Listen, if you’re anything like me and like singing big 90’s choruses loudly and badly when drunk with your equally drunk friends, chances are you’ve wrapped your vocal chords around “Iris,” the gargantuan power ballad by Goo Goo Dolls.
They had an extremely successful decade, releasing two outstanding albums: 1995’s A Boy Named Goo and 1998’s Dizzy Up The Girl. “Iris” aside, the Goo Goo Dolls had a string of excellent singles most notably from the latter. Tracks like “Slide,” “Black Balloon,” and “Broadway” are all killer songs and really set the tone of what the band ultimately wanted their overall sound to be; easy-going pop/rock ballads with sugary sweet hooks and big choruses.
I don’t want to detract from their massive discography by simply focusing on one decade of their music, because their 30 year career is littered with exceptional tracks, making Goo Goo Dolls one of the most accessible yet timeless bands around.
This accessible and long-lasting band, now usually has a common theme in their later output. It’s members are pushing 50, married with children and are reluctant to continuously churn out doomed romantic anthems or stories of being a boy who’s kicking out at the world. Now mature themes come into play and their songs have a more simple, structured approach. Take Goo Goo Dolls’ 2006 release Let Love In: an album of solid, expertly produced tracks you wouldn’t find yourself singing along to in a karaoke bar, or humming along to if it came on the radio.
That said, their new record Boxes isn’t the stereotypical release of a band going through the motions. Rather, it still contains highs of their heyday. Opening with a U2 Joshua Tree era-esque delayed guitar intro, “Over & Over” demonstrates much of the pop symbolism that made Goo Goo Dolls so successful. The quiet and loud dynamics carry the track along and there’s a stomping chorus to boot.
Meanwhile, “Souls In The Machine” takes me back to what I remember and cherish the most about Goo Goo Dolls and their music. An acoustic guitar driven pop-rock track that’s ridiculously easy on the ear, it shows John Rzeznik’s songwriting has evolved with age to become a thing of beauty, adding newer veneers with each passing record to create a multiverse of emotion. His voice is as it always was: a fine wine softly blended and richly scented.
For many of the songs on Boxes there’s an underlying theme of wanting each track to be radio-friendly. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad thing. It worked for bands like Kings Of Leon and Sugar Ray and, really, why wouldn’t you want your songs to be readily distributed across to a wider audience? Ultimately, people in bands have to eat and those extra royalty checks won’t hurt one bit, even for a band reaching the twilight of their career such as Goo Goo Dolls. The lead single “So Alive” demonstrates this radio friendly sensibility. It wouldn’t sound out-of-place on the music charts or a “Here’s Some Popular Songs: 2016 Edition”- type compilation album. However, it’s a blemish on what’s overall a solid record, because it turns out to be forgettable. Sure, it’ll get a great reception at a live show, but you’d never include it in your top ten favourite songs by the band.
Being more radio friendly and losing the rocky edge incorporated in much of Goo Goo Dolls’ early work is bound to happen after three decades of music.
That said, Third Eye Blind showed a band can mellow out and still release great music after their 2015 release Dopamine was constructed with a more piano friendly sound, its roots planted in pop instead of the post-grunge which made them famous in the late 90’s.
Personally, I’ve never grasped the idea of a band of essentially middle-aged men still releasing angry shouty music deep into their career. How the hell are bands like Metallica STILL angry at the world? James Hetfield has three children for Christ’s sake. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Maybe disappointed fans should just be thankful their favourite band is still together and making music, even if they’re now satisfied with writing softer music. After all, Goo Goo Dolls are still happy to make music together, with no in-band fighting and drama. It’s a rare occurrence these days. Some of Boxes’ ballads are worth writing about too. “Flood” featuring Echosmith’s lead vocalist Sydney Sierota and “The Pin” are softly spoken but catchy nonetheless.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Boxes. Yes, it’s not ground-breaking and it probably won’t win a Mercury Award, but I won’t deny it’s both infectious and incredibly solid for the most part. The tracks are well structured and easily replayable, and the realists among us have to accept that Goo Goo Dolls have at least tried to make something respectable instead of going out with a whimper. That said, their tried and tested pop-rock mechanic still lives on eternal, with a few pleasant surprises in tow.