Like vintage Replacements (their most obvious influence), an outback Dictators or the blue-collar spawn of early Cheap Trick, the Goo Goo Dolls brandish power-punk riffpop that just keeps getting better. Although recorded two years apart, the Buffalo, New York trio’s first two albums are virtual carbon copies of each other, flashes of brilliance (“I’m Addicted,” the acoustic “James Dean”) shining amid silly covers and scrawny adolescent yapping about such standard things as “Messed Up” and “Up Yours.” The debut has breathless rips through Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”; Jed boasts a ferocious version of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and a crunching pisstake of Creedence’s “Down on the Corner” sung by Buffalo lounge crooner Lance Diamond.
As the Goo Goo Dolls tightened up their act, the trio tamed its arena-metal tendencies and slid right into the raucous stylistic space abandoned by the ‘Mats. The effervescent Hold Me Up really delivers the goods, focusing a variety of hard-rocking/good-humored impulses into a solid, distinctive sound. Alternating lead vocals in the band-credited songs, guitarist John Rzeznik (a harsh-voiced cynic) and bassist Robby Takac (the band’s sweet-sounding optimistic popster) ride an exhilarating rollercoaster of Ramonesy riffs and insistent hooks. Besides proffering such great originals as “Just the Way You Are” and “There You Are,” the Goos make good use of the Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away” and give Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” the groovy soul-man treatment with more guest vocals by Diamond.
It was imprudent if irresistible to have Paul Westerberg contribute the lyrics for SuperstarCarWash‘s centerpiece, “We Are the Normal” (apparently not a tribute to the Bonzo Dog Band’s “We Are Normal”), an anthem trussed up with strings’n’things. The choice of Gavin MacKillop as the album’s producer didn’t entirely aid the effort, either: the sound is lively and electric throughout, but the performances occasionally lack fire and focus, which blunts the impact of some songs while improving the standing of others. “Don’t Worry,” “Stop the World,” “Already There” and “So Far Away” are just the kind of catchy power-pop numbers to benefit from a bit of restraint, but the angry cries meant to balance them don’t hit as hard as they should. Only “String of Lies,” rushed along by drummer George Tutuska’s unrelenting hammering, has the lyrical power to overcome any deficiency in its rendering.
With the right producer (Lou Giordano) and a terrific batch of new songs, A Boy Named Goo puts everything to right. (Except for the lineup: Tutuska left shortly after the album was completed, occasioning the deletion of “Stand Alone,” a song he had written, and the inclusion of two covers — “Disconnected” by Buffalo’s Enemies and “Slave Girl” by Australia’s Lime Spiders — before its release.) Emerging as prole intellectuals with tautly efficient energy to burn, the Goos rock harder — and softer — than ever, perfectly balancing their stylistic poles in an album that is as sturdy as a brick shithouse and as delicate as it has to be. A Boy Named Goo, which became the group’s million-selling breakthrough, reaches a new creative level with trenchant lyrics of uncommon insight and resonance. “Flat Top” takes on a favorite Rzeznik theme, attacking media influence: “A television war between the cynics and the saints/Flip the dial and that’s the side you’re on.” Paraphrasing Joe Strummer, he continues, “A visionary coward says that anger can be power/As long as there’s a victim on TV.” In the surging, majestic “Ain’t That Unusual,” he damns it all with philosophical abandon: “All we are is what we’re told and most of that’s been lies/It’s like a made-for-TV movie and I just blew my lines.” Takac’s songs, although they present an entirely different worldview, are just as good and no less serious. In “Impersonality,” following a descending riff with bracing slabs of rhythm guitar dollying the sweetly evocative childhood memory, he sings, “When I was three feet tall, I loved them all and lived life for myself/Falling down for laughs, your photograph, some puppets made of felt.” The acoustic alienation ode, “Name,” is simply gorgeous, while the searing “Only One” confronts musician self-destruction (pointedly not about anyone well-known) from inside and out with equally blinding disgust: “Fucking up takes practice/I feel I’m well rehearsed/Because the past is a bully and the future’s even worse.” A Boy Named Goo is the child of genius.