Saturday, December 24, 2011

Overlooked Albums - Spin Doctors' "Turn It Upside Down"

One of my favorite albums is selling for less than a dollar on Amazon.com.  There is no excuse for you not to own it.

The Spin Doctors' second album, "Turn It Upside Down" is one of the most underrated records I've ever heard.  For some reason, it has been condemned almost universally as a total flop and failure.  Of course, Spin Doctors fans will tell you differently.  The problem was that when it came out, people were already sick to death of the Spin Doctors, mostly because "Two Princes" was being played on the radio once every 20 minutes.  Their follow up to the multiplatinum album "Pocket Full Of Kryptonite" is easily its equal, and one of my favorite records.

On "Turn It Upside Down" the band paints on a wider canvas, experimenting when they used to reign it in.  At the time of release, everyone obsessed about the weird, funky numbers like "Biscuit Head" as evidence that the album had "no hooks".  I never understood that, because the album is packed with hooks.  Even those funky experiments have hypnotic riffs that have stuck in my head for years.  And if you want straight up pop, the pop tunes here are better written than the ones on "Kryptonite", if not as instant in their appeal.  "You Let Your Heart Go Too Fast" is a country experiment that should have been a big radio hit.

Throughout the album, Eric Schenkman plays screaming guitar leads like his fingers are on fire.  He heads up a backing band that is just as together as they were on the first album, but now has room to show what else they can do.  Chris Barron's vocals are still a little weird, as is his tendency to add vowels to the end of every word.  But who else could make a song as weird as "Cleopatra's Cat" so interesting?  That song is a rambling, goofy story involving Cleopatra's favorite cat stealing Caesar's clothes.  Lyrics like "Caesar never got them back / cause they killed his ass in the second act" are delivered just this side of ridiculous so that the song still hasn't worn out its welcome after almost two decades in my CD rotation.

A few songs stand out above the others: "Indifference" is a great ballad with an emotional climax that nobody would have thought the critical whipping boys in the Spin Doctors capable of.  "Mary Jane" is a wistful number that may be about the sweet leaf, or a lost love, or both at once.  "Hungry Hamed's" is so New York that you can almost smell the restaurant the song is about, and has a killer riff as well.  and "Big Fat Funky Booty" is an old live favorite packed with double-entendres that kicks the album off on just the right note.

Heavier tracks like "Beasts in the Woods" and "Bags of Dirt" show an intensity that the Doctors never returned to after this.  I feel like some wind was really taken out of their sales when "Turn it Upside Down" was so condemned by critics.  That combined with the backlash of their audience seems to have caused them to play it safe from then on, leaving this album as the only evidence of their true awesomeness.

4 comments:

  1. I agree totally, this is my favorite record period. I love this album and have for years, just great rock and roll music.

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  2. Awesome, man! I must confess that my pre-teen self wasn't happy when I brought it home, but it grew on me pretty quickly. Thanks for sharing the love.

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    1. I was 13 when I bought it in 1994 and like you it had to grow on me but once it did I was extremely satisfied.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this, David.
    It is still my favorite album by them and I wish I had attended one of the '94 summer tour shows.

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