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.

And we'll watch them fall

05:03pm 23 Sep 2014


I mentioned as part of last Friday's post that I had started writing some early drafts and lists of ideas for potential blog posts in a hotel in Fiji seven years ago. Today is the day, seven years ago, that Blog On The Tracks started.

There aren't many traditions here - but each year I write a birthday post. And I remind you of the clock ticking, the counting up of every hundred posts or so. 

Look - here's the very first post, my introduction to blogging, I got the name wrong of the lead singer from Deep Purple, adding a letter in even though I know his name. That was the start of nit-picking comments. Something I knew I was getting myself in for - I can't say it appealed, but I just knew it was part of the gig. It's hard to imagine this blog could ever last as long as it has given that first post. It reads now - as I'm sure it did then - like one of those well-intentioned but meaningless first posts on Wordpress. There's no second post. Or if there is it's a month later and usually starts with something along the lines of, "Well, time sure flies. I promised I'd update this blog every day and here we are a month later..." - and then there's most definitely never a third post.

No such luck here. I've been an every-day man for most of seven years. Weekends off. Public holidays. A Christmas break every other year.

In the time I've been doing this I've changed jobs a couple of times - then given up on full-time workThe Winter's Newest Member altogether (but not because this is so lucrative, I must stress). I've written a book, had a son -  Sprog On The Tracks - aka Oscar. He's now a Beatles fanatic and I like to convince myself that I've had only a very small amount to do with that. He plays the drums. Here's a picture of him - he's growing up, nearly three, he's set to be the new drummer in The Winter.

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One song you love because of the lyrics

09:21am 23 Sep 2014


Songs For Drella is a masterpiece. It seems even more poignant now - no chance of another collaboration between Lou Reed and John Cale. And it's an uncomfortable listen in places - tense and moody - and so stripped back. That's why it works. Reed must have been on a roll, because he followed it a couple of years later with Magic And Loss - probably my all-time favourite album by him - one of my favourites by anyone, even though it's depressing. Maybe because of that fact...

The title song is my favourite track from the album; one of my favourite lyrics period. I imagine it playing at my funeral. A bonus (and yeah, sure, why should I care, I won't hear it...blah blah) is because it has one of Lou's vintage/trademark ugly/beautiful guitar solos. Which, if we're in a church (as most funerals are) would sound kick-ass...

Here are the words to it anyhow:


When you pass through the fire
You pass through humble
You pass through a maze of self-doubt
When you pass through humble
The lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out
You pass through arrogance you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever-present past
And it's best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light

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Election weekend

09:15am 22 Sep 2014


Late on Friday night I played some of my favourite New Zealand songs - a DJ set up at the San Fran in Cuba Street. Of course I'd just heard a few of my favourite New Zealand songs, having been at Neil Finn's Wellington show. It wasn't all great, there was a lull in the middle, even if only for a song or two. There was a hideously incorrect rewrite of one of his old radio hits - it simply did not work. No points for trying, he got that wrong. But most often it was pretty wonderful - great songs, inspired performances, the band breathing life into the new and old songs. Some of those Split Enz and Crowded House tunes are actually getting better - even the ones that have been trotted out over and over - like Distant Sun. I feel like that's a song Neil Finn might always play but it never sounds tired. It certainly never sounded more alive, more vibrant than on Friday night.

Bic Runga's opening set was lovely - really quite special. A small handful of her very best songs, just material from the first three albums, a focus on Birds, her best-sounding record; Neil Finn clearly had a lot to do with that album, co-writing/arranging and playing the piano. He joined her on stage for half of her set to play through the best material from that album like Say After Me.Birds

And there was no awkward bit where we waited patiently through the new song/s - tentatively applauding, figuring the germ of an idea might turn into something with a bit of refinement. Here were the songs that had made Bic Runga, made her name and career and here she was, nervous - still, but playing through a set that reintroduced the best of her work, reintroduced her, reminded you that she really had something - especially on that Birds album.

Neil Finn's set also picked from the corners of his career - the Finn album got a look in, and just as well, it's one of the finest projects he's been involved in. The material from Dizzy Heights was, for the most part, resplendent, compelling. One or two indulgences and maybe, at one point, a few too many new/obscure songs in a row but that's largely nit-picking.

It was often wonderful.

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The strange, moody week that was

11:06am 19 Sep 2014


The week started with the terrible news around the passing of a legend in New Zealand music. The week will end with a concert by another legend of New Zealand music. Actually, my working week will end with a DJ set of my favourite New Zealand music.

It's been a funny ole week - a strange mood hovering. We're getting older all the time. I now have arguments with my son over how many CDs he can take in the car with him. He's not yet three years old. These arguments are already intense. He's more of an omnivore, in terms of musical taste, than I - his favourite band, absolutely, is The Beatles. And one of the best moments of this week was listening to the mono record of Revolver for the first time with Oscar. Much as he loves The Beatles he's more a singles man, not so much into letting the whole album run. But he enjoyed everything from Revolver - in order - when Yellow Submarine arrived (track number six, side one) he applauded as if greeting a concert favourite. (It's acceptable to like this song when you're two years old). He correctly assessed that Tomorrow Never Knows is my favourite track from the album. He points out Paul McCartney in all the Beatles album covers and photos in books.

It's hard not to be proud. He also discovered a new favourite band this week. Sleater-Kinney. This too is good news. Even if only for me and not you.

In other tales of how weird the week was I found I couldn't mock Phil Rudd of AC/DC's solo album, well, not much anyway... It's perfectly acceptable to have no interest in this album, to avoid it, to not like it, but if you are a fan of what Rudd does behind the kit, if you're a fan of his day-job/main gig and of those sorts of blue-collar, four-four rock-beat, basic bar-room bogan stuff - and surely there's a little streak of that in all of us, well, not all of us, but I don't mind admitting that I have it - then this record really delivers. A nice surprise. I'm not saying it's any kind of wonderful. But it is so much better than the words "solo album by AC/DC's drummer" could ever suggest. That's the sort of tag-line that makes you shoot first and run to the car. But no, Rudd's album while not subtle - it's called Head Job - is a pretty decent rock record.

And speaking of decent rock records - that safe 3-star/3.5-star area - Ryan Adams returned with his first record in three years, I like the idea of Ritalin Ryan slowing right down. Again, you do not need to hear this record - you can correctly choose to not hear it or not like it because Ryan Adams fans are a funny bunch and there can't be too many that like every single thing he's done (particularly if they like and listen to other music as well). I haven't been all that interested in a Ryan Adams album for about a decade now but this latest one has a great feel to it, some wonderful guitar sounds, and he's done a better job of stealing song-feels and rewriting them in his own style than those people that sold an "Eminem Esque" tune to The National Party.

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Lose yourself in the music, the moment

06:16am 18 Sep 2014


This whole Eminem sues National story brings up plenty of disturbing issues - Steven Joyce can be as smug as he likes (a pet hobby, it would seem) in suggesting this is just a pre-election shakedown (absurd) but a real crime here is that he and National's marketing geeks didn't know about a song that won an Oscar, a song from a film that was released when Eminem as rapper-turned-actor was at the height of his fame, a household name. The song featured all across the movie's advertising, its trailer and played on the radio regularly. It's inconceivable that someone - anyone - didn't know. You could imagine the scene, someone working on the National rowing we're going backwards to show you all the country's going forward ad returning home after a hard day's slog and talking to their partner about it, playing a clip. The ad-person's partner then goes, "hey honey, that's great, but you know that's an Eminem song right".vs.

Of course it's not for Eminem to sue National it's for the protectors of the song's rights to sue the company that has ripped off the song Lose Yourself. National can hide behind the fact that they simply paid a licence to a company that created a piece of music, they "borrowed" the music legally, but the people that "borrowed" the tune weren't allowed to do it.

Ads often feature soundalike music. It's done to trigger thoughts of that original piece in our head. We hear something that somehow sounds instantly familiar, the seed is planted. We're hooked into it because we recognise the music. The idea is actually to skirt dangerously close to sounding like a particular popular song - always hoping to avoid legal issues by being just different enough, by somehow flying under the radar. It's dirty pool of course.

I was quoted in a Dominion Post story at the time that National released their rowing commercial. The journalist had asked for a second opinion around the song and within two seconds of hearing it I was convinced that this was a rip. It turns out the company that created this piece of music even gave it the working-title of "Eminem Esque".

National can get off the hook and point to the fact that they merely paid someone to do a job, it's not their fault - it's the fault of the person they employed. And however you feel about National this is actually correct. The problem lies with the music company using and selling soundalike beats.

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