Weekly Wire
Tucson Weekly Rhythm & Views

MARCH 9, 1998: 


20 Vodka Jellies
Ping Pong
Le Grand Magistery

IN THIS ERA of easy access to even inaccessible things, it's hard to believe something so worthy of notice could slip beneath our cultural radar for so long. Yet Nick Currie, a Scottish pop aesthete who's been steadily releasing records as Momus for 13 years now, has managed to evade even those of us (i.e. me) paid to find clever music makers such as he. Who would have thought in this time of international free trade that a mere technicality--the fact that Momus records have never been released domestically--would actually keep them out of our hands all this time? Now, with late '97s first-ever U.S. Momus release--a compilation called 20 Vodka Jellies--and a brand new studio album, Ping Pong, Momus is poised to advance from utterly obscure to a more comfortably hip position; perhaps beside his hero Serge Gainsbourg or his friends Pizzicato 5, in the near underground of pop culture. Do yourself a favor: Beat the rush and start today claiming you've loved Momus for years. Though essentially comprising demos and B-sides, 20 Vodka Jellies hardly qualifies as bottom-of-the-barrel material. Currie wrote many of these songs for female stars in Japan, where pure pop is worshipped (and his "Good Morning World" became a top-five hit). Besides, even Currie's throwaways are exquisite. His brand of continental songwriting is not so much willfully eclectic as hopelessly pop: Anything goes as long as it's appropriately colorful and melodic, stylish and smart.

Ping Pong, with its opening theme invoking "futuristic vaudevillians," is just as full of dark humor, showmanship, and sophisticated cultural critiques. Songs explore fame and privacy, relish infanticide and celebrate youth, dialogue with God and express absurdly philo-Semitic views. Like all the best songwriters, Currie is in complete control of his craft. He can write in character, or in the voice of his female vocalists, and his own recordings--richly arranged but somewhat crude with drum machines and synths--suggest possibilities for further interpretation. With songs like "Anthem of Shibuya" and "Lolitapop Dollhouse," Currie seems to cater to his largest audience, the Japanese. It's not a sell-out, but rather a further indication of his skill. In pop, giving people what they want is, after all, the art itself.

--Roni Sarig


Moon Safari
Caroline Records

FRANCE FINALLY FINDS the funky feel of the seventies with this new release from Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, a.k.a. "Air French Band." This duo draws heavily from such '70s sources as blaxploitation movies and "Afro-American" commercial music. Their soundtrack-inspired songs are reminiscent of Isaac Haayes' Shaft compositions, crossed with a Kraftwerk-like electronic repertoire. However, in spite of the use of vocoders and vox talkboxes, the heavy, syncopated rhythms prevent Moon Safari from having any hint of Kraftwerk's robotic coldness. Multi-instrumentalists Godin and Dunckel make use of the standard range of electro-pop instruments, but add a flighty, psychedelic air with the addition of glockenspiels, wurlitzers and chants. What might be most surprising for those familiar with the Johnny Halliday/Dalida strains in French pop is the subtly ironic sense of humor Air French Band is able to meld with their complicated, dancy music. Definitely one of the best releases so far this year, Moon Safari is a hard-to-pigeonhole combination of retro and techno, not to be missed by trans-Atlantic hipsters and mellow-assed Napoleon wannabes.

--James DiGiovanna


Del-Fi Records

CONTRARY TO OUR inclination to believe otherwise, Zappa did not rise out of a bog, guitar in hand, playing "Who Are The Brain Police?" His earliest output was created during the early '60s with the assistance of studio whiz Paul Buff, who stood behind the boards as Zappa directed bands like The Heartbreakers through great Zappa-penned doowop stuff like "Every Time I See You." (Zappa would soon be arrested for "conspiracy to manufacture pornographic materials and suspicion of sex perversion"--check out the liner notes for details.) If you consider Reuben And The Jets to be an essential Zappa release--and you should--then you need to snag this sucker. Zappa's undying love of rhythm and blues will suddenly make sense.

--Dave McElfresh

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