Top of the Pops: Pocketful of Kryptonite

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December 13, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

If the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam had a bastard love child that they both disavowed, that despondent child would be the Spin Doctors.  Being a jam-based rock band, no one really expected the band to go anywhere…including the band members themselves, but their live shows and offbeat likeability soon elevated the band to world fame, a rise that went unnoticed by the band themselves.  All you have to know about the Spin Doctors is summed up in this fable told by lead singer Chris Barron-One day he goes to the ATM and sees only $17 in his account, nothing out of the ordinary there, the very next day there’s something like $50,000 dollars in his account on account of the massive and unexpected success of Pocketful of Kryptonite.  Not even the band realized that they were famous until their manager had to point that out tothem, and it was all do to their debut album.

Pocketful of Kryptonite is no masterpiece; it’s not something that will ever be considered an album to listen to before you die, nor will it even crack any best of lists for 1991, the year it was released.[1]  What it is however, is a fun album that has no illusions of grandeur; after all Pocketful of Kryptonite is an album that concerns itself primarily with three things: the time, homelessness, and household appliances.  Like I said, there are no grand ambitions on this album.

However, this winds up working both for and against the band on Pocketful of Kryptonite.  Being 10 tracks deep, the album can at times feel shallow and without much breadth.  This is most evident on the final two tracks: “How Could You Want Him”, and “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist”, the latter of which is over 12 minutes long.  For a band that seemed intent on playing within themselves, amusingly erroneous lyrics can’t save the closing track from feeling uncharacteristically self-indulgent and out of place.  The Spin Doctors are a jam band yes, but Pocketful of Kryptonite is at its best when they temper the improvisations and focus it on a more funk or blues-based sound instead.

It’s when the Spin Doctors take their improvisational skills and hone it into a bluesy or funky sound that makes the album so amusing and endearing to the mainstream.  Tracks like “Two Princes”, “Off My Line”, and “Refrigerator Car”, are great pop songs that can appeal to everyone without the band having to compromise themselves.  From these songs we get a great look at who the Spin Doctors are and what they are all about.  They don’t need to overpower us just to stir a reaction from us.  From “Refrigerator Car” we can see that bassist Mark White, the MVP of the album, is from the same bass playing school as Flea.  “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” proved that Barron could be the charismatic, yet blue collar everyman.

Musically, their debut album is one that satisfies an impossible amount of genres all fighting for supremacy back in 1991.  “Refrigerator Car” sounds like the Chili Peppers covering “Even Flow”, and I mean that in the best way possible.  “Off My Line” is straight up blues rock, and the funky flow of “Two Princes” is one that will remain with us until the end of time.  The work that Aaron Commes does on the drums, particularly the snares, makes most of the better songs on the album really pop out at you.  Songs like “Two Princes” and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” benefit from this funk inspired drumming.  Ultimately, there are an equal amount of standout moments for every member of the band, and I suspect that this egalitarianism contributed to the overall success of the band being able to immerse themselves in funk, blues, and even grunge.

The real truth of Pocketful of Kryptonite is that it is a personable and non-threatening album.  From album opener and standout track “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”, the Spin Doctors establish themselves as the underdog, as Jimmy Olsen trying to compete against a titan, Superman, for the love of Lois Lane.  We like Pocketful of Kryptonite because it seems sweet and amicable, but we don’t love it because it’s not that larger than life, immaculate album.  But in a year of titanic albums, Pocketful of Kryptonite holds its ground better than it has any right to.  Jimmy Olsen might not be Superman, but I suspect that that’s one of the reasons why he’s stuck around for as long as he had.  Every Superman needs a Jimmy Olsen, and in 1991 the Spin Doctors were music’s’ Jimmy Olsen.  When competing with the man of steel, the best defense is a pocketful of kryptonite.


 

[1] But then again, 1991 was arguably the biggest year in music in terms of seminal albums.  Use Your Illusion I and II, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Metallica, Achtung Baby, Ten, Nevermind, Ropin’ the Wind, Dangerous, Gish, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and many more albums by some of the greatest artists were released in that year.

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