Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Hilarious Adventures of Mr S Sweetman, Fiction

Stuff.co.nz has a fantastic column where they provide a pastiche of every self-righteous music-blogger twit you've ever read. Why go to Stereogum AND Pitchfork, while trawling Idolator to make sure gems of music-blogging haven't slipped through your fingertips, when charmingly-named made-up musical superdweeb Simon The Sweetman will provide you with all the blockrog cliches you could ever need?

From the name on down (at first it sounds ungodly terrible, then you realise it's a pun and it's a bit clever, then you get sick of the cleverness and it's ungodly terrible again), "Blog on the Tracks" has it all: from the fence-sitting paen to rock/roll authenticity that is "First thoughts on the arrival of Chinese Democracy", through the obsessive cataloguing of Sweetman's "guilty pleasures" (the writers are careful to provide him with countless examples of such, portraying the character as both would-be iconoclast and desperate approval-junkie), to the Office-like cringe of "Plugging back in to Nirvana", in which the character deftly treads the line between studied rockblog aloofness and canonised Cobain-worship (culminating in an hilarious assemblage of Cobain's lyrics the blog encourages you to think of as a "poem"). In between there are flatmate stories, petty beef, and plenty of adoration for the whitest of the rockblog canon.

Sometimes the "Sweet Man" persona is allowed to carry over into reviewing, and the results are always bang-on lampoonery. Reviewing a dire Pumpkins gig? Sneer at audience members who didn't buy Gish, alert readers to Billy Corgan's penchant for arrogance. Anticipating Neil Young's performance at the BDO? A page of talking about yourself will provide ample opportunity to establish your discerning disregard for the artist's lesser-regarded works. Guitars and teen audiences? It's emo-baiting a-go-go, like as if it was 2005 all over again!

The character outdoes itself in its review of the Kanye West gig last night. All the stops are pulled out: West is a primadonna, new rap is radio-friendly and thus dismissable, young audiences don't really like music, black people swear a lot, we didn't pay you to talk, the whole biz.

Oh, sure, the character could have been written as trying to "get it": to recount the prog-esque breakdowns, gutsy reinventions of even the best-regarded of hits, maybe even try and get their head around how an opulent neon-drenched orchestral rock-out becomes thrilling and unpredictable when the performer chooses to play the "difficult genius" role. A lesser-written character would have let West's disses of hacky journalists and reviewers slide, rather than wagging a hammy finger at the singer for his well-played glam-rap hubris.

But this would be breaking character for Sweetman. His fans know what they like: ranting about what we did or did not come for, obtuse comparisons to other artists ("Puff Daddy 2.0"?), trenchant observation of the fact that Nas has a song about Barack Obama and Barack Obama is in the news. And Sweetman delivers. For fans of wry satire in a field so crying out for deflation, this man is sweet indeed.

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