Jul 10

Comedy Is Still Not The New Rock And Roll

Do You See + FT/15 comments • 558 views

In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Russell Brand had it easy playing Aldous Snow. His was a bit part, ripe for scene stealing and he played a stereotypical British rock star, all excess and showboating. All he had to be was more exciting, interesting and funnier than Jason Segal, which isn’t all that hard. He performs one song in the film, Inside Of You, which is just a trojan horse for crude innuendo, pleasant enough but easily written off as a slapdash track written for his girlfriend watch it below. But the song is played straight. This will be important.

Aldous Snow returns in Get Him From The Greek, as a lead character, and the film does not quite know what to do with his music. It knows what to do with Snow as a character, Brand plays him as Brand, with a straightforward psychological junkie arc – played for medium laughs, basically his stand-up career over the last ten years. He is very good at it. But what underpins the convincing characterisation is the fact that he is a rock star. So the film has to play some of his songs, and indeed those of his long term lover Jackie Q. And the film doesn’t quite know what to do with these songs.

When Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver we are easily convinced that he is a taxi driver. He drives a taxi. Equally the wonders of film trickery can usually convince us that all sorts of foppish actors are actually hard men policemen and action heroes. But we are both acutely aware of what it is to be a rock star, and yet unclear of the X Factor (to coin the phrase) that makes it convincing. Brand can do all the motions, but when he gets up on stage as a rock star, he is lacking one key thing. The songs. The tracks he gets to perform in Get Him To The Greek are not all that bad, some (Furry Wall, The Clap) are even quite good. But none of them convince as the material of one of the worlds biggest rock stars.

Henry K.Miller in Sight and Sound wrestled with this issue, and part of the problem is that it is unclear where teh band Infant Sorrow really fit in modern music. Their groundbreaking concert was ten years ago (2000!), he swaggers like cock rock, but sings with a noticeable cockney lear and the songs are on the whole dumb. He comes on a bit like Billy Idol, or an imbecilic Bono, especially when he does his daft issue single African Child. Musically they are probably closest to Oasis, but with raunch. And teh dumb lyrics do not gel very well with the clearly very intelligent dandy Brand portrays. Rose Byne’s Jackie Q has a similar problem, a sort of Lily Allen by way of Katie Price. Though at least with her she is again a supporting character so her tracks can at least be funny:

Watch the first five minutes of the film which is a potted biography of these two characters careers (with a surprisingly large One Show advert) and see if you can fit it in to modern music?

The problem the film has is that it would like Aldous Snow to be a parody of rock star excess, yet doesn’t trust itself to make his songs more than 10% funny. African Child is described in the film as the “worst thing to happen to Africa after war and famine” is – bar a few outrageous video moments – no worse than many a bloated rock stars issue sing. In reality it is probably better than Belfast Child by Simple Minds. The film-makers clearly decided that to make his emotional arc work we would have to believe in him as a character, and to believe in him as a character we have to believe in his songs. So it just made the songs dull. Compare that to This Is Spinal Tap, where the ridiculousness of the songs does not really undermine the perceived reality of the band, or indeed our emotional attachment to them, it is just another opportunity for a gag.

There is a whole album of tracks by the fictional band Infant Sorrow that you can hear on Spotify here. And if you listen to it, you will probably be surprised by its competence, but general blandness (Brand is not a terrible vocalist). But it certainly doesn’t convince as a messianic rock experience.

All of this made me think about fake rock bands in films, and the best songs by fake bands. Perhaps my favourite is from the Josie And The Pussycats film, by the fake boyband DuJour – and their fantastic Backdoor Lover. But if you have any favourites, please list them below, I would love to do a set of them at the next poptimism.


  1. 1
    Andrew Hickey on 7 Jul 2010 #

    The entire soundtrack to Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which runs the gamut from perfect Johnny Cash pastiche (Walk Hard, Guilty As Charged) to stupid-but-funny comedy songs (Hey Mr President, Let’s Duet) to spookily accurate Roy Orbison (A Life Without You (Is No Life At All)) to a Smile parody written by Van Dyke Parks (Black Sheep), but makes it all sound convincingly the work of one artist. Available on Spotify.

  2. 2
    Ben on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Anything by Steel Dragon, the Mark Wahlberg-fronted band from 2001 film ‘Rock Star’. My favourite of those is ‘Stand Up And Shout’, which was written for the fake band by Sammy Hagar, and genuinely sounds like it could have been a rock single.

    Also the ‘School of Rock’ soundtrack springs to mind if we’re talking fake bands.

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Walk Hard is a really odd one, because again the songs are on the whole ridiculous lyrically, but not only absolutely convincing pastiches but the single artist tie-ins really work too. Its one of my favourites on Spotify to occasionally drift into. Since this was an Apatow production its odd that they didn’t learn that silly can also be convincing.

    Not sure if School Of Rock counts as a fake band (though preferable to the poor kids who went to the real Rock School in the film Rock School who ended up playing too much Zappa). Though “School of Rock” the song is terrific.

    Another one that doesn’t really count would be Mint Tea, the Austin Powers band from the credits of International Man Of Mystery, but their BBC3 is much better than the channel of the same name that it predated. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa8TyF6lo80

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 7 Jul 2010 #

    ‘Grace of my heart’ features a range of 60s pastiches written by Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach and Joni Mitchell among others. It’s been a while since I saw it so I can’t vouch for the quality.

  5. 5
    Pete Baran on 7 Jul 2010 #

    I was trying to remember if the GOMH ones were any good. I remember them being pretty good, but I don’tthink Illeana Douglas sings any of them in the film. The only Illeana Douglas track I can find on Spotify is this odd duet on a kids album with Gary Oldman:

  6. 6
    Martin on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Doesn’t Douglas shack up with, er, “Brian Wilson” in that movie? How are the songs we hear him sing in that? I think we hear one. There’s also ‘That Thing You Do!’ which has to be convincing in a slightly different way, maybe closer to ‘Walk Hard.’ There’s a movie from the 1980s called ‘Satisfaction.’ Paul Schrader did one called ‘Light of Day.’

  7. 7
    Mike on 7 Jul 2010 #

    there was that movie “backbeat” from ’94. i haven’t seen it, but i know that dave grohl, thurston moore, greg dulli and some others were the “backbeat band” for the soundtrack. though i’m not sure if this counts because all the songs are covers.

  8. 8
    Tracer Hand on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Any love for “PoP! Goes My Heart” from Music and Lyrics?

    NB the other dude in this video plays Ben Wheatley in the movie Bandslam, playing guitar and singing for the awesomely named “Glory Dogs”

  9. 9
    Pete Baran on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Brian Wilson is played by Matt Dillon but voiced by J Mascis, I remember that sticking in my head at the time (and I guess also suggests Singles – all of the music in that was pretty poor).

    I certainly don’t remember the songs being rubbish in Grace, that would have stuck out. So I flicked through Youtube here is God Give Me Strength from the film which is pretty heavily channelling Tapestry era Carol (sung by Kristen Vigard), and I think is Bacharach.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Checking out the Youtube clips for GOMH I was pretty impressed by the quality of the pastiches – I was surprised to find that it’s not available as a DVD from Amazon unless you go for Region 1. It deserves a wider audience.

  11. 11
    Martin on 7 Jul 2010 #

    ‘Singles’ reminds me of ‘Almost Famous,’ probably the most serious attempt to represent a fictional classic rock band in its full glory. How do Sweetwater’s ditties hold up?

  12. 12
    Jet Simian on 7 Jul 2010 #

    Is anything from ‘Still Crazy’ worth mention?

    I probably shouldn’t, but must confess to finding some of Bad News’ material fun at the time too, but as they actually did Donnington should they be excluded?

  13. 13
    Hazel on 10 Jul 2010 #

    They’re not in a film but Dethklok, the fictional band from Metalocalypse, are very good at sounding like they could be the biggest band in the world, despite being in ten-minute cartoon episodes-

    Tbh I think the difference is entirely in production; Josie and the Pussycats got proper producers in, presumably GHTTG hasn’t. Having just listened to bits of the Infant Sorrow album on Spotify it’s also mistaken bad singing for something that’s sustainably tolerable; most rockstars can’t sing but they have to do whatever it is they actually can do, whereas Brand sounds like he’s at an embarassing karaoke.

  14. 14
    Irena Paskey on 24 Dec 2010 #

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  15. 15
    Rufus Headroom on 17 May 2016 #

    MTV’s Boyband Du Jour “2ge+Her” are solid swingers. “The Hardest Part Of Breaking Up (Is getting back your stuff)” is slammin’!

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