It seems that with the release of every new Goo Goo Dolls album, the tired old debate rages about how inferior the band are now compared to their early, garage-punk days. It's a pointless argument and one that seems especially uninspired after listening to the Goo's latest offering, the truly superb Gutterflower.
The fact of the matter is that John Rzeznik is as good a rock songwriter as they come. He seems to have gone from penning raucous, jaunty punk tunes on early albums such as Jed and Hold Me Up, to carefully crafting his art in order to produce some truly stunning rock songs -- and ballads -- over the course of the Goo Goo Dolls previous three albums, which, with the aid of well-timed film soundtrack placements, have rightly catapulted the band from obscurity to one of the hottest mainstream rock acts around.
What critics of the 'new' incarnation of the band tend to forget is that although ballads do comprise a bigger chunk of their more recent albums, the Goo Goo Dolls still rock as hard as they ever did, but these days their music is stained more by inspiration rather than perspiration. Indeed, that refined, mature approach is what makes Gutterflower such a compelling listen.
The first single, "Here Is Gone", is a case in point, combining subtle acoustics and a moody, atmospheric vibe to convey what appears to be a deeply personal tale revolving around the complexities of modern relationships. It is good, very good, but perhaps not as outstanding as the opener, "Big Machine". This ballsy, powerful modern rock song positively bursts with energy and soaring melodies, and is quite possibly the finest song Rzeznik has ever put his name to.
Of course, Rzeznik is not the sole songwriter of the band; his songs sit slightly uneasily next to bassist Robby Takac's rough-around the edges old-school punk tunes. But even though the gulf in songwriting class is clearly evident, it still makes the modern Goo Goo Dolls even more captivating to listen to.
With Takac's creative input limited to four out of the 12 tracks (including two very likeable efforts, "Smash" and "You Never Know"), it's clear the focus is on Rzeznik, and he doesn't disappoint. The impressive "Think About Me" quickly follows "Big Machine", and since it sounds like a distant cousin of "Slide", the band are obviously remaining true to the formula that made Dizzy Up The Girl such a huge success.
Yet the dark duo of "Truth Is a Whisper" and "It's Over", as well as the biting cynicism of "What a Scene", confirm that Gutterflower is not a carbon copy of its predecessor. Indeed, the token acoustic tune -- the country tinged "Sympathy" -- sounds a lot more earthy and raw than the slightly overproduced "Iris", which did so much to make the Goo Goo Dolls an international act last time around.
Gutterflower will undoubtedly take the Goo Goo Dolls to greater success, and deservedly so, such is it's quality and consistency. As possibly the band's most complete album to date, it may also provide a meaningful diversion for anyone still hankering after the band's less than illustrious past.