[HOT TRACK]Ex-punkers churning out a duller shade of blandWhen rock musicians decide it's time to get serious and turn a hobby into a living, they usually file down the hard edges and find a happy medium between "extreme" and "pop." The Goo Goo Dolls, from Buffalo, New York, followed that formula; after starting as a punk outfit in 1987, the band struggled along until 1995, when it released the polished, nonthreatening "A Boy Named Goo." The band cemented its career with the 1998 album "Dizzy Up the Girl" and the pop ballad "Iris," which made it to the sound track of "City of Angels." Now the rock trio is back ?but still taking it easy ?with "Gutterflower."
John Rzeznik, the band's frontman, titled the new album after a term he found in a Pablo Neruda poem, which described children in the gutter as "flowers." Rzeznik was recently divorced, news of which has stirred up more talk than the new album. The title would lead you to think that the album has an activist aspect to it, which is not really so.
Instead the band members said the attitude they brought to this album was one of escape; they wanted to deviate from their daily routines and do something easygoing and fun instead of serious and painstaking.
The album opens with "Big Machine," a strong but easy-on-the-ears number. The song is built on a hard rock foundation, but never really gets far off the ground. "Think About Me" and "Here Is Gone" are also upbeat rockers. The most notable track is "You Never Know," in which the bassist Robby Takac takes over lead vocals. The song outjams the others, amped up by Rzeznik's solid guitar performance.
It's rather a surprise that the album does not feature a ballad; since the Goo Goo Dolls became a big name, ballads have been their strongest asset. The most ballad-like cut is "Sympathy," where Rzeznik croons over a quiet acoustic guitar and a mandolin.
Overall, "Gutterflower" won't be the worst album to come out this year. It could be described as a good selection for an entry-level rock fan. More discerning listeners would probably dismiss its sound as too simple and mainstream, and antithetical to the spirit of rock.
The Goo Goo Dolls seem to have found their happy medium; but if they stick to bland pop rock and fail to evolve, watch for them to become irrelevant, fast.
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