Expectations are a dangerous thing.
Expectations are a dangerous thing. It's been 18 years since Goo Goo Dolls put out Dizzy Up the Girl, a record which, for all its predictable anthemic pop rock tropes, is a pretty great listen even now. Plus it gave us “Iris” and “Slide”, two of the best scream-along-with-your-friends songs of the turn of the millennium. So even though years of watching the magic die in bands that had a good moment way back when has prepared me to hear this album with the bar set low, I was still hoping for an “Iris”, but updated. An “Iris” for an aimless 20-something instead of an angsty teen.
Goo Goo Dolls get that expectation, if the first few tracks on Boxes are anything to go by. “Over and Over”, the opening track, has the sort of big drums and shout-ready chorus that the band's found success with in the past. The next three tracks follow more or less the same formula, with a notably nice performance from Sydney Sierota on “Flood”. What I want to say -- and I'm not sure how much of a burn this is in 2016 -- is that you will really enjoy the first four tracks on Boxes if you maintain an active, borderline unhealthy nostalgia for Matchbox Twenty (and I do). The biggest criticism there is for those tracks is that they are formulaic, and it's hard to locate the unselfconscious sincerity in them that made Dizzy Up the Girl so appealing in its heyday. They're still fun songs.
Unfortunately things go downhill fast. The title track is notable only for how completely unmemorable it is -- a bad sign if ever there was one. “Free of Me” is full of weird, snotty vocals, and is one of those songs about how glad the guy is that the girl finally left his sorry ass because she deserves better, or whatever. It's underpinned by those same big pop-rock drums but there's no saving the track. It's doomed by its cringey lyrics.
The lead single comes late on the album in the form of “So Alive”, a baffling choice when there are radio-ready tracks like “The Pin”, custom-built to appeal to a broad spectrum of casual listeners, earlier on the album. “So Alive” promises, verbatim, to “sing it like an anthem” but fails to reach the dynamic heights of “The Pin” or “Over and Over”. It does contain a lot of contemporary pop-rock tropes, though: a little piano motif to lend it some emotional credibility, a backing chorus of “ay”s cribbed off any notable pop song released in the last two years.
The lowest point of the record is the laughably terrible “Prayer in My Pocket”, which sounds like a Christian rock radio reject in the worst way. Its inclusion on the record -- already coming in on the short side of average with 11 songs -- negates any respectability gained by the soulless but effective first few tracks. Also lousy is “Reverse”, a generic song with underwhelming production and an weird Auto-tuned vocal that goes against the unmitigated sincerity for which the Goo Goo Dolls are known.
Long-running bands that maintain success -- a rarity in itself -- do so by varying their sound and by exploring new ideas, by maturing with their audience. Boxes is a sloppy attempt to follow that charted path.