Goo Goo Dolls - Magnetic
Record Label: Warner Brothers
Release Date: June 11, 2013
If you explore the Goo Goo Dolls discography, you’ll find that the band has been consistently releasing records since their mainstream heyday (roughly 1996-2004). You’d be forgiven, though, if Let Love In (2006) and Something for the Rest of Us (2010) failed to make it onto your radar or, if they did, to impress you. The former was filled with attempts to recapture the success of the band’s most popular ballads, while the latter was a rather mundane foray into darker alt-rock territory.
With Magnetic, the Goo Goo Dolls seem to have found their feet again by embracing an upbeat, even more mainstream (if you can believe it!) sound, which is both a good and bad thing. The album is overflowing with positive energy and enthusiasm, traits that both LLI and SFTROU were sorely lacking. “Caught in the Storm” features a shamelessly inspirational and massively layered chorus, “Rebel Beat,” “Slow It Down,” and “Last Hot Night” are cares-to-the-wind anthems with vibrant rhythmic cores, and “Keep the Car Running” forcefully recalls some of the moody yet hopeful rock of the band’s past. The greatest strength of the album is that, perhaps more than any other Goo Goo Dolls album, its songs all sound as if they could accompany a summer blockbuster film. Whether it’s vocalist Johnny Rzeznik’s ballad for his upcoming marriage (“Come to Me”) or the pulsating verses of “When the World Breaks Your Heart,” or the aforementioned "Caught in the Storm," the songs on Magnetic exude just the sort of optimistic emotional resonance that you could expect from the band in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Genre-wise, the album is bit of a haphazard assortment of mainstream styles and therefore unfortunately becomes anonymous at times. Rzeznik has mentioned several times in interviews that he did much more co-writing on Magnetic than on past albums, and it shows. “Bulletproof Angel” starts with a haunting intro and verse reminiscent of “Hurricane” by Thirty Seconds to Mars, but is weakened by a chorus pulled from the One Republic playbook. “Slow It Down” will likely call to mind some of Train’s most popular and bland adult pop hits (it's a much better song than those, though), and “More of You” (the album's worst track by far) sounds like Rzeznik singing guest vocals on an Uncle Kracker song. There are glimpses of the Goo Goo Dolls’ unique sound throughout (Rzeznik’s voice is as recognizable and powerful as ever), but listeners who already lament the band’s transition to the mainstream will be horrified by some of the blatant catering to pop music conventions found on Magnetic.
This is a bright, shimmering album filled with claps, finger snaps, piano swells, and the Goo Goo Dolls’ trademark orchestral strings (which at this point have become almost obligatory for any radio-friendly rock ballad). The guitars are buried low in the mix, aside from a welcome but brief prominent placement in the bridge of “When the World Breaks Your Heart.” The lyrics are similarly buoyant, and range from simple yet compelling (“This faith is getting heavy, but you know it carries me to the streets, to the river where the broken dreams flow out into the sea”) to cringe inducing and saccharine (“When the world breaks your heart, I can put it back together”). Rzeznik’s delivery manages to make most of it palatable, but some lines will stun with their lack of creativity. I should also note that there are, once again, a couple of songs sung by bassist Robby Takac that don’t make much of an impression.
Still, Magnetic is undoubtedly the best Goo Goo Dolls album since Gutterflower (2002). The band sounds reinvigorated and the music is consistently positive and enjoyable, though a bit trite and cliché at times. Almost every song indicates a band that has found its groove again and is headed in the right direction after a pair of disappointing albums, even as its members approach 50. Magnetic should provide enough energy to subdue those who felt the band was on the decline, though fans crying for the rock style of the their earlier albums will have to make due with “Keep the Car Running” for now. A third disappointment would’ve been a dark omen for the Goo Goo Dolls, and instead they offer hope that their next album could match the quality of their best music.