The Goo Goo Dolls: Greatest Hits Vol. 2: B-sides and Rarities
Tiny shreds of esteem separate the Goo Goo Dolls from, say, the James Blunts of the adult-contemporary galaxy.
It's as expected as it is surprising that the Goo Goo Dolls have managed to cobble together not one but two greatest hits records in the last couple of years. The Goos are a band like that, though. For a long time, they've managed to have it both ways. Their touring ethic and undeniable proletarian origins in Buffalo make the habitual mainstream bent of their music a milder pill to swallow. It's allowed them to swing for the fences on radio while still maintaining some modicum of the respect allotted to a working-man's band. Perhaps it's only a modicum, but then it is such tiny shreds of esteem that separate the Goo Goo Dolls from, say, the James Blunts of the adult-contemporary galaxy.
This claim to razor-thin distinction is the only argument to be made for Greatest Hits Vol. 2, when you parse it. If Vol. 1, with its recognizable hits, was an obvious step for a band that has come to epitomize mainstream rock radio, then Vol. 2 is meant to redress the format-based pigeonholing and realign the Goo Goo Dolls as a veteran rock act of varying and notable creativity. In other words, they want to be a real band that people care about. This aim is achieved well enough, though at the cost of their reputation as consummate hit-makers. Ultimately, they can't have their cake and eat it too. Because the most obvious observation to be made about Greatest Hits Vol. 2 is that a whole lot of it isn't very good.
The next most obvious is that the Goo Goo Dolls were always a product of their time. Born a snotty punk band in the late '80s, they gained notice just as "alternative" was becoming the buzz-word for any rock music made by anyone under 35, increasing their commercial profile with a pack of one-offs for the soundtracks of some rather mediocre '90s movies (their credits include City of Angels, Twister, Tommy Boy, the Ace Ventura sequel, and Batman & Robin; the name Alan Smithee comes to mind). Then, by degrees, they turned into the sort of power-ballad-peddling arena-rock band they were protesting with all that snotty punk in the first place.
All of these phases are represented on this compilation, but not in the chronological order of Vol. 1. A decade can be leapfrogged in the space of a couple of tracks, a slice of ready-made early '90s alternative crunch like "Only One" ("You used to be a folk singer / Now you're just a joke singer") following a bombastic anthem to sensitivity like Let Love In's "Without You Here". The early days of three chords and the truth are bunched together in the middle of the record, an all-too-brief punch to the gut that the Goos seem to spend the rest of the running time apologizing for. These apologies mostly take the form of forgettable album fodder like Dizzy Up the Girl's "Hate This Place" and Superstar Car Wash's "Stop the World", and a live cut or two spliced in without warning. Then the proceedings are amped up over the last act as the band tears through a litany of po-faced and precise covers of tunes by the Lime Spiders, the Damned, and (oddly) Tom Petty. Johnny Rzeznik's radio-friendly warble dominates, while Robby Takac's still-bratty wail challenges here and there, most effectively on the punk-era entries.
Some songs are more interesting than others, and certainly a lot of them were only previously available on singles and on the soundtracks to those terrible, terrible movies. Goo Goo Dolls completists surely must exist out there in the wide reaches of decaying America, and the compiled rarities may well make their week. But for the more casual observer, the effect of this second volume of the band's "greatest hits" can be summed up by the included demo version of the most monstrous of their monster hits, "Iris": an interesting curio, but a shadow of its more complete and irresistible final form. Greatest Hits Vol. 2 leaves no doubt that the Goo Goo Dolls are a real band, but leaves another, harder question twisting in the wind: Is that what we really want them to be?