UPDATE, Sept. 7, 9:44 a.m.: And what do you know, there's a 20th anniversary edition of Pocket Full of Kryptonite that features the album “as you remember it.”
Original post, Sept. 6, 10:36 a.m.: Nostalgia for the 1990s has been surging lately, spurred, as nostalgia often is, by a yearning by simple people for simpler times.
Last week, Rolling Stone blew the trend to noxious proportions with a story on the 20th anniversary of Pocket Full of Kryptonite, the debut album by the Spin Doctors.
The story treats the Spin Doctors, who've reunited, as returning alt-rock heroes–despite the group being critically despised in its heyday and vanishing once Pocket ran its course.
Maybe Rolling Stone is just marking a worthy anniversary. Pocket did sell 5 million copies, after all. One could say the band sold all those records thanks to its talent and committed fan base.
One could also state the obvious–that the Spin Doctors probably achieved success because between 1991 and 1993 they enjoyed relentless airplay on alternative and adult contemporary radio stations as well as hourly rotation of their videos on MTV.
Spin Doctors vocalist Chris Barron (above). This guy was a rock star in the 1990s. Really.
In other words, a band that gets played 35 times a day on hundreds of different radio stations while getting its videos beamed to tens of millions of homes over the course of two years should at the very least expect to sell 5 million records.
Put another way, of the 250 million people in the U.S. back then, up to 80 percent (200 million) reportedly listened to FM radio daily while 50 million subscribed to cable TV, meaning that the Spin Doctors, on any given day, potentially reached 300 million people.
Had they been a truly compelling band, you'd expect the Spin Doctors to have sold records to more than 2 percent of the people who may have heard them during that time.
And this is a group that the nostalgia factory is serving up in 2011. If that's not enough to sour you on pop culture time travel, we've got four more reasons why celebrations of the 1990s should be a crime.
4. Regular Guy Rock
Third Eye Bland (above)
We know it's shallow, but at least pop music today is occasionally amusing, thanks to shameless freaks like Lady Gaga who try hard to provoke the squares and inspire their fans.
The 1990s by contrast saw a surplus of white bread dullards dominate the music industry – bands who could be considered the forefathers of Train but were in some cases lamer than the clods responsible for “Soul Sister.”
Offending bands included Dishwalla, Semisonic, Everclear, Third Eye Blind, Tonic, Fuel, and Live, to name a few. Most specialized in generically thumped guitars, anemic rhythm sections, and wavering, girlie man vocals with lyrical content cribbed from the journals of brain-damaged 8th graders.
Tellingly, many of the band's names had sterilizing qualities (Tonic, Everclear) or were overly ubiquitous (Fuel, Live), suggesting that the music of each group was safe and indistinguishable from that of the others, just like competing brands of household cleaner on supermarket shelves.
If you've ever watched a rerun of Dawson's Creek and wondered who wrote the incidental music, so you could make voodoo dolls of that musician and stick pins in his eyes, then you are familiar with Regular Guy Rock, and with the many reasons it should stay buried in 1996.
3. The Music Scene Guessing Game
One of the most frequently asked questions of the 1990s concerned where the next big music scene would materialize. Examples:
“Will Racine will be the next Seattle?”
“Does Knoxville have its own Nirvana?”
“Will Boise give us another Springsteen?”
As you probably know, proximity to a decent band or profitable strip of concert venues does not confer instant ability on a musician. This fact was overlooked during the Clinton era, when the emergence of a few major bands in the Pacific Northwest influenced thousands of lesser talents to descend upon Seattle, eager to soak up the mojo that gave the world Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.
Meanwhile, creative residents of less happening cities figured that if an unassuming place like Seattle could become a cultural center, then any old city could become a Rock n' Roll boomtown. Egged on by fanzines and word-of-mouth, young musicians soon devoted their time to predicting what scene would be the next to “break” while neglecting other concerns, like band practice.
The result was a generation of musicians whose greatest skill lay in packing their shit into a U-Haul, moving to a new city, and finding a crash pad within 48 hours. In other words, they became carnies.
We can do better than celebrate an era in which drummers were evaluated for their camping skills as much as their ability to count.
A 1990s indie rocker today (above)
2. Lilith Fair
From 1997 to 1999, the all-female music festival Lilith Fair drew tens of thousands of women to outdoor venues to see the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, and Fiona Apple. What seemed like a nice empowering idea back in those more innocent days now strikes us a recipe for disaster.
That is, if two women at a cocktail party can create an atmosphere of animosity and drama by simply exchanging dirty looks, imagine what 25,000 women are capable of doing on a bad day. Here is a visual aide of what a crowd of 25,000 people looks like:
1. Coastal Rap Rivalries
We're sure it boosted record sales, but the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry left everyone involved either dead, wounded, or with less dignity than a pro wrestling “jobber.” We'd elaborate more on the inanity of entertainers shooting each other over lyrical swipes and women, but we're fearful of getting shot ourselves. Actually, we think that the old David Cross comedy series Mr. Show makes the point best (clip begins at 48 seconds):
And finally, one reason to embrace the 1990s:
Music writing appeared solely in print, meaning that easily-offended crybabies had to think first and write a letter instead of voicing their displeasure via anonymous threats on blogs. We're talking about the brave geniuses who have offered us feedback like this in the past:
“leave Rammstein and Hoobastank alone, they make killer music and u just suk cissy boy u r dead”
“u better never visit texas cause we r proud hanson fans and will kick yr azz”
“whoever wrote this in need of kicks 2 there balls”