Cons: Many lyrics would be perfect for a suicide note
The Bottom Line: A Boy Named Goo is the last Goo Goo Dolls album that was worth listening to
I really hate using the term sellout. It implies that an artist has given up his art in the name of more of the green stuff, and I don't think that's true in most cases. Bands need to change in order to survive the initial flash that comes after the years of hard work and effort put into getting famous. All the great bands had to do it, even The Beatles, and I don't hear anyone complaining about how John Lennon and Paul McCartney sold out. I prefer to think of it as maturing in a musical sense.
That being said, the Goo Goo Dolls matured suspiciously quickly. They started out as a punk band in the '80's. While they attained a bit of pop sensibility in their mid-'90's breakout records, they managed to retain enough of their punk roots to keep their fans, at least for that time.
Then came Iris.
The soundtrack to the movie City of Angels featured Iris as its marquee song, and it also lifted a nasty case of writer's block from frontman John Rzeznik. It also earned them overdue recognition by the impartial mainstream crowd that buys whatever is popular on MTV at the time. Unfortunately, the song itself was overly sappy and dramatic to the point where it even sounded orchestrated. To say it outright, the Goos strayed very far from their punk roots with Iris and right into adult contemporary territory. Dizzy Up the Girl, which features Iris, continues the descent. The music is softer and many of the songs touch very dark, serious subjects: Black Balloon is about depression; Iris is about heartbreak; and Broadway is about lost opportunities. This is definitely not something you want to listen to when you've got the blues.
Longtime Goo fans will probably be alright just bootlegging Dizzy, the opener. It's the only song on the record that can really be called punk. It's a very quick song with a repetitive background and more chorus than verse. After that comes Slide, the best song on the CD. Slide plays well to Rzeznik's raspy voice. But this is the point where the band's punk roots slip away completely, never to return. Good as Slide is, it's very light in its lyrics and music, which completes the transition from punk to adult contemporary.
After Slide, the sad aura sets in. Broadway and January Friend both have light music which makes the dark lyrics more tolerable. But after Black Balloon, the tragedy takes over. Every song comes with emotionally heavy music meant to tug your heart. The lyrics, while usually pretty good, carry the weight of a railroad car. There are a couple of breaks when it comes to the music - like Full Forever - but mostly it's just a draining emotional spiral to the bottom. I'm sure a few people like that, but having suffered through real depression myself, I didn't enjoy having the feeling brought back.
The songs that feature Robby Takac on vocals rock a bit harder. Robby sings on four songs: January Friend, Amigone, Full Forever, and Extra Pale. That those four songs sound more like traditional rock songs makes all the sense in the world because Takac has a more grinding voice than Rzeznik. All of those songs except Extra Pale feature a harder guitar and more intense drums. The prevailing softness of the other songs is better suited to Rzeznik, who is the better vocalist (and they both know it).
Darkness and tragedy don't necessarily mean bad songs in most cases. Not even on Dizzy Up the Girl. No, the major, killing flaw with Dizzy Up the Girl is that so many of the songs sound alike. The Goos stick to a basic formula throughout much of the album: Weighty music, tragic lyrics, hooks with both tragic music and lyrics. The background music on half the songs sounds like movie background music implying the hero is going through some tough times. There are a few exceptions, like Acoustic #3, which features an acoustic guitar as the title implies. But mostly everything is exactly what I complained about. It makes a large chunk of the album forgettable. Bullet Proof, All Eyes On Me, Hate this Place - it makes no difference. If you removed the lyrics from those songs, you'd swear they were all the same. Furthermore, many of these same-sounding songs really aren't that good to begin with. They're weak filler songs, and it shows.
For people familiar with their earlier work, Dizzy Up the Girl was the effective end for the Goo Goo Dolls. It's too light and stable to be punk and too emotionally heavy and dark. When the Goos reached their musical success plateau, they managed to achieve the very difficult feat of making their native Buffalo impartial to them when they headed off to Los Angeles for a spell. That's the real thing that sold them out; they distanced themselves from their roots completely. Even a free and triumphant return concert wasn't enough to make people forget that Buffalo's real musical darling, Ani DiFranco, was working to preserve one of the city's great historical landmarks by buying the property and moving her studio into it. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad the Goos finally got some commercial props. But it cost them a lot of respect.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Goo Goo Dolls: Johnny Rzeznik (vocals, guitar); Robbie Takac (vocals, bass); Mike Malinin (drums). Additional personnel: Tim Pierce (guitar, mandolin); Tommy Keene (guitar); Jamie Muhoberac, Benmont Tench (keyboards); Luis Conte (percussion); Nathan December, Rob Cavallo. "Iris" was nominated for a 1999 Grammy for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. "Black Balloon" was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. Personnel: Johnny Rzeznik (vocals, guitar); Robby Takac (vocals); Jamie Muhoberac (piano, keyboards); Mike Malinin (drums); Carmen Rizzo (programming). Photographer: Melanie Nissen. On first hearing, the Goo Goo Dolls sound like the Replacements' distant cousins, full of trashy rock bravado tempered by intelligent, often tender lyricism and a penchant for combining ringing acoustic guitars with dirtier sounds for a rich sonic stew. In fact, DIZZY UP THE GIRL finds the Dolls moving further away ... Song List: Disc 1 1. Dizzy 2. Slide 3. Broadway 4. January Friend 5. Black Balloon 6. Bullet Proof 7. Amigone 8. All Eyes on Me 9. Full Forever 10. Acoustic #3 11. Iris 12. Extra Pale 13. Hate This Place