I expect that, by now, you’ve heard of Dr SPaM’s messy end. It’s a sad tale of alcoholism and rampant partying destroying the careers of one of pop’s most cherished and adored bands. What I can offer, though, is an unparalleled insight into the life and times of Dr SPaM: who were they, what drove them and, most importantly, how did they create such awesome album covers?
Sophie, Pat, Maddey and Dave first met at an airport carpark in Shannon, Ireland. The group found inspiration in the Cliffs of Moher and, sparked by impromptu jams in Galway, Dr SPaM was born. Their sound was a distinctive fusion of the rhythm section – Pat on bass and Maddey on drums, intimately connected by a bond going back 7 years – with Sophie’s subtle vocals and Dave’s occasionally interesting (but mostly just long-winded) guitar.
They released their self-titled album the next day on the independent label, Teenage Dreams. Damp initial sales were buoyed by a groundswell of critical acclaim, with a rising tide of support propelling Dr SPaM to the top of the Billboard charts. Pat, Maddey, Sophie and Dave were soon awash with cash, flooded by fame and deluged by water metaphors. What could Ireland’s overnight wonderkids produce next?
Under pressure to follow up their success, Dr SPaM went into the studio with Maurice Starr. The result, New Kids on the Rock, featured a total of three chords, exclusively 4/4 timing and very catchy vocal hooks. It was packaged with (now rare, but still worthless) lick-on tattoos and a video featuring an exquisitely choreographed dance routine. In a press release, Sophie was quoted saying the “album was inspired by the kind of music you sing to other people to deliberately get it in their head and make them go mad. Oh, and it was recorded after a night out in Galway, so you’ve got to give us some respect for that.”
The first single went straight to number one, driven mainly by ringtone sales. Music critics were less impressed, as evidenced by a comment on TripAdvisor: “New Kids on the Rock fails to offer any musical merit, originality or lyrical quality. Also, the person who sold it to me was rude. One star.”
Confused at the mixed response to the album, Dr SPaM moved to Bantry. Pints of Murphys re-stoked the fires of their confidence, and album number three hit the shelves soon after.
“We’re confident this is our best work yet. Not even Crossfire by Brandon Flowers soars higher than Sophie’s vocals on the lead single,” Pat mumbled at the album launch. “Also, Maddey’s drumming is better than ever now she’s using the ABS (Amazing Bass Sound) on her drums.”
The masses loved it. With a witty pun in the title, enticing listeners to ‘find’ the album, it was their third consecutive commercial smash. However, on Quadruple J’s 2010 program, Richard Queensmill called Peek and Ye Shall Find “almost as nauseating as their last release, made worse by the fact that they’re old enough to know better.”
Dr. SPaM were filthy rich, but remained devastated by the critical response. They indulgently retreated to a hillside resort in Dingle, on Ireland’s south-west coast, and commenced the creative process of navel-gazing. While on a group walk through a maze of historic beehive huts, they stumbled across an Eastern-influenced mystic, Tash. Tash was sitting on a rock playing the synth using only her mind. As the gang carried their instruments everywhere, they started jamming, and unanimously voted to include Tash in the band. A name change was also necessary (Dr SPaM, of course, being an amalgamation of band member initials). A new era in the career of Dr SPaM was about to begin.
At Peace With The Mystics was the band’s fourth release, first under their new PaST MaD moniker. It was a soulful, blissed-out concept album about life in the beehives, with buzz on Dave’s guitar, honey in Sophie’s voice, drones from Pat’s bass and occasional synth stings from Tash. The band members waited with bated breath for the critical response.
“Finally. APWTM offers a real musical experience. Having listened to the album this morning, I want nothing more than to find a nectar-producing flower and make it into a smoothie.”
The (somewhat baffling) album reviews mostly referenced protecting the queen or doing special dances to direct other bees. PaST MaD were thrilled: it might not be acclaim, but at least they weren’t panned. They had turned a corner, having conquered the charts and confounded the critics.
As you know, that’s only the beginning of the story. Join me on Thursday as I take a look at the stunning highs of PaST MaD’s career, along with the start of their decline, in the next installment…