[5 June 2006]
Folks who were digging the Goo Goo Dolls back in the early ‘90s have grown to find the band they once loved rendered virtually unrecognizable over the past decade or so. The Buffalo, NY, trio, led by John Rzeznik, always had pop smarts, but it took a couple of hit singles for their smarts to be put on full display. At the beginning of their career, they were sort of an agreeably messy pop/rock band, much like their idols, the Replacements (who I discovered partially due to the Goos). Of course, after the ‘Mats signed with a major label, their sound underwent a gradual transformation from messy to shiny, and the Goos have done the same, albeit with significantly more success. Each album since their 1995 breakthrough, A Boy Named Goo, has sounded cleaner and been more ballad-heavy than the one before it, culminating in their eighth studio album, Let Love In, a fairly decent set of mid-tempo guitar pop that’s likely to be blaring from an Adult Alternative radio station near you every time you turn the dial.
By no means is Let Love In a bad album. Rzeznik is certainly capable of writing a pop/rock anthem, as earlier smashes like “Name” and “Iris” prove. There’s no grand-slam hit on this album that matches up to those, but nearly every song on this album has a chorus that practically leaps out of the speakers and jumps through your ears. Case in point: the anthemic title track, the chorus of which I was humming to myself constantly after only one listen. Additionally, the Goos songs typically have a timelessness to them. It’s very easy to picture many of these songs being hits ten or even twenty years ago, in the heyday of Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi (hey, they both made a couple of good songs, right?). However, the album teeters on the edge of overproduction, thanks to studio vet Glen Ballard. Ballard literally polishes down any sonic imperfection this album could possibly have, sucking the life out of a couple of tracks in the process. The album’s sheen is occasionally detrimental, particularly on the slower numbers, all of which have a very similar quality to them. Ultimately, Let Love In is a mixed bag, but it’s the natural progression in terms of the band’s musical arc.
One thing that caught my eye is that there are only eleven tracks on Let Love In, two of which have been around for quite some time. Their faithful (to the point of it damn near being karaoke) remake of Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit” appears here despite also appearing on the live album they released two years ago. The sentimental, holiday-themed “Better Days” also crossed airwaves last fall, although this marks the first time it’s appeared on a GGD album. You could look at the streamlined effort as one of two things: either a commendable effort in brevity or an act of laziness. Due to the fact that these rank as two of the stronger songs on the album, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the former.
Rzeznik falls into the recesses of genericness a couple of times over the course of this set, with the most obvious offender being “Feel the Silence”, which very strongly recalls other Goo songs such as “Black Balloon” and the aforementioned “Better Days”, but the album tips the mediocrity scale towards the better side of decent thanks to two punchy efforts featuring Robbie Takac. Takac seems to have held onto the last remaining bit of garage/indie spirit that the band possesses, and his two turns wind up being the album’s most memorable. “Listen” and “Strange Love” harken back to that agreeably messy sound discussed earlier. Although they may sound wussy in comparison to the Metal Blade-era Goos, they qualify as piss and vinegar compared to what you hear on the rest of this album.
It would be one thing if the Goo Goo Dolls, got older, sold out a bit, and their music started to suck. Although a few of the cuts on Let Love In sound somewhat formulaic, the pop sheen mostly agrees with Rzeznik’s lived-in voice and cloaked lyrics. It probably won’t win over any converts, but the songs (or at the very least the choruses) play to the band’s current fan base and are guaranteed to get the lighters waving at ampitheaters this summer.