[23 September 2010]
The title of the Goo Goo Dolls’ ninth studio album, Something for the Rest of Us, reflects the uncertainties faced by everyday people, digging through the scrap bag of life, trying to find some fabric of hope to cling to and make the centerpiece of a reworked design. Hailing from the long-depressed, working class town of Buffalo, New York, the Goos understand this struggle better than anyone and have witnessed its effects in their hometown.
In the four years since the Goo Goo Dolls’ last album, Let Love In, the rest of the country has had a taste of that economic downturn Buffalo has long felt. Believing that they could make the album even better, the due date of Something for the Rest of Us had been pushed back from February to an August release. Tim Palmer (who has worked with Ozzy Osbourne and HIM, among others) produced the bulk of the album with Butch Vig and John Fields coming in to produce a track apiece. In the end, the wait paid off. Something for the Rest of Us is a beautiful album, both sonically and lyrically. There isn’t a single bad song on the disc.
Most of the songs fall within the range of bleak ballads that perfectly capture the despair of the day and the faint glimmer of hope that still twinkles in the distance. While the six o’clock news paints a corporate-skewed picture of the recession in terms of facts, figures, and statistics, Something for the Rest of Us shows the human face of a world thrown into doubt. By contrast, the album zeroes in on all of the complex emotions that fill the lives that need rebuilding and the love that sustains through the hard times, regardless of how your 401k is doing.
With that in mind, home and the value of long-lasting relationships in a transitory world stand at the center of the album. Although their particular flavor of rock has always been marked by a pop sensibility, the Goo Goo Dolls have never exactly been a chirpy trio of troubadours. Throughout their career, primary lyricist Johnny Rzeznik has always crafted introspective songs that cut to the emotional chase while still remaining easily accessible. Rzeznik sings on “Home” that “The crowded room is full of empty faces / The deepest conversation full of lies / Another night with all my friends / The kind you never see again”. The image of a loner (usually in a bar) is something of a go-to point in many a Goo Goo Dolls song. This time, however, the lyrics evoke images of the faux camaraderie of co-workers and the perceived close relationship shared with people you spend eight-plus hours a day with that is nowhere to be found when a job is lost.
Similarly, Rzeznik’s honest, throaty vocals state their case without an ounce of self-pity, only harsh reality when he succinctly states “I tried so hard to make it / And then I watched it slip away” on “As I Am”. The work you labored at for years, the post-work drinks you threw back with friends who were really just colleagues, and the pursuit of a promotion seem rightfully meaningless in hindsight when all that is obliterated with a pink slip. All that remains is trying to find a way to feed and shelter the family that will stand with you regardless of where your 9-to-5 position may take you.
The transitional nature of life in the recession era is further explored on “Nothing Is Real”. The Goos wax philosophical on dashed hopes and dreams accompanied by the fear of what’s ahead and the hope for something better. The band re-explores lost opportunities on “Still Your Song”, told from the point of view of a man who realizes that time—and the woman he loves—won’t wait for him to wake up and realize what once stood in front of him.
Some of the more upbeat moments on Something for the Rest of Us come on “Say You’re Free” and “Now I Hear”. Considered by some portions of the Goo Goo Dolls’ fanbase to be a staple of their albums and, by others, a running gag, bassist Robbie Takac takes over vocal duties on the pair of songs, singing in a much higher, raspier, and more nasal register than Rzeznik’s instantly recognizable timbre. Hearing Takac sing on these two songs further underscores his contributions to the album in terms of his assistance on the rich harmonies the band are known for on each of their songs. Takac isn’t the only one who gets a chance to shine on these two songs. Drummer Mike Malinin hits all the right fills on “Now I Hear”, making the track shimmer with a surprising fullness.
Besides the Goo’s lush, distinctive sound, love is the central figure on Something for the Rest of Us. Songs such as “One Night” and “Notbroken” chronicle a deep, inner loneliness and the power of love to pull someone back from the brink. Quite possibly the album’s showpiece, “Notbroken” is a heartfelt ballad inspired by a letter that Rzeznik read, penned by a soldier’s wife. Written to her husband hospitalized in Iraq, “Notbroken” is a message of unconditional love to a soldier afraid to return home, believing the horrors he had experienced had made him someone his wife couldn’t live with. Rzeznik gives voice to her words, reassuring her husband to the tune of crunching guitars and an urgent interlude that “I’ll still catch your fall / Through a past that steals your sleep”, taking to heart the vows of for better or for worse.
While not specifically written about another “Soldier”, the album’s closing track doesn’t end Something for the Rest of Us on a happy note, but rather a hopeful one of perseverance and moving through the dark days. The good times may have ended, but so will the bad ones.
Always something of an underdog themselves, throughout their career the Goo Goo Dolls have quietly championed society’s own underdogs. With Something for the Rest of Us, they craft a near-perfect, emotional album that gives a voice and a window into the individual struggles of the large number of “the rest of us” out there.