Goo Goo Dolls
New groups are regularly compared to established acts. Either the group develops its own persona or fades away. That was the Goo Goo Dolls' challenge throughout their early career.
On occasion, a group struggles to establish its sound with little success then releases a song that is atypical of what they do, only to have it become the song they are best known for. It happened to the Goo Goo Dolls, not once, but twice.
In '85, Buffalo natives guitarist/vocalist Johnny Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac and drummer George Tutuska formed the Goo Goo Dolls. The name came from an ad in True Detective magazine. Originally calling themselves the Sex Maggots, they began as a covers band but soon developed a hard-edged Alt. Rock/Punk sound as they built their reputation on intense live shows. Two years later the Goo Goo Dolls made their self-titled debut (sometimes referred to as "First Release"). Almost immediately, their music was likened to the Replacements. "Jed" came next but it was the '90 release "Hold Me Up" that earned college radio airplay.
While still viewed as Replacements clones, the Goo Goo Dolls put out "Superstar Car Wash" containing "We Are The Normal" written by the Dolls and the Replacements' frontman Paul Westerberg. But even with Westerberg's contribution the album failed to live up to commercial expectations. Things became even shakier while recording their next album. Tutuska was sacked and replaced by Mike Malinin.
Initially, the '95 release "A Boy Named Goo" didn't look like it was going to change the Goo Goo Dolls' fortunes until an L.A. radio station started playing "Name." Listener response prompted the Goo Goo Dolls' label to release the song as a single. "Name" hit the upper reaches of the pop charts and helped push album sales to the platinum level.
As usually happens with commercial success, a major financial dispute ensued. Rzeznik, not happy with Metal Blade's royalty rate, moved the group from that label to the parent company, Warner Brothers Records. Though emotionally spent from dealing with the business side of the business, Rzeznik was able to write a song for the "City Of Angels" soundtrack. Given his condition, it's not surprising the track was a ballad. But c'mon, what were the odds of a second Goo Goo Dolls ballad becoming a major hit. Actually, pretty good. "Iris" was huge and appeared on the Goo Goo's "Dizzy Up The Girl" album which also featured the title track and "Black Balloon."
Attempting to set the record "straight" as to what the Goo Goo Dolls were all about, they released the compilation "What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce." Omitting their hit ballads, the record delved into the Rock side of the group's career. "Gutterflower," an album of new music, arrived in '02.
For '06 release "Let Love In," Rzeznik wrote and worked on the songs in a downtown Buffalo Masonic lodge. The album was produced by Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews Band). The set allowed the group to celebrate their 20th anniversary with a handful of hit singles - "Give A Little Bit," "Better Days," "Stay With You," and the title track. "Better Days" was heard in the trailer for the '09 film Love Happens and in the pilot episode of the CBS TV show, Jericho.
The Goo Goo Dolls landed their 13th Top 10 hit on Adult Top 40 with "Before It's Too Late" from the Transformers Soundtrack.
The group released "Greatest Hits Volume One: The Singles," with an updated version of "Name." Also in '07, they partnered with NHL Buffalo Sabres to create a video for the Sabres playoff run. Then they performed "Better Days" and "Stay With You" at the halftime of the Detroit Lions' '07 Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field, which focused on the United Way and the NFL's commitment to youth health and fitness. The Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers 40-10.
The next year, the band was part of the O2 Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park and played the Miller Lite Rock 'N Racing show at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during qualifying for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. To top it off, Rzeznik was the recipient of the Hal David Starlight Songwriter Award in New York City. David wrote the lyrics for numerous hits in the '60s and '70s.
"Something For The Rest Of Us" dropped in '09 and debuted at #7 on the Billboard 200 chart. Butch Vig, John Fields, Paul David Hager and Rob Cavallo ("Dizzy Up The Girl" and "Gutterflower") were brought in to produce.
"I wanted to really dig deep and there are a million songs I threw away, like, "Nah, it's not good enough. I wanna do something different. I wanna do something better, go deeper," said Rzeznik prior to the album's released.
The special appearances continued. A '10 mini concert at the Manhattan Apple Store, part of Apple's "Live at SoHo, was sold the following year at the iTunes Store. Also in '11, the group played halftime at the Orange Bowl and appeared before the NFL's Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
"I've actually been experimenting while we've been out on this tour, just writing lyrics and then figuring out the melodic structures," said Rzeznik in an interview. "We can't wait another four years to put another album out; that's just a ridiculous waste of time." But before an album dropped the Goo Goo Dolls returned to the Transformer franchise contributing "All That You Are" to the "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" soundtrack.
In a peculiarity of the U.K. charts, "Iris" reached #3 on the Top 40, 13 years after its original release.
The Goo Goo Dolls 10th studio album, "Magnetic," containing the singles "Rebel Beat" and "Come To Me," arrived in '13. Then came news that Malinin had left the band after a 19-year run. "It was not my decision to leave the band," Malinin posted online. "But no grudges held. I wish them all the best."
Those pleasant parting words changed ten months later (October '14) when Malinin filed a lawsuit against Rzeznik and Takac. Malinin claimed he was fired mid-tour when he took time off to see his wife Krista who was in labor with twins. He said there was no severance nor any other appropriate financial settlement.
1987 Goo Goo Dolls
1990 Hold Me Up
1993 Superstar Car Wash
1995 A Boy Named Goo
1998 Dizzy Up The Girl
2006 Let Love In
2010 Something For The Rest Of Us
Like a lot of groups, the Goo Goo Dolls started on an upward arc with each album being better, in terms of impact, cohesiveness and feel, than its predecessor. They peaked with "A Boy Named Goo" not because it contains their biggest commercial hit "Name" but because the rest of the CD has stellar songs and spirited performances including "Flat Top," "Long Way Down" and "Something Bad."
"Dizzy Up The Girl" tries hard but the edge has been smoothed considerably in favor of power pop approach. After a four year break the Goo Goo Dolls returned with "Gutterflower." The ballads "Here Is Gone" and "Sympathy" attracted initial attention (after all, this is a group that has had significant success with ballads) while "Big Machine" and "Up, Up, Up" are among the standout guitar driven Rockers.
"Gutterflower" is as good as "Dizzy Up The Girl" but falls short of being as strong as the group's third album, "Superstar Car Wash," recorded while the Goo Goo Dolls were still on the rise.
"What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce" is a compilation of earlier material. "Name" and "Iris" are not included. Though those songs stand as the group's most popular efforts, they are hardly what the group is about. The album focuses on the Goo Goo Dolls' Alt. Rock adventures. There are some gems but the group's reach often exceeds its grasp.
The Rzeznik-Ballard combination on "Let Love In" delivers a power-pop album with just enough edge to keep it convincing. "We'll Be Here (When You're Gone)" and "Strange Love" are the most obvious examples. "Better Days" tries to be epic, with tempo and texture changes, and comes reasonably close with just enough drama to be believable without going over the top.
"Without You Here" is the set's big ballad. There is even a cover of Supertramp's "Give A Little Bit." The Goo Goo Dolls deliver a far superior version. That's not saying much since the original is practically unlistenable. Guess that's a back handed compliment. The Dolls guitar-Rock and Rzeznik's angst-tinged vocals really connect on the set's opening song "Stay With You," "Listen" and the title track.
The Goo Goo Dolls come charging out of the gate with "Sweetest Lie," the lead track on "Something For The Rest Of Us." Though they never match that song's intensity, "Say You're Free" comes close. The remainder is standard issue Dolls with "As I Am" and "Hey Ya" rising to the top.
"Magnetic" goes for sing-along melodies that are nearly irresistible - most notably, "Rebel Beat," "Slow It Down" and "Come To Me." "Bringing On The Light" starts as a typical ballad before kicking into high gear. The album leans more toward pop than its predecessor.