Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

John Frusciante's solo career

10:54am 23 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

The best thing John Frusciante ever did was leave The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was such a good idea he did it twice.

Frusciante was a member of the band during their first wave of massive success, his guitar a crucial ingredient, part of their strange brew of funk flavours. As time goes on I think that band more and more absurd - I struggle to hear what I once heard in them, but I can't deny that I was a big fan of their material pretty much up to and including Californication. 

I had time for the records without Frusciante - I'm one of just a handful of people prepared to admit that I liked One Hot Minute. In a weak moment I might bend for some of the early pre-Frusciante material too but beyond an annual listen to Blood Sugar Sex Magik - still largely fantastic if you concentrate on the efforts of Frusciante and in particular drummer Chad Smith but also still really silly - I'm totally done with the Peppers.

They died for me when By The Way - which should have been called By The By - was delivered in all its lacklustre non-glory. I couldn't even give Californication the time of day now, it's just Frusciante circling back around over his familiar licks. Worked at the time, we missed them, we needed him back - they needed him back. But these are grown men, still almost-finding sex and penis euphemisms, still mastering the single-entendre, still name-dropping L.A. It's dull. And tired. And whatever funk-shtick they once had, though never in any sense real, is completely gone.

But anyway, I've told you all before I'm done with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That remains the case.John Frusciante

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The film about Pulp

08:59am 22 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I wasn't ever the hugest fan of the band Pulp. I really only knew them when they exploded amid the Britpop hype and when the press was getting all silly and creating that Blur/Oasis war and even decided that Blur was The Rolling Stones of Britpop and Oasis was The Beatles it was interesting to hear Pulp, perhaps The Kinks or Small Faces of the movement?

Well anyway, that silliness aside, for me it was only after I grew sick of all that Landfill Britpop and the second and third waves of grunge too that I really started to enjoy the music of Pulp. Different Class still, sure, a few monster songs on that one, and back to His'n'Hers too for a bit. But the one that really sold me, made me realise there was a huge depth with this band, to this band, was This Is Hardcore. It's always more interesting to see what a band will do when the alleged limelight, the apparent movement, has died down, moved on.A Film about Pulp

It was only after hearing Hardcore that I found out that Pulp had been making music - on the fringes - since back in the early 1980s. A compilation served as the catch-up and though I gave 2001's We Love Life a few spins it was hearing Jarvis Cocker as solo artist that returned me to This Is Hardcore and Different Class, that gave me an appreciation for Cocker the lyricist and frontman, that gave me some real purchase on Pulp.

As time goes by I find myself appreciating the band more and more - I'm caught, almost, in a false nostalgia in fact, lamenting a band I didn't care nearly enough about at the time. It's my interest in Jarvis Cocker as artist/renaissance man, his charm and abilities - that's been a huge part of the selling point. That and my love of Richard Hawley's music - a sideline player in the Pulp story, his own music nothing to do with the sound of his money-gig, but it's part of the interest for me, wanting to understand this musician and his motivations.

So all of that - a quick summary of where I'm at with the band, how I arrived at the band - is meant as much to say that the timing is right for me to enjoy a documentary about Pulp.

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Oh, the places a Neil Finn show will go!

07:27am 21 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

It was great news to wake up to - Neil Finn will tour New Zealand in September of this year. Not only is it very quiet on the touring front at the moment (well, it's winter...) but it's the first time Neil Finn has toured NZ in quite a while, the first time too since the release of the very strong (return to form) album, Dizzy Heights. So these shows will be well worth seeing.

But even if Dizzy Heights wasn't a good album - or even if it didn't exist - you'd still have a great time at a Neil Finn show. He's the consummate showman - always a great band, impeccable set-list, often with a surprise or two thrown in, sometimes he pulls out a surprise guest or two. For this tour Bic Runga is supporting, she hasn't played shows around the country since 2011.

I've seen Neil Finn perform in a few different contexts - in a few different cities too. I've seen him heading Crowded House and Split Enz reunions, I've caught him a few times with brother Tim, sometimes billed as The Finn Brothers, or Finn, and there's been a bunch of Neil Finn shows, though not many in New Zealand in recent years.

You go to a Neil Finn show and you get to see what an extraordinarily good guitar player he is - he'll hit out Suffer Never or some such. And you'll be genuinely amazed, even if you've followed his career. You'll hear him rework something like Message To My Girl, a song from so many years ago, recast as simple, tender piano ballad. You'll wonder all night about whether you might get to hear I Got You - and you will. And it will kill. Every time. You'll also get to hear Private Universe, potentially. And that'll transport you, take you away on its journey. You'll get to hear Sinner, most likely. What a strange and wonderful tune that is.

You might, if you're lucky, get to hear the likes of Fall At Your Feet, and remind yourself of the exquisite charm of Neil's writing, where even throwaway pop lyrics can be shaped into something magical due to his deft skill with a melodic line, his way of creating instantly hummable choruses.

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Bring The Family: redux/revisited

01:13am 18 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I like John Hiatt - he's a guy you can pretty much always rely on. There'll always be a good song - probably half a dozen. And somewhere in there, on each album (and he's done more than 20) there'll be a truly great song. Again, maybe more. He's never really been a blues artist but always had an element of that. Ditto: country and roots-rock. He's a troubadour-styled singer/songwriter. A great musician. That voice. And his lyrics. He gets it right with funny lines, cheeky asides and he can do the heartfelt thing - and it never seems cheesy or trite. Have A Little Faith In Me - well, that's the sort of song you could retire after. I mean, you write something like that you can rest easy. Your job is done.

But Hiatt didn't ever rest after that. He just went on. And on. And though I haven't cared about every album he's released - at least not all the way through and I still have some catching up to do across the last decade actually - I do think his latest album is particularly good. And I do think he's (still) sadly underrated as far as songwriters go, or underappreciated. There are people that know. Sure. But you live in hope that someone like Hiatt is going to one day hit the big payday. Not just money-wise, but spiritually, emotionally - it's that Rodney Dangerfield thing. It seems he can't get no respect.

Good as the Hiatt albums across the late 1980s and early 1990s are - and then again in the mid/late-90s (to some degree) I just love Bring The Family. That's the album that has Have A Little Faith. That's the album that he recorded in just a handful of days. His eighth. He was newly sober but the niggle that he had burned too many bridges in the music industry had him figuring he was done. He just happened to have written his best batch of songs. That's the album that lit a fire; that got him going again.

Ten tracks on Bring The Family - not a single dud. It plays out as if a "Greatest Hits" album. The band: Hiatt (vocals/piano/guitar), Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass), Jim Keltner (drums). What a line-up. They'd reform and formalise the band-notion, calling themselves Little Village. The Little Village album, just the one, self-titled, from 1992 is worth having - if you can find it. But Bring The Family - that's the better set of songs.Bring The Family

There's one problem with Bring The Family though - it suffers for its eighties sound. I love the music of the 1980s. But some albums recorded in that decade just didn't get the sound they deserved.  Bring The Family is one.

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"Queen" + Lambert = No Thanks!

09:35am 17 Jul 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Look, I get it - you're in a band and that lead singer dies and there goes your income and a part of you - a big part, probably - was hooked on the adulation, the adoration.

So you'll do anything to keep going. But the ongoing version/s of "Queen" - loosely based on the band Queen (I really respect the original band's bassist, John Deacon, he knew when to fold 'em, when to walk away, and in fact run...) - is a cruel joke, a grotesque.

They were quite prepared to battle on with anyone and whoever - from tribute appearances and recordings right after Freddie Mercury died where they figured Robbie Williams or Elton John or George Michael might stay on - anyone, whoever - through the embarrassing Queen + years featuring Paul Rodgers (Bad Company, Free, The Firm). And now to Adam Lambert.

So we're supposed to be excited that two of the members of Queen are touring here with a guy who came second in a TV popularity song-and-dance show."Queen" and some other guy

Fill your boots if you're a fan, sure. Whatever. But don't tell me this is going to be "exciting" or "the next best thing" or as "close as it gets" or even "as good as it gets". This is big, ugly, silly pantomime stuff.

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