Goo Goo Dolls: What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce

Goo Goo Dolls
What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce
Warner Bros.

A long time ago, in a nightclub far far away, I met a man who introduced himself to me as John. He and his band had just played a “killer” show I didn’t see. I had stumbled in after midnight to wait for the bar girl to give me a ride home. I told my new, tattooed friend how I had never heard of his little band to which he said to me three words. Those words not only sobered me up dramatically, they forced me to go out the next day and buy as many Goo Goo Dolls albums as I could find, managing three. I can’t go back in time and tell John Rzeznik just what his words meant to me, though oddly, I am sure he might already know. Aww.

What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce is a collection of the Goo Goo Dolls’ mostly unheard greatest hits. It’s kinda like when Prince released his “B-Sides” collection only not. This is more a mixture of the songs you’ve missed, in reverse chronological order from the most recent Dizzy up the Girl to the Goo’s self-titled debut.

As a retrospective, they don’t come much better than this. While many classics have been omitted, the collection showcases the Goo’s excessive lyrical ability and musical skill. They speak with an honesty and maturity rarely seen in garage music never losing their talent for shenanigans-based junk rock while all the while proving melody to be their forte. Each track is highly singable and infectiously danceable whether or not intended. And while for the fans, there really are no surprises, it’s all a hell of a lot of goo-d fun.

Dizzy up the Girl

“Bulletproof” kicks off the album exactly as expected — with a garage guitar song fuelled by a strong melody and life-worn lyrics. Rzeznik’s breathy voice echoes seriousness and sincerity while Robby Takac’s backing vocals act like the devil on his shoulder.

“All Eyes on Me” retains the theme of dreams unchasable, while “Acoustic #3” speaks to a lost audience in a fresh recording complete with haunting, staccato strings. Where John’s lyrics seem to edge towards an entire generation of disenchanted folks, Takac’s seem to have a specific muse in mind. His brilliant “Amigone” livens up the first section of the disc with a strainingly efficient vocal sheltering a fast-paced rock-rant filled with clever words.

A Boy Named Goo

The Goo Goo Dolls have chosen to include five tracks from Boy and while all very worthy of their places here seem to highlight just what has been left out. Where’s “Slave Girl”? I shouted. Where’s “Long Way Down”? What, no “Eyes Wide Open”? My dreams of this album kicking the need for building the perfect Goo tape for the car had been dashed. However, chosen was the gorgeous “Naked”, “Burning Up” (another ripping Robby vocal) and the anthemic “Flat Top”.

John and Robby experiment with everything in their lyrics from a controlling government (“it’s falling all around us / is this some kind of joke they’re trying to pull on us”) to blind faith (“a visionary coward says that anger can be power”) to self-deprecation (“you’re living from a personalised manual from hell”). Strange that none of these tunes found their way onto radios throughout the land, though somewhat ironically they did end up on an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 on Steve’s birthday yacht no less. Hmm.

“Ain’t That Unusual”, the stand out track on Boy, is also included with it’s glorious noise and burned out, bitch frozen lyrics like “sorry I put them words in your mouth but you wouldn’t talk to me.” John’s simple way of saying what other writers stuff into volumes is intriguing. It’s not like grammar matters when you just say what you’re feeling (“could you talk to me honestly / ’cause I never heard a word you said now and I ain’t just bein’ mean”).

On the US release of What I Leaned . . ., the fifth Boy installment is “Long Way Down” while us antipodean listeners are treated to “Name” which didn’t achieve the mega-hit status down here in Australia that it did over there. “Name” is undeniably special with John again getting out his rage at the world by creating a song that is really an acceptance of how life is (“grew up way too fast now there’s nothing to believe / and reruns all become our history”). Personal by definition, it’s about anonymity and frustration and the need to find a quiet place to shelter the burn.

Superstar Car Wash

The rockin’ pop of the newer Goo Goo Dolls tracks continues here interspersed with a punk vibe the boys were originally going for. “Fallin’ Down”, “Cuz You’re Gone” and “Another Second Time Around” show no regression easily holding their own. “We Are the Normal” is an instant classic in much the same vain as “Name”. “Girl Right Next to Me” is a splendid mix of naiveté and self-consciousness (“and I don’t even know what to say so I’m thinkin’ out loud”) with a gripping ’70s-inspired chorus (“and when you dream 17 I ain’t there so I don’t care / ’cause all my dreams are 23”).

“Lucky Star” is a cute pop song sewed up to suit Robby’s punk style while “On the Lie” delivers a perfect blend of sarcasm and romance with lines like “I’d hang and swap clichés all night but I’m not in love with you”.

Hold Me Up

The melody holds out while the songs from here on in are slightly beer stained. While this album had all the potential in the world to transport the Goo Goo Dolls onto the musical map, it was released at a time when hair rock was fading, commercial punk was all but unknown, grunge didn’t exist and the pop machine was refuelling. In the wake of the New Kids and MC Hammer, the Goo Goo Dolls were without a genre and, sadly, “Hold Me Up” never stood a chance.

“Two Days in February”, by far the band’s greatest effort, has been a concert favourite for years. With a style John Rzeznik has perfected, “Two Days in February” is simple in its meaning, yet complex in its message. The guys have rerecorded it here and it remains breathtakingly brilliant. The original version (dedicated to “Chief Doug . . . and the guy across the street”) sounds as though it was recording during a busking session with cars whizzing past and girls nattering in the background, though here it is crisp and shiny and worthy of single release in its own right. It’s a sarcastic love (hate?) song about lover-done-gone heartbreak and that universal disgust at seeing former girlfriends or boyfriends actually happy while you’re at home “breaking fingers” to call them.

“Just The Way You Are”, “There You Are” (almost a sequel to “Two Days”) and “Laughing” fill out this portion of the album continuing the fun, yet not exploring Hold Me Up‘s more experimental side with classics like “Kevin’s Song”, “22 Seconds” and “Hey”.

Jed and Goo Goo Dolls

The first two albums in the Goo Goo Dolls collection get a slight look in with only one song a piece playing more like, well, one song.

“Up Yours” is belting, punk-ravaged, head-banging rock with the unapologetic lyrics so fervently splattered though most of these initial tunes (“yeah fuck your suicide it’s all bullshit ’cause I tried”). While “I’m Addicted” is a rollicking good time, it is not a patch on the songs from the boys’ first album that I wanted to hear purely “Iris” fans shriek over. This is the collection’s only downfall. The pure hilarity of crazy man songs like “Hardsores” (“and every time you wait / you have to masturbate / oh, you know it well . . . wait, don’t stop!”), “Don’t Beat My Ass with a Baseball Bat” (“things don’t look to good to me / I feel I’m out of luck / and all because of swollen glands / and just one stupid fuck . . . I’ll beat your ass with a baseball bat bitch”) and “Hammerin’ Eggs” (“Dog corn another me buy gonna I’m mama”) are strangely absent. Surely the boys aren’t embarrassed about these pre-stylist extremities? No, I like to think they left them for the real fans.

While it’s obviously all about the music here, for reasons including the fact that hits like “Slide”, “Iris” or “Broadway” have not been added, no new tracks have been recorded and there is no glossy close-up of the boys’ pretty faces on the cover, it’s definitely about the music people are gonna like. And like it they should. Sexy hairdo or no sexy hairdo.