Ten Years Later: The Spin Doctors
The Spin Doctors – Here Comes the Bride
June 1, 1999
Victim of Loudness War? No
Twenty years removed from their initial debut, The Spin Doctors have become immortalized as one of rock music’s most intriguing stories. When their first release, the live EP Up For Grabs!, first appeared in 1990, the jam band scene as we know it today remained unrealized. Sure, the Grateful Dead had been jamming for years and Phish has been milling around Vermont for a little while, but the style was still one that was relegated to the tape trading community and those that really put effort into discovering new music. Then came The Spin Doctors and their massive debut studio album, Pocket Full of Kryptonite. With its wealth of catchy tunes (“Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” “Refrigerator Car”) and its unrelentingly-huge hit single (“Two Princes”), the album catapulted the New York City-based band to the top of the mainstream heap, dragging the jam band community along with it.
Shortly thereafter, fellow jamband Blues Traveler began to catch on with the public, culminating in their hook-laden 1994 smash, Four. Alongside them were the likes of Phish and Widespread Panic, bands that would go on to achieve their own level of grassroots popularity and moderate mainstream success. Even later acts like String Cheese Incident and Umphrey’s McGee, who developed noteworthy success in the latter portion of the aforementioned decade. But no band was able to crossover from their jam-based nook to the Billboard charts like The Spin Doctors and they are far overdue for kicking the doors open as forcefully and influentially as they did in the early ‘90s.
Their somewhat meteoric rise to the top of the heap can unfortunately be held responsible for their comparatively quick decline, which initiated itself by the time the band released its sophomore effort, Turn It Upside Down. Rather than leading with the obvious single, “You Let Your Heart Go Too Fast,” The Spin Doctors chose a tune more suitable to the palates of the jam band side of their fanbase, the funkified “Cleopatra’s Cat.” The album peaked at #28 on the Billboard Charts and barely passed the one million sales mark, deeming it a failure in the wake of their iconic debut. By the time the band issued “Go Too Fast” as the record’s second single, many of their mainstream converts had tuned out. Even lead guitarist Eric Schenkman removed himself from the proceedings, weary and disillusioned with the tumultuous nature of being a hit act.
The band gave things another shot with You’ve Got To Believe in Something, their 1996 release that seemed eager to return the band to the sound of their first recording. Despite the strong lead single, “She Used to Be Mine” and even stronger album tracks like “I Can’t Believe You’re Still With Her” and “She’s Not You,” the album failed to chart and soon worked its way into record store cutout bins worldwide. Subsequently, the band was let go from Epic Records, essentially leaving them without the means to release an album or perform a full-fledged tour. The Spin Doctors were back where they started.
By the time Universal subsidiary Uptown Records gave the band a second chance, only original frontman Chris Barron and drummer Aaron Comess remained on board. Bassist Mark White followed second guitarist Anthony Krizan out the door, with longtime producer Frankie LaRocka not far behind. But the substantial reduction of the ranks weren’t enough to put a damper on their new record deal. Retaining the Spin Doctors moniker, the Barron and Comess recruited well known players (Ivan Neville) and unsung heroes (Eran Tabib) to assemble what would turn out to be their most adventurous album to date, Here Comes The Bride.
Hats off to Barron and Comess here. Most bands would have taken the safe path of mimicking their earlier success in hopes of a hit when presented with an opportunity like the one Universal presented The Spin Doctors. Instead, the pair opted to take things in a very experimental direction. Granted, their trademark pop sensibilities were still running throughout the new material, but they were immersed in sea of nonstandard instrumentation, orchestral synthesizer work and a slue of odd (yet in no way unappealing) sounds and styles that were unlike the band’s previous output. For example, “Dodging Assasins” is an all-out aural assault, alternating from quiet whispers to full on, effect-laden guitar breaks that, if heard without knowing the artist would never be attributed to the band that wrote “Two Princes.”
“The Man” and “Gone Mad” also follow the aforementioned trend of breaking formula for the band, incorporating programmed drum beats, distorted vocals and a minimal amount of guitar work. Now, while these adventures do not necessarily yield the best result, it is clear that Barron and Comess were on to something very unique here. Not only could the two talents have more fully realized their intentions on later efforts (had Universal not pulled the plug after this record failed to do the numbers they were after), but the alternate soundscapes they dabbled in became quite the mainstream a couple years later when attempted more successfully by bands like Wilco (on their legendary 2001 recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and Radiohead (beginning with their equally noteworthy Kid A in 2000).
The most amazing thing about this album tanking from a commercial standpoint lies in the fact that some of the band’s best pop-based tracks are included here. The album’s lead single, “The Bigger I Laugh, The Harder I Cry” is an undeniably-catchy tune, blanketed by one of Barron’s most sincere vocal performances before or since. “Diamond,” with its near-anthemic chorus, was perhaps the best case for a song that should have been a hit but inexplicably was not. And “Fisherman’s Delight,” with its laid-back shuffle and inviting horn section, should still be playing in every Carribean resort bar to this day. It is perplexing, even ten years after the fact, why these songs did not effortlessly catapult themselves to the top of the charts at the time of the album’s release, or at least to the top of FM rock radio playlists.
To add insult to injury, Chris Barron lost his unique voice to a vocal chord condition shortly after Here Comes the Bride fell off the charts in the Summer of 1999. It wouldn’t be until a couple years later that he would regain his abilities and release a subdued acoustic album, Shag, in 2001. In time, the original Spin Doctors lineup would reconvene and release a new album, Nice Talking To Me, in 2005 and go on to perform in the opening slot for the likes of Gov’t Mule and Blues Traveler, bands they had ironically opened the door for over a decade prior. But in their ever-evolving story of struggle and success, one thing remains clear: due to its innovation and willingness to take risks, Here Comes the Bride remains the Spin Doctors’ most artistically successful record to date.
While Here Comes the Bride is currently out of print, used copies can be purchased here:
– Ian Rice
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