Reading in the press notes for the Spin Doctors new Nice Talking to Me that that the group’s original line up recorded their last record 11 years ago can make a girl feel old. Was it really that long ago the Docs mammoth Pocket Full of Kryptonite was, with Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience and maybe Jagged Little Pill, were staples on my life soundtrack? It’s a crazy thought, but at the same time one that makes absolute sense after giving the new record a spin. It really has been that long since this kind of jerk, jumpy, smart, and weird music brightened anyone’s day.
It’s good to have the band back. Nice Talking to Me is a testament to the writing abilities of singer Chris Barron and guitarist Eric Schenkman, as well as an ode to the excitement, fear, and frustration of that shift from adolescence to adulthood. The catchy pop hooks featured on “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes” are all over this record—even after so long, these guys still know how to twist memorable phrases around super-infectious melodies. And they aren’t afraid to appear silly, which is exactly what makes them so good. It’s is part of the band’s design. You don’t approach a Spin Doctors record with anything but an eye towards being entertained by a bunch of slightly odd soul-searchers who refuse to take every little personal panic to heart.
In effect, every tale of heartache or woe on Nice Talking to Me makes you wanna dance. The title track, for instance, appears, at its core, to be about communication breakdown within a relationship. The “nice talking to me” phrase is catty and a little bit juvenile, but it’s something we’ve heard before, or if not that, then something resembling it. (My favorite is the old, “What?” [pause] “I thought so!”). The tune is a happy-go-lucky ditty with rich, rocking guitars, and that signature Spin Doctors mega-hook. The “hey, hey, honey, honey” chorus intro, too, has a bit of an Archies vibe—not at all a bad thing.
It’s after this first track, though, that the lyrical cleverness really kicks in. “My Problem Now” is an awesome example of the Docs bizarre and brilliant wordplay. The song is about a kid who perhaps didn’t really want what he thought he did: “The other boys they watch you pass, / And wish that they were in your class. / I stole you from my ex-best friend, / Now I wish I could give you back again”. The lyrics are a bit Dr. Seuss, with a mild John Irving influence, or Robert Cormier, or one of those writers so deathly aware of the ridiculousness of young love. Check this line out: “I wished I hadn’t wished for you, / Because I wished off more than I could chew”. It’s all so deliciously callous.
The band pulls off a similar sentiment on “Margarita”, though this time for an older crowd. “Margarita” is a bitter revenge tale with Barron administering repeated verbal slaps to a former lover and friend. He’s happy its said and done, but he’s not above rubbing the girl’s nose in it: “Revenge is sweet but success is sweeter, / I took the salt from my wounds and put it in my margarita”.
This song, too, shows off some of Barron’s best lyrical twists. “You’ll be the champ in my pain,” he sings at one point. On “Sugar”, a gorgeous love song without a hint of the previous songs’ sarcasm, he deliberates on a girl: “She’s my Milky Way, my shining star, / My only drink at the candy bar”, and compares her strength to an M&M’s choc coating and her scent to a green Life Saver. “I’d Like to Love You (But I Think You Might Be Crazy)”, almost a prequel to “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” in terms of vocal and melody, features the line: “You’re a symphony short one note-ah, / You’re a winter short of a coat-ah”. And “Tonight You Could Steal Me Away” opens with Chris delivering a girl this major slam: “Since we arrived she’s been nothing short of rude, / Dropping names like I wish she’d drop the attitude,” before revealing “She’s just my date, / And that’s prob’ly what she’ll stay”.
These warped nuggets of songwriting goodness appear on and off throughout the album adding real lush to the listening experience. Nice Talking to Me demonstrates how easily soul-searching and silliness can co-exist on the same record if the right drivers are steering the joyride.