This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):
Actual conversation overheard in my office:
“The Goo Goo Dolls haven’t made a good album in 10 years!”
“But they did one of the best songs of all time!”
“Oh yeah? Name it!”
“Um … ”
There, in a nutshell, is the plight faced by The Goo Goo Dolls. They’ve been around for nearly 20 years. They’ve sold bunches of albums. They’ve had a couple of big hits like Iris and Name. But no matter what they do, they can’t get no respect. The music cognescenti dismiss them as second-rate Replacements clones. And the general public can’t even pronounce singer and guitarist Johnny Rzeznik’s name, let alone remember it.
Well, I’d like to be the one to inform you that their eighth studio album Gutterflower is going to change all that. I’d like to — but I’d be lying. The sad truth is these 12 tracks probably aren’t going to change a thing for Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac and drummer Mike Malinin. Because yet again, The Goo Goo Dolls have somehow managed to make an album that produces instant musical amnesia — five minutes after you listen to it, you can’t remember one damn thing about it.
It’s not that they’re untalented. Or that their music is repugnant. Johnny is a decent if unspectacular guitarist. His voice is appealingly raspy, and his range has broadened over the years to the point where he now only sounds like Paul Westerberg occasionally. Ditto for his songwriting — most of these nicely rocking tracks are built around tight, straight-ahead guitar lines and simple melodies. For their part, the rhythm section hold down the bottom end respectably, with precision and tasteful understatement. Bassist Takac even contributes a handful of songs and vocals that are right up there with Rzeznik’s work. No lie, they’re a talented bunch.
Trouble is, they’re not a particularly wild bunch. Rzeznik seems intent on pitching his jangly, Midwestern pop-rock anthems straight for the lowest-common-denominator pop charts. And he seems to feel that requires him to make them as universally acceptable and easily digestible as possible, without even the slightest bumps in the road or rough edges. Off-kilter rhythms, attention-getting arrangements, envelope-pushing solos — you won’t find any of that here. Just songs that are as predictable and uninspired as a teenager’s plagiarized English essay. And speaking of words, Rzeznik doesn’t do himself any favours with his lyrics, which are equally uninventive tales of love and lack thereof, with lines that can be too wordy for Alanis (“You’re a supermarket punk rock television comedy out on the scene”). Finally, producer Rob Cavallo doesn’t help matters with a big, reverberating sound that makes it seem like the Goo Goos are playing in an empty theatre. No wonder it’s almost impossible to connect with any of these tunes, no matter how hard you try. And I gave it my best shot. I listened to this sucker several times from front to back. Couldn’t remember a single song. Then I tried listening to a few songs three or four times in a row. Still couldn’t hum one chorus if you put a gun to my head.
Hey, maybe that’s just me. Maybe you’ll find that Gutterflower hooks you like a mackerel instantly. Maybe you’ll love it and rave to all your friends about it. But I doubt it. In fact, I bet the conversation might go something like this:
“Get any new CDs lately?”
“I got the Goo Goo Dolls.”
“What’s it called again?”
“Um … ”