currie is Oxbridge-articulate; Thaws has more in common with arch nonsense poet Shaun Ryder. Momus doesn't do drugs, Tricky's truck on the back cover of `Maxinquaye' is full of them; success has evaded one, the other is a martyr to it. The simplistic conclusion is drawn: Momus is too intelligent for his own good, not to mention pretentious, and that's why he's beyond the pail, whilst Tricky is bonkers and beyond criticism; surely the two are poles apart? This meagre analysis needs debunking, and who better than Mr Currie himself:

    It's not only essential to see that there are other racial and cultural realities in Britain, and that none prevails with unchallenged legitimacy, posing as some spurious `mainstream'. It's also crucial to see that just because someone is black, it doesn't follow that they will produce or consume pop in a 'black' idiom.' [from Momus website, `Pop Stars? Nein Danke']

In one of the most perceptive takes on Tricky, Robin Tomens comes to this conclusion from the opposite angle, writing that:

    `Maxinquaye' is Britain's first great Black Music album, which sounds absurd, and yet, casting my mind back over the last thirty years, I see no evidence to the contrary. What I see is the damning evidence of our supposedly vibrant music industry's denial of black British musicians. [from `Ego' magazine no. 6, 1995]

Tricky cares for boundaries as little as Momus, so can express his multi- cultural roots and the black experience that lies at their core.

So there are similarities of attitude. Both will have grown up more than occasionally being called a poof, Tricky for the provocation of his skirts, and Momus for what was seen as physical effeminateness. (It's easy to imagine Tricky intoning `The Homosexual' - `I'll make love to their women, I'll make them sing notes of pleasure their husbands will never hear, never in a million years, no fucking fear'.) Both are unlikely masters of seduction, sharing a similar whisper-in-your-ear personal stereo technique. Both found a scene which nurtured them on their doorstep, Tricky with the Wild Bunch in Bristol, Nicky with an equally wild bunch in Edinburgh, centring on the Postcard label. Both adopted personas that fitted them like a glove as much as like a mask. Each has at some point overlain that mask with a religious face, Tricky dressing up in the Crown of Thorns for Time Out, whilst the cover of his first LP, `Circus Maximus', shows Momus as St. Sebastian, the Roman soldier who survived being shot through with arrows for supporting the Christians only to be cudgelled to death a short time later. Both have gone to the other extreme, and let themselves be possessed by the Devil, Tricky for the sleeve of `Hell Is Round The Corner', and Momus for `The Hairstyle Of The Devil', with its seemingly literal cover hiding and presenting the story of one of Momus' affairs. Are these acts of dressing up further indications of rampant egomania or are both simply voicing their repressions and fantasies as explicitly as they know how? For all their shared vulnerability and honesty, it's as difficult to establish the real Tricky as it is to narrow down the number of Momuses there are.

Just now Tricky has the moral freedom (granted him by the media and his popularity) that Momus enjoyed only around the time of `Tender Pervert'. Tricky's amorality and nastiness isn't questioned. He is allowed to do what he wants, be anyone he cares to invent. He floats free, an independent spirit who got lucky, who won't be lucky forever. He'll be Momus too one day, finding that the doors of success have shut on him.

Momus' 1995 recording, `Slender Sherbert', is as close as a pop musician gets to producing a second edition of an earlier work, and it lives up to Max Beerbohm's dictum that he tried to remember, in revising an earlier book, how angry he would have been when he wrote it if an elderly pedant had made corrections. So the lyrics stay intact whilst the music is given a contemporary gloss. From 1989 onwards, Momus has listened hard to the popular sounds doing the rounds. `Don't Stop The Night' is a pastiche of the Pet Shop Boys, whilst `Slender Sherbert' is an admission that Tricky's music is the hippest archetype that Momus could employ at the moment. The new version of `The Gatecrasher' could be seamlessly segued to `Overcome' or `Poems'. Same pace, same looping noise, same black mood. It works well, but often his use of vogue instrumentation has led to his albums quickly sounding quaint and out-of-date, whereas `Tender Pervert', with its variety of musics, still sounds as great as its lyrical content. I suggest Momus leaves any drum and bass experimentation to Tricky. You only have to hear the Elder Thin White Duke's 50th birthday jungle outing to know it would be a bad idea.

Would it be unfair to suggest that musically, Momus is simply a parodist? Momus declares his path to be the same as that of the man he calls grandfather, Serge Gainsbourg, who tried approaching music from as many angles as possible:

    I've always been accused of being the most literary of songwriters. In fact I started off doing lots of experiments with guitars, bottles, tissue paper, smashed pianos and tape distortion which, eventually, out of sheer laziness, I stuck some words on top of. ... For years I searched my guitar for the `missing chord' that would stop time or make the whole world weep. Now I scroll through a thousand types of digital delay to find the one that will switch the world into slow motion. It's music that really fascinates me. Words come easy, I have a facility with them, I can `do' words. [from the Momus website, `An interview with `Kill Pearl Jam Dead'']

This is a crafty attempt to escape people's preconceptions, since Momus' digital backings are always a step or two behind where contemporary sound is at; his taste for what is approximately parody or pastiche is at odds with an attempt to switch the world into slow motion. He's following rather than leading the way. It doesn't really matter, because on `The Philosophy Of Momus', as with all his previous albums, it's the interplay between Momus' ever-mutating world view and the subversion of that view through the mood of the music that is important. It's the wrong-footing, the challenge and the doubt that matters more than musical innovation. Though just as was the case with arch-Brechtians and Stereolab precursors, McCarthy, the challenge diminishes through familiarity with the technique.

`The Philosophy Of Momus' is a much more randomly assembled album than ever before, making full use of compact disc space. Momus explains:

    I usually have a whole bunch of songs in different styles when I'm about to compile a record and I see which style `wins' and do the album like that. I'll group them all into categories like `messy sex', `ambient spiritual' or `cabaret'. ... For `Philosophy' I just threw everything on there and let the listener choose which to listen to. You could say I introduced proportional representation. [from the Momus website, `Frequently Asked Questions']

The last song on `The Philosophy Of Momus', `The Sadness Of Things', is an ideal-world-Top-Ten-single - which perhaps makes Japan the ideal world here on Earth, since Momus has written three Top Ten singles there for Kahimi Karie. It's in this song that Momus, as sincere as you can be playing a character, and against Ken Morioka's tear-jerking electronic orchestration, recognises `my insignificance in an indifferent universe'. There are a number of songs on the album which rank alongside his best, but none are quite as affecting as `The Sadness Of Things'.

You can imagine Tricky using the categories Momus mentions above. On their own, Tricky's words are abstract, obscure, and speak of disillusion. Married to his music they become unhinged and threatening. Put Momus' music together with his words that are so loaded with meanings, and you have in the contrast images that are bipolar and equally dangerous. If Momus were a t.v. documentary maker, he'd almost certainly shoot a graphic film about the sex lives of (very) old people. Stuff you don't really want to think about. Tricky would come up with a detailed visual account of the effects of the nuclear fireball tearing through a major city after the bomb has been dropped; swirling images of the apocalypse interspersed with the kind of menacing corridors to be found on the cover of `Nearly God'.

Having faced the slow-dawning, sickening realisation that he might be in a world of his own, Momus has settled into this not unfavourable position in the universe (though his recent webcolumn, `On Unsuccess' poses the question of whether we ever come to terms with our lack of fame). I predict that Tricky will also find a level he can live with once the adulation fades, and it may well be then that he makes his best music, playing the studio eighteen hours a day, hardly worrying about who outside of his cocoon is enjoying the view of the world that emerges.

Daniel Williams, April 1997