Pancho and the Kid – Chris Barron
I mean, it’s weird to be anybody at all, but it must be especially weird to be Chris Barron. Once and future frontbeard for the Spin Doctors, Barron is a musician who has seen his music cared about by an enraptured local following, a national audience in the last throes of rock radio, and — almost just as suddenly — virtually nobody at all. His latest, Pancho and the Kid, is an undoubtedly sincere affair. Having spent much of the past decade gigging around Manhattan’s East Village (even appearing on the Moldy Peaches’ self-titled 2001 disc) (Juno-cred!), Barron dispenses with his ukulele-bound confessionals for straightforward singer-songwriter pap-pop.
Given where Barron has been — from punky dives to the MTV-enabled toppermost of the poppermost — one can only assume that the 40-year old songwriter has studied his options and legitimately decided that this is the best course for whatever combination of artistic satisfaction and public acceptance he’s seeking. Produced by Barron with Jeff Cohen, the arrangements shine and glitter, reflecting more of Barron’s major label past than anything grittier he might’ve picked up from the anti-folkers.
Barron’s old lyrical rhythms are intact. "Beds’ll burn ‘til your sheets are torn," he sings on "Heartbreak Boulevard," a pleasing up/down with syllables bouncing easily against each other, "from the dance of dusk to the kiss of dawn." On "Can’t Kick the Habit," his expression of despair are perfect, "I can sing, but I can’t sigh, I can barely breath the air I need." In both cases, though, the songs are dressed unfortunately, their beauty only barely peaking through their bland duds. On the former, Barron affixes a groove that sounds like a downgraded Spin Doctors and a chorus about how "love is a precious thing" and "nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah" and stuff. On the latter, a plaintive, mournful chorus ("can’t turn it off and on") that might sound heartbreaking over a simple strum is made suspect by rising strings. Elsewhere, the writing is sloppy. "Blueness, a whatcha gonna do? mess/Blueness, how will I get through this," he rhymes. Yes, mess.
As with Soul Coughing’s Mike Doughty, who has recreated an adult contemporary version of his former band, one longs for edgier sentiments from the dude who once chronicled "the crack addicts [staring] at snowflakes zigzagging down 2 Great Jones" and rhymed "chances" with "Rosencrantzs." Barron is at his best when at his most simple, like the disc closing "Part Of Me," where he finds an elegant vehicle for his croon and lyrical sensibilities within the conservative confines of unadorned C&W. "There’s a part of me that still loves a part of you," Barron sings, and there’s probably a good portion of Barron’s potential audience who feel the same of him.