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Don’t Call It a Comeback

It’s no secret that I like to think of myself as something of asuper hero. I’m a defender of the also-rans, the misbegotten misfits,the outcasts, the runaways, and the never-weres. Of course, I choosenot to defend the real innocents out there, but rather focus my superpowers on bands who were given short shrift. However, I have recentlybeen betrayed by one of those very groups, so it is with a heavy heartthat I have to renounce Spin Doctors.

Like anybody who cared enough to notice in the early ’90s, I was a fan of their debut album Pocket Full of Kryptonite,which featured songs that, if I’m not mistaken, transcended time andspace itself to become part of the zeitgeist (well, at least “LittleMiss Can’t Be Wrong” did, but you also have to give props to “TwoPrinces” and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” for trying). Spin Doctors broke inthe wake of the grunge explosion, where it was assumed that every bandwith a) guitars, and b) ugly guys, was going to fall into this newcategory (the spiritually similar Blues Traveler found like successaround this time as well). With the Black Crowes lighting up the chartsand Phish starting to cross over, there was definitely a hippierevolution brewing, which was strange considering how much Kurt hatedhippies.

But back to the topic at hand: Spin Doctors. So likea lot of bands trying to craft a reasonable sophomore follow-up totheir over-exposed (but still pretty phenomenal) debut, the band gotthe timing wrong on their second disc. I seem to remember feeling likethey took way too long to construct 1994’s Turn It Upside Down,but various websites suggest that they didn’t wait long enough to putit out. Either way, it was a mistake, and people weren’t ready todigest new music by the Spin Doctors, especially because the new albumdrifted a little bit away from pop songs and into more jammy territory,which was where they were most comfortable anyway (this could also beidentified as the Blues Traveler Paradox). It also probably didn’t helpthat people were probably still mourning Kurt, as he had been deadbarely two months, and weren’t in the mood for the good-time vibes ofan album whose lead single was called “Cleopatra’s Cat.”

However, there is a big secret regarding Turn It Upside Down:It’s actually pretty good. While it certainly wouldn’t end up on anylist of all-time greats, it’s nowhere near as bad as it was treatedwhen it was released. The grooves are pretty infectious, and while thepop hooks aren’t quite as instantly winning as “Little Miss Can’t BeWrong,” it still has a handful of great tunes (notably “You Let YourHeart Go Too Fast” and “Big Fat Funky Booty”).

Spin Doctors never really recovered from the failure of Turn It Upside Down. Its follow-up, 1996’s You’ve Got To Believe In Something,had a minor hit in “She Used to Be Mine” and featured one of the bestsongs in the Doctors’ catalogue, “If Wishes Were Horses,” but the albumon the whole was largely ignored and they were dropped by their label.1999’s Here Comes the Bride, recorded for Universal as a”comeback,” was met with total apathy. Shortly after that, it wasreported that frontman Chris Baron was suffering from total vocalparalysis and could no longer sing. It looked like the Spin Doctorswere done for good. Baron managed to get healthy, but the band wasbasically done and played a series of farewell shows in New York atIrving Plaza and at the legendary (and now defunct) Wetlands.

That brings me to the new bad news: The Spin Doctors are back with a new album called Nice Talking To Me,and the bottom line is it’s just not very good at all. But it’s not somuch the poor quality of the songs that bothers me. Rather, it’s thewhole comeback as a larger concept. I had made my peace with the SpinDoctors, and I had made a pact to defend them and all of their pastalbums, and they had gone the way of the buffalo as an underrated band.Now that they’ve returned to take another stab at success, I can’t getbehind them. As George Costanza would say, “We had a pact, and theyreneged!”

In fact, I’ll use this space to say that I don’tlike reunions of any form. I got a little excited when Billy Corganannounced he was getting the Smashing Pumpkins back together, but I canpretty much guarantee that Billy won’t be able to convince D’ArcyWretzky to return, and thus is won’t actually be the SmashingPumpkins as we knew them. This is fine with me, because it can belooked at as little more than an attempt to cash-in on nostalgia andhas nothing to do with making music with a certain group of people.This, somehow, is more acceptable at getting everybody back togetherand taking another stab at it. Better example: There is nothing sadderright now than the Gang of Four reunion. I don’t care how much peopledig Entertainment, because these guys had run their course, andpart of the draw of the band was that they broke up before they had achance to really shine. Now, we’re going to find out that they aren’tvery good, either because they’re old or they’re different or theyweren’t very good in the first place. I felt the same way when thePixies got back together — it was a huge, epic event that everybodyhad been clamoring for, but I think I prefer them as a splinteredgroup. I like the idea of the Pixies as this unattainable thing thatcan never be constructed again.

Of course, the Spin Doctorsstory arc isn’t nearly as apocryphal as the Pixies or Gang of Four orSlint or Dinosaur, Jr. or anybody else who has gotten the show back onthe road this year, and their new album will most likely go the way ofall their other albums not called Pocket Full of Kryptonite. But as far as A-D is concerned, Spin Doctors had a good thing going that has now been wasted on reuniting.

Now, if we could only figure out a way to reanimate Shannon Hoon, we could get cracking on that Blind Melon reunion in ’06…

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