The Poison Boyfriend

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Momus' debut Circus Maximus was burdened by an off-putting barrage of obscure religious allusions. Thankfully, The Poison Boyfriend adopts a wider frame of reference, though its subjects are often just as sweeping -- and, alas, self-consciously profound. But the album is still an unmistakable leap forward. The first portion finds Momus adding touches of cabaret pop -- waltzes, French accordion, etc. -- to his Leonard Cohen-influenced singer/songwriter format, and the last four tracks suddenly break out the synths and drum machines, with surprisingly energetic and tuneful results. Though there are a few undeniable highlights among them, the acoustic songs are generally erratic; complex symbolism and brilliantly observed character sketches sit next to maddening pretension and awkward wordiness, sometimes all in the same song. Occasionally, the writing is underdeveloped ("What Will Death Be Like?" repeats the same simple pattern for seven minutes), but the main problem is a sense that the author is hiding behind his own cleverness -- elaborate metaphors, flowery language, insights that aren't always as deep as he believes. The Poison Boyfriend's melancholy pessimism doesn't always feel lived in -- more like the affectation of an artsy young bookworm who's read about more than he's experienced. But the bordering-on-synth-pop tracks offer a bold new direction, albeit one with the same flaws as the rest of the album. The "Purple Rain"-sounding "Sex for the Disabled" is a bizarre allegory about Thatcher's England, but "Closer to You" is the biggest changeup: an intentional self-parody where Momus croons horny, confessional come-ons like a bookish Barry White. Its disarming self-recognition doesn't quite fit, but it and several other songs begin to hint that Momus isn't easily pegged. True, the album would have been much better if he had excised the moments so insufferably precious, you wish Morrissey would beat the crap out of him. But The Poison Boyfriend does reward some of the effort it demands, and points the way toward Momus' more fully realized Creation albums.

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