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Goo Goo Dolls - A Boy Named Goo
Reviewed by: Eric S
|Goo Goo Dolls - A Boy Named Goo|
Released March 14th, 1995
Looking at today's version of the Goo Goo Dolls, you can easily be misled about what a great band they have been over their lifespan. While everyone knows the sappy ballads that Top 40 radio has been eating up, the band's edgy and insightful history of work has constantly been overlooked.
Formed in 1986 in Buffalo, New York, by bassist Robby Takac, guitarist Johnny Rzeznik, and drummer George Tutuska, the band achieved critical success with their early work, but failed to gain popularity. The band, known for their energetic live performances, released three albums on Metal Blade Records (highlighted by 1991's Hold Me Up) before being picked up by Warner Brothers. The band was poised for stardom when they released Superstar Car Wash in 1993. Despite major label support, and a big push for the lead single, "We Are the Normal", written by Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, the album tanked.
When it came time to write A Boy Named Goo, tensions in the band were mounting. Rzeznik and Tutuska were not speaking while the album was recorded. The hostility led Rzeznik to quit the band after work on the album was done, only to return when Takac agreed to fire Tutuska. The pressure was on for the band to finally find success with, potentially, the band's last album. What came of the situation is probably the group's finest work.
The first single, "Only One", failed to gain success, but when a producer at an Los Angeles radio station put the ballad "Name" into the rotation, the song took off. Eventually hitting #1, "Name" was the most played song on radio in 1996, and shot the band to stardom, and the album to platinum status. Most who bought the album not knowing the band and thinking they'd get a collection of nice, acoustic ballads were in for a big shock.
The album gets kicked off like every other Goo Goo Dolls record, with a scorching guitar intro, this time to "Long Way Down". A minor hit, and featured in the movie Twister, the lyrics are atypical of what the band is now known of. The song is really carried by desparation in Rzeznik's voice, as he sings of feeling mistreated and helpless ("Is there anything to feel?/Is it pain that makes you real?/Cut me off before it kills me"). The guitar work is great, as the main chords play along perfectly with the chorus.
The next track, a Takac written and voiced "Burnin' Up", picks up right where the opener left off. The agressive guitar work and melody is a carryover from the band's previous albums. The lyrics are catchy ("Life it seems so easy when it's from my easy chair/And you're burnin' up inside and no one cares"), and the end of the song is perfectly rude, with a cascade of feedback.
It leads perfectly into probably the best song the Goo Goo Dolls have ever done. "Naked", the third track, earned some minor success when released on the heels of "Name", but unfortunately didn't catch on as some feel it should have. The song is the result of every band member at their absolute best. Tutuska's drumming is phenomenal, and Takac provides a great beat. This is a song where Rzeznik shows he's the star of the band. The desparation he sings with are perfect for the lyrics, a call for help ("Yeah I'm fadin'/And I call out/No one hears me/Never been, never felt, never thought I'd say a word"). Rzeznik's guitar solo is a great complement to the song, it doesn't steal the show and isn't a downpoint. This song is as good as rock gets.
Despite having to follow that masterpiece, the fourth song, "Flat Top", holds it's own and there's no drop off. While it never really got a big push as a single (it was the planned second single before "Name" blew up), it's hard to find a better song on the album then this. Rzeznik's observational lyrics ("Conscience keeps us quiet while the crooked love to speak/There's knowledge wrapped in blankets on the streets") resonate as much today as it did then. In my opinion, this song could easily be a hit today. It's a social commentary without being overbearing or specific enough to take away from it's timelessness.
Takac is up next with "Impersonality", a nice, catchy song that really suffers from getting caught between two of the best songs on the album. Not bad by any means, but sometimes one will find themselves skipping it to get to the next song, simply because the next song is "Name".
Caught between twelve tracks of driving rock music, the acoustic ballad "Name" is what put the Goo Goo Dolls on the map. A phenomenal song in it's own right, the slow and wistful ballad provides good balance in the album, allowing listeners to catch their breath. Rzeznik provides a glimpse at the band's future with the soft melody and retrospective lyrics. This song may be the reason most buy the album, but it won't be the only reason they love it.
Now that you've had a chance to gather yourself, "Only One" grabs you and takes you for a ride. While not an overly complicated or brilliant song, Rzeznik carries it by simply singing and playing with such fervor. The song is like going 0-to-60 in two seconds until you get to the bridge, an almost reggae-like breakdown. A chance to think is all you get until the song kicks back into high gear for a rockin' finish.
Takac returns with "Somethin' Bad", a surprisingly hopeful song, as he sings about the problems with his world, but maintaining "I know that somethin' bad is gonna change". This is a quick, hard-hitting track, with great guitar work by Rzeznik.
The ninth track, "Ain't That Unusual", while not brilliant in it's first appearance, is possibly among the best that the Goo Goo Dolls have ever done. It is possibly the perfect mix of every song the band has ever done. It's so solid, it's great. The guitar isn't hard-driving, but it isn't soft, and the solo holds its own without being out of place. The music complements the wonderful lyrics, possibly one of the best written by Rzeznik. Listening to the words, it seems like a product of the band's history, almost a "so what?" song, as if the band had finally realized they might not have a future ("Someday, you never made it/Maybe you never will/Hey, you never made it/Now ain't that unusual?"). If you had to boil down the band's career into 5 songs, this could be one of those five. Simply outstanding.
Understandably, the next track, Takac's "So Long" suffers from being surrounded by Rzeznik's phenomenal writing. It's almost unfortunate that Takac's songs on this album are overlooked, because it's only because his partner is at his best.
As is the case in "Eyes Wide Open", which fits in the same category as "Ain't That Unusual", except it would probably have been a hit had they band released it. An incredibly beautiful song about not living up to expectations ("Eyes wide open/I can't see/Eyes wide open/What you mean?/Eyes wide open/I can't seem to be"), Rzeznik is again at the top of his game, from the lyrics ("I wanna rule the world/Wanna swallow it whole/At least I could kick it all down/I wanna kick it all down") to the mean guitar solo. Takac's harmonies stand out on this track, complementing Rzeznik's voice on the chorus. Noticably absent on the band's recent work, the two simply don't share vocals enough in my opinion.
The album wraps up with two covers, the first sung by Rzeznik, a cover of Buffalo band The Enemies' "Disconnected". You'd almost think it was a Goo Goo Dolls song from an earlier album. The band really makes it their own and plays it with great fervor. Lastly is "Slave Girl", sung by Takac, originally by The Lime Spiders. Sadly, despite these two being solid songs, they weren't originally planned for the album. They replaced a Tutuska & Takac written "Stand Alone" when the drummer was fired. For those who have heard the song, it would've been perfect for the spot at the end of the album. Even still, this album is phenomenal.
This is the album that sent the band to stardom, and really, they haven't been the same since. While each record they've done has been excellent in their own way, they'll never be able to produce another album like A Boy Named Goo. The desperation and down-to-earth lyrics are hard to replicate when you're a rock star and set for life. Still, this album is as great today as it was when it was released. This should be included in any discussion of the best rock records of the 1990s. It isn't groundbreaking, earth shattering, trend setting, or full of hit songs, it's just flat-out flawless. Overall, probably the best "album", start-to-finish, the band has ever done. It's a must have for every collection.
01:57 AM on 06/01/07
No matter what mood im in, I could always listen to the goo goo dolls.
10:44 AM on 06/01/07
John Boles / Align in Time
This is an incredible album, I hope this review leads people that only the Goo Goo Dolls from Dizzy Up The Girl on to check out their older material.
07:34 PM on 06/04/07
Long Way Down is a great great song
03:11 PM on 06/05/07
Nice review - I just wish they could have come up with a better album title than "A Boy Named Goo". Out of all of the names, that's probably the worst they could have picked.
03:09 PM on 06/08/07
BTW, I love the name.