Beside his marriage to a 17 year-old, Momus’ Voyager is one of the weirdest things tied to his name. It’s try-hardness and kitsch factor is so unavoidable and poignant that confusion is the only appropriate reaction as you realise that very thing is its greatest strength. Voyager is a busy oddity that represents the Pet Shop Boys disfigured on an operating table, spliced with the best aural goings-on of 90’s electronic dance music in a futuresque, sexual package with dark glasses and a puff coat.
Momus’ forays into chamber folk and the artier side of pop are clearly abandoned here in what was his fourth dive into the electronic sphere and the final part of his so-called initial synthpop trilogy. Instead, pure commercial gloss oozes over Voyager, sounding like it should’ve soundtracked the 21st century that 80’s films so ambitiously illustrated; high-tech, vast, spacey and dancey. It seems as if Momus almost gave in to embody the PSB comparisons that his eloquent tone had earned him, but injected the trip-hop, house and techno sounds encircling the UK’s burgeoning dance scene at the time to just distance himself and actually add substance and spice to a sound Tennant/Lowe dared to dive into.
Cryptic spoken word and cold trip-hop introduces us to this phase of Momus in the stunning opener “Cibachrome Blue”, as he leads us through a deadpan maze of the current “post-ethical age”. This theme of the future, of a subpar reality improved and simultaneously disconnected by technology, twists throughout each song and wispy breath, and the melancholic synthpop staple, “Virtual Reality” goes as far as to say this neon-era is “just like the real thing / only better”.
Rather weird descriptions of love and sex, in classic Momus fashion, creep around this future of bright lights. Yet amongst these dry admittances (“We eat, we sleep, we shit and fuck and die /
We speak, we hope, we learn, we try” on “Afterglow”), passages of sweet obsession, like on the track “Summer Holiday 1999”, are clever, endearing and topically sci-fi:
“I long to see your face
From every angle at once
Just like the faces in a Cubist composition”
The thumping four-to-the-floor kick of “Conquistador” begins Voyager’s dive into true UK dance as a tune begging to be mixed between early funky house tracks on an after-hours dance floor with its bouncy, synthesised bass-line and buried e-horn solo. Stomping major piano chords on the title track, “Voyager”, similarly drip of garage house whilst a Detroit techno shuffle ascends “Spacewalk” into zero-gravity. Closer, “Momulation 3”, is simply a beautiful instrumental house tune; deep, spiralling and intergalactic, which, at not even three minutes, I long for an extended mix to wrap into a set.
Voyager wears the 90’s on its sleeve as Momus extends himself beyond the comparisons, taking the best of all of them and interweaving it around the sounds dominating UK dance floors at the time. It’s still him, as foreign as it sounds, unapologetically weird and questionable, kitsch and try-hard, yet it seems to pay off.
This is what I’d wished the Pet Shop Boys’ venture into house had’ve birthed.