Goo Goo Dolls - Gutterflower
Release Date: April 9th, 2002
Label: Warner Brothers
It's difficult to follow up one of the best albums in an entire decade, and it's even more difficult when the influences driving the material are pushing the music towards a darker sound that has little chance of achieving the same widespread love of its predecessor. This was, however, just the situation the Goo Goo Dolls found themselves during the two year period between the end of touring for the hit-heavy Dizzy Up The Girl and the release of their next album, Gutterflower. During this period lead singer and main songwriter Johnny Rzeznik went through a divorce and many Americans found themselves disgusted with our country and the direction it was headed in (and many argue, still is). I don't want to dive too much into the politics of writing music, but it is important to understand that the driving forces behind this album were hopeless and pessimistic, as even the brightest songs on this CD show.
Gutterflower opens with what is easily the happiest sounding song and one of the best, "Big Machine." This song is Goo Goo Dolls perfection; Rzeznik's voice soars loud and clear over an incredibly catchy guitar riff and rhythm section, but even his dim world view can't hide as he comments on a troubled girl that he loves and his frustrations with the city he lives in (Los Angeles): "Ecstasy is all you need, living in the big machine now." The next two songs, "Think About Me" and "Here is Gone" share a similarly bright tone, but both have a slightly melancholy side that stops them from ever becoming too happy. While "Think About Me" is a fairly strong but straightforward Goo Goo Dolls song, "Here is Gone" has a powerhouse of a chorus and bridge that is undoubtedly the reason it was chosen as the first single.
This song is disappointingly followed by yet another mediocre Robby Takac tune, "You Never Know." The issue of the Goo Goo Dolls continuing to allow Takac a few songs on each album has been beaten into the ground, but it most certainly shows itself in the weak offerings presented on Gutterflower, although this song is actually his best on the album. "What a Scene" is next and provides a commentary on popular culture with a fairly basic musical structure throughout. Rzeznik even shows some awareness of the "scene" that his band has become a part of when he sings, "All the beautiful images lining your walls, pop radio screaming down the halls, and now you think you've found something real." Another Takac song, "Up, Up, Up," follows that is even less remarkable than the last.
With the seventh track we are finally exposed to the misery that lies at the heart of this album. "It's Over" is a brutal, personal attack on Rzeznik's broken relationship, accompanied by heavy guitar lines and pounding rhythms from Takac and drummer Mike Malinin. The next song, "Sympathy," is deceiving as it is both the one quiet acoustic song on Gutterflower, but also counters its ballady sound with extremely intimate lyrics of Rzeznik's personal battle with his actions and thoughts and their effect on his interactions with others. The song is extremely moving and takes a few listens to move past the attractive music and get into the lyrical content. "What Do You Need?" follows in "It's Over"'s footsteps with another onslaught of chugging guitars and angst-ridden lyrics. However, the music in the verses is the highlight of this track, with a perfect blend of Rzeznik's lower range, echoing, murky guitar parts, and a driving rhythm section that will remind those who know the song of "Lazy Eye," from the Batman & Robin soundtrack. We are then once again treated to Robby at his standard, pop-rocking, grunge-singing best (?); both "Smash" and "Tucked Away" are uninspired, and some of the lyrics even contain a few cringe-worthy lines: "Mama just called, said you're tucked away..."
The final track on Gutterflower stands with the aforementioned "Lazy Eye" as the best dark song the Goo Goo Dolls have ever made. Everything about the song is perfectly written and played, from the intense main riff and drum part to Rzeznik's haunting voice in the chorus saying, "You know all I am." All of the instruments build to an incredible final chorus before fading out the same way as the song began. This song encompasses all of the musical and lyrical themes that have been used throughout the album and is an amazing finale.
When you look at the Goo Goo Dolls most recent albums, I think you can safely say that Dizzy Up The Girl mixed the dark and the light and the hopeless and inspired, and that Gutterflower and Let Love In then each took one of those two routes. While the angst of Gutterflower led to poor sales and only one true radio hit, Let Love In has already spawned at least three if not four major singles. For this reason Gutterflower has been dismissed as the Goo Goo Dolls at their darkest, but this is still a great album. I think it is much greater than Let Love In, if only for its unwavering, direct attack on both the personal and worldly issues that affect us all.
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