Spin Doctors, “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist: (1991, 2011 reissue): Deep Cuts

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You remember the Spin Doctors, right? A group of shaggy hairs who shot to superstardom as part of the whole tie-dyed H.O.R.D.E. of neohippies making fun-rock back in the 1990s.

Twenty years later, it’s difficult to believe there’d be much gained from a gala two-disc reissue of their smash debut Pocket Full of Kryptonite, even with all of the extra live and demo goodies that inevitably find their way onto such projects.

You could argue, and initially get little push back in doing so, that we’ve already heard the best of what Kryptonite had to offer in an early-decade defining string of hits that included “Two Princes” (which went to No. 7 Billboard Hot 100), “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” (No. 17) and “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” (No. 78). By June of 1993, the album had gone triple platinum, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. along and peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

Then you hear “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist,” for the first time in — well, maybe ever. The Spin Doctors burst out with a loose-limbed groove, a forehead-smacking beat and a set of lyrics surrounded by late-night portent. The tune, cowritten by singer Chris Barron, guitarist Eric Schenkman, drummer Aaron Comess and guest star John Popper of Blues Traveler, has this turbulent undercurrent of blues, and of West Coast space jams, and of junkie mystery in an unforgiving urban landscape.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: There is a complicated, concurrent brilliance to “Past, Present and Future,” a stand-out track from Aaron Comess’ new instrumental album ‘Beautiful Mistake.’.]

All of that happy-go-lucky stuff drains away: “Buildings rise like fingers from a concrete palm,” Barrons sings, with a clinched menace. “Yellow lit apartments trickle through the drapes; windows frame each history hidden even from the fire escapes.”

The track then swerves into a whipsawing instrumental passage, with bassist Mark White hitting an angry, insistent note as Schenkman and Comess begin constructing a towering inferno of sound. Together, they play with a furious focus that belies every dope smoke-filled cliche about this band and its feel-good singles. Then, as Barron leads them into the concluding “Hard to Exist,” the Spin Doctors settle into an intriguing update of every soul-bearing R&B side of the 1960s — one that goes from convulsingly complex into an almost psychedelic rumination. A great find.

“Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist” will be re-released as part of a two-disc 20th anniversary edition of the Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full of Kryptonite on Aug. 30s by Epic-Legacy. Disc 1 is a remastering of the original debut recording; Disc 2 includes early demo recordings once sold on cassette tapes (as Can’t Say No in 1989 and Piece of Glass in 1990) during the band’s early gigs. While many of the songs were later developed and released officially, two of them, “Can’t Say No” and “Turn It Upside Down,” have never appeared on any Spin Doctors’ album. There is also a new live version of “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” recorded in 1990.

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