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Pocket Full of Kryptonite

Spin Doctors - 1991

Flash back…’91. Press play. Guitar riff slides up and starts making a delicious point. Four seconds into this opening track and I’m liking this album. 14 seconds pass and the entrance of a funk-jumping bass and drum groove suggest my really liking this album. 35 seconds in and I’m already trying to sing along to some guy going on about his hopeless rivalry with Superman for the affections of Lois Lane. Now, I’m hooked. For good. As each perfect track passes I continue to fall in love with this, the Spin Doctors first studio album, A Pocket Full of Kryptonite. Flash forward….’14. I’m walking around the Upper East Side and see this album, synched recently to the iPod. I take to a road less traveled and instead of scrolling down to its successor, Homebelly Groove (a perennial top ten album of all time in my opinion) and pressing play, I tap on Jimmy Olsen’s Blues. Suddenly, I’m back to reliving my first listen to this album and silently cursing myself for not enjoying it more than I have done over the years. At its initial release, A Pocket Full of Kryptonite usurped the music trend of its day, most of which was coming from Seattle and the newly birthed grunge era. When listening to it, imagine its release alongside two of the biggest albums of that year: Nirvana’s, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Pearl Jam’s, Ten. One could understand why in comparison to those and other bands, the Spin Doctors were seen as rather quaint and a bit of fun. However, if you really listen to what’s going on throughout these ten tracks then it’s easy to see that Pocket isn’t just a 90’s feel good album. The key to this album lies within the bands given name. The Spin Doctors take emotionally draining situations and relieve the sting of them by giving them a sense of naïve hope, done so through the upbeat music. However, as you listen to the lyrics of Chris Barron you start to realize how sad and at times, desperate the subject matter is. More than once he plays the role of the long-shot-lover-in-want, always up against a suitor that has it all to offer the woman of Barron’s dreams. In the major hit off the album, How Could You Want Him When You Know You Could Have Me, Barron questions why this woman has fallen for a dime-a-dozen man, a pigeon ‘pecking crumbs’ while he’s on his ‘deathbed bleeding with the cherubim’; pointing out that the other guy ‘only wants a pretty face by him’. At the end, via Barron’s painfully impassioned singing and with the music taking a minor turn in tonality at the end of each phrase, you just know that Barron did not convince this ‘falling star’ sent to him by ‘ferocious angels’ to choose him over the pigeon. Barron reprises this loser-of-a-lover role when he takes on the guise of Jimmy Olsen in the opening track. There he’s pitted against Superman for the affections of Lois Lane and I think we all know how that turns out. As in How Could You…his comparison of himself and the other suitor shows him as the thoughtful type, having more to offer than just superficial niceties. ‘He’s leaping buildings in a single bound/I’m reading Shakespeare at my place downtown.’ In, More Than She Knows, Barron claims that a woman needs him well, ‘more than she knows’ but from the frantic pace of the song and knowing that she has ‘everything she needs’, we know it’s a pipe dream. (Note: John Popper gets horrifically nasty on a solo in this song. Well worth the listen.) During a time of distortion pedals and youthful rebellion via angst, here were the Doctors showing everyone that there was another way to deal with being a social outcast. Someone up against all odds such as they, their album and hopeless lovers they played and played for, were up against in regards to the music of that time. Of course that’s not to say the Doctors don’t get a little nasty on Pocket. It’s not all desperately playful. Take Refrigerator Car which opens with a drum induced 9/8 pattern leading from there to some mean and aggravated guitar work. The sarcastic and obscenely bitter, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong is the perfect take on the spin these Doctors put on their music. The music is pure groove with the bass and guitar riffs blues-esque in quality and funky in their fashion. On top of this Barron is just pure mean to his ex. Happy to see her go (supposedly), mad the relationship is over. Summarized perfectly in the verse, ‘I hope those cigarettes gonna make you cough/Hope you hear this song and it pisses you off/I take that back I hope you’re doing fine/And if I had a dollar might give you ninety-nine.’ The overall musicianship on show in Pocket is intensely superb. The brilliance heard in the team work of bassist Mark White and drummer Aaron Comess has to really be paid attention to in order to see what dangerous musicians they really are. The mastery of their instruments is so understated in their playing that it’s close to criminal. A perfect example of this is the legendary drum fill at the start of Two Princes. Sounds simple enough, however, I have played with excellent drummers that when they first give this off-hand fill a go, they soon realize it’s a little crossed in the hands and hence fumble it on their first tries. Comess absolutely sheds his seemingly shy self for Hard To Exist, the second half of track ten (unofficially the eleventh track) and just lays himself all over the song with his intricate chops. Mark White’s talents are even more hidden than Comess’s but his lines are anything more than just straight forward root movement. (If you really want to hear him roar, I suggest Homebelly Groove.) Barron’s melodies are infectious, his voice capable and his lyrics of original material, thought provoking while being relatable. This leaves us with guitarist Eric Schenkman. This man is the true star of the album. He’s a tour de force all on his own. Every song is made up of riffs and movements that is the complete antithesis of what the grunge boys were up to. It’s clever playing that sounds like he’s improvising on the spot. Each part for every verse, breakdown and chorus is as memorable as the melody being sung by Barron. His solos are technically brilliant, easy to remember, pure music gold. I would point out a specific song but I don’t need to. Any song at any point in time will do. Oh, he also takes lead vocals on Off My Line. Pocket Full of Kryptonite trail blazed the way for the on-coming jam scene. If not for this album you have to imagine how well Four by Blues Traveler or Dave Matthews Band’s, Under The Table and Dreaming, both released three years after Pocket, would have ultimately performed. Through this album and their touring, The Spin Doctors laid the foundation for the jam-band-college scene. If you have any questions as to whether or not the Doctors belonged in that category, please, do yourself a favor and pick up Homebelly Groove. Pocket will always be a classic of epic proportions. It was then and is now for the always optimistic romantic who knows they’re second fiddle but knows that fiddle is made out of pure gold.

Posted by Andrew Scott

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Comments

They were certainly a band without a comfortable slot to fit into back then. They're kind of lucky to have had as much success as they did, considering the way the music industry worked back then. A year later, when Grunge was in full force, they might not have gotten a chance. Nice review.

Posted over 4 years ago by TambegifTambe

Posted: 02/25/2014