"Stars Forever" is Momus' sellout record, born when the British cult singer's tiny U.S. label, Le Grand Magistery, ran up legal bills defending a suit filed after Momus' last record. Transsexual composer Wendy Carlos, it seems, didn't like the song about her on "The Little Red Songbook" (1998) and sued. To save Le Grand Magistery, Momus devised an ingenious plan. His records rarely earn serious amounts of money, so he decided to offer what he calls "song portraits" for $1,000 apiece. Surprisingly, the idea was successful: Within eight months he found 30 people (and a couple of small businesses and record companies) willing to lay out the cash for a tune dedicated to them.
More than a dozen albums of hilariously cheeky and intelligent songs have earned Momus (aka Nicholas Currie) a small but obsessive following. His fans are an eccentric bunch, and on "Stars Forever" they make for good material. One is a Parisian artist, another a rock star with cats. Artist Jeff Koons paid for a song, as did a shy Japanese woman and a gay writer with a fetish for soldiers.
To help him prepare for the record, each person "sat," or provided Momus with a little information about him- or herself. Playing off skeletal facts, Momus wrote stories with wild premises, rarely losing sight of himself. He rarely plays the part of the objective bystander -- instead, he interjects himself into one fan's proposal to his girlfriend, or he wonders about sleeping with one of his pen-pal fans. There are surprisingly few straightforward songs (Miles Franklin, however, is "single, 32, working in I.T."). Instead, Momus tells the sort of imaginative and slightly bent tales that he's told before, songs in the past that have called God a "tender pervert" or posited "the cultural meaning of coming in a girl's mouth."
Musically, Momus deftly switches moods and styles even though he limits himself to electro-pop keyboards and drum machines. Each tune has a distinct personality -- there isn't a single template. There are a few bouncy synth tracks alongside bits of disco as well as trip-hop, hip-hop, a swashbuckling sailor song, an impressively schlocky ballad and an over-the-top western theme. The only song that seems forced is dedicated to an Internet newsgroup, the Indiepop list, which had 40 members who wanted to be mentioned.
Even though the project is commercial, listening to "Stars Forever" never feels like listening to two hours of jingles. At times, the songs are simply Momus songs, unforced and as natural as anything he's written. Lesser artists might have taken a more literal approach to portraiture, spewing facts in rhyming couplets. But Momus' subversive streak creates songs that people would never have written about themselves. About the gay writer with the military fetish, Momus sings: "On a military base or a battleship deck/Let me come in his ass with my tongue down his neck." For $1,000, these fans didn't get exact representations of themselves. They got something better -- a chance to become part of Momus' twisted world.