CD Reviews: Goo Goo Dolls: Gutterflower

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"God it's good to be alive," Johnny Rzeznik proclaims throughout the candy-coated opening track, "Big Machine," which ushers in the latest offering from The Goo Goo Dolls. Indeed, these days the Dolls, once Buffalo's underground doormat, must be feeling pretty darned good to be alive. Swooping down on the wings of 1998's profit machine, Dizzy Up The Girl, Rzeznik and company serve up a similar dish of super-produced, cleanly written, power pop just begging for their next string of radio/MTV hits. Gutterflower seems poised to pick right up where Dizzy left off a few years ago, with enough jangling guitars and youthful gusto to fill Senior Prom and then some.

When the Goo Goo Dolls locked up the garage door and sold the tattered tour van in 1995, it was clear their overnight star appeal from the career-making smash "Name" was more than enough to secure them a seat on a luxury touring bus and pull them out of the dingy Midwest club scene for good. Rzeznik and co-writing sidekick Robby Takac soon discovered the bills were easier to pay once they started writing slicker guitar pop songs. And while they've moved on from their noisier punk rock days, they still manage to incorporate more rattling guitars than most anyone else on Billboard's Top 40. "Here Is Gone" adopts the same tempo, themes and popular appeal as "Slide" did previously. Not breaking any new ground, Rzeznik keeps it safe with nothing more provoking than, "I thought I lost you somewhere, but you were never really ever there at all."

The better songs on Gutterflower are authored by Rzeznik, but like past ventures, Takac gets his due. "You Never Know" and "Tucked Away" are both penned by the bass player, and while they never veer far off course, these cuts do provide an impressive respite from his partner's model. No doubt, however, the legs of the Gutterflower monster belong to Rzeznik. "What A Scene" takes a dive into the harder rock pool, with larger scores of guitar parts and grungier, even if harmonized, lyrics. Still the "na, na, na na na, na" filling towards the end gives the Goos yet another legitimate shot at finding the radio airwaves. The sing-a-long acoustic ballad "Sympathy" is more than addictive and rolls right into the album's best composition, the crashing "What Do You Need," which is the closest they come to their edgier punk rock roots.

If it's the Dizzy Up The Girl Goo Goo Dolls you prefer, then Gutterflower is your harvest. The fans of older material, like when they were known as the second coming of The Replacements, will have to again settle for the result of high-priced studio production and sticky sweet rock made for corporate labels. Either way, this new record will certainly sell. Not such a bad thing for three guys who earned their way in the back of a rusty van touring the Midwest, like young flowers trying to bloom in a gutter.

~Red Rocker