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.