The sorry state of rock 'n' roll was on display last week during the Video Music Awards on MTV. The formerly cutting-edge network handed out honors to acts that included Madonna, Aerosmith, the Beastie Boys and Will Smith.
Welcome to the '80s.
The rock industry and record companies don't seem to realize that unless they let go of the music of the past, they're doomed to repeat it. Right now, MTV is sounding like classic-rock radio.
Rock's malaise is getting deeper. The charts are filled with the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Marilyn Manson, KoRn and Master P. Such acts define rock in 1998: cute kids, freaks, cheese metal and gangsta rappers. Rock may not be dead, but it's comatose.
Which brings us to the Goo Goo Dolls and their exhilarating new album, "Dizzy Up the Girl" (Warner Bros. 2-47058). The album is due out Tuesday, and the boys from Buffalo have given rock 'n' roll what it desperately needs: a kick in the butt.
Finally, thanks to the songwriting skills of Johnny Rzeznik, a band is willing to go out on a limb and make some mature, adult music with enough hot guitar riffs and pounding drums to appeal to all generations.
One song, "Broadway," is destined to be a smash. Rzeznik wrote the number and sings it, getting plenty of help from bass player Robby Takac and Mike Malinin on drums. This is a pop music delight, right up there with the work of such groundbreaking bands as R.E.M., U2 and -- dare we say it, Goo Goo Dolls fans? -- the Replacements.
Rzeznik describes the song as being about "Broadway and Fillmore in Buffalo, the neighborhood I grew up in." Rzeznik had a tough childhood, and the number, with jangling guitars and a furious beat, rises to a crescendo of emotion and power.
This is Buffalo music at its best. It reflects a city and its people, and the struggle of everyday life. Rzeznik, who lost his parents as a teenager, knows it's a tough world out there on Buffalo streets, and only the strong become rock stars. That's why he sings:
"Broadway's dark tonight / A little bit weaker than you used to be / Broadway's dark tonight / See the young man sitting in the old man's bar / Waiting for his turn to die."
Rzeznik is all grown up. Like Michael Stipe and Paul Westerberg, he's not interested in being a teen idol anymore. For Rzeznik and the Dolls, it's about words and music, not pinups and star trips.
The rest of the CD reflects the Goo's musical and lyrical depth. "Black Balloon" is a moody number with an acoustic guitar riff that moves the soul. The song is reminiscent of "Iris" and "Name." It's Rzeznik at his introspective best.
"Bullet Proof" begins with a nasty lead guitar and builds to a high-energy climax with a touch of techno:
"I want to bulletproof your soul," Rzeznik sings. " . . . What are we / What you want to be / . . . All I need I've known before."
The sound gets softer on the beginning of "All Eyes on Me," which turns into a hard rocker. Rzeznik is in a melancholy mood on the song, singing: "Do you hide inside yourself and I wonder what you're thinking / And everything you're chasing / It seems to leave you empty."
"Acoustic No. 3" is another heart-wrenching number, backed by a full orchestra. It's about loss and failed relationships.
"I wonder where these dreams go / When the world gets in your way / What's the point in all this screaming / No one's listening anyway."
The Goos also flash some of their old rocking form on such tracks as "Dizzy," "January Friend," "Amigone" and "Full Forever." "Slide," the first single, is a soft rocker with a touch of jazz and pathos. "It's just a Catholic teenage sex anthem," Rzeznik joked. Also, "Iris," the monster hit from the movie "City of Angels," is included on the album.
This is the Goos' first CD in nearly three years. "A Boy Named Goo" was the band's breakthrough in 1996, with nearly 3 million copies sold.
"Dizzy Up the Girl" should top those figures. The album marks a turning point for the Goo Goo Dolls.
Rzeznik is aware of what the new CD means to the band. "I want to keep growing, and I want to keep changing," he said. "I wanted this CD to be different from the last one.
"There's some pretty heavy and dark songs on this record. Each song has its own character. We added a lot of things because we had more money for strings, guitars and production."
The album, though, involves more than money and studio magic. It's about a band and artist coming of age. In a stagnant time for pop music, the Goo Goo Dolls have shown there's still some life in rock 'n' roll.
. . .
Dizzy Up the Girl
- January Friend
- Black Balloon
- Bullet Proof
- All Eyes on Me
- Full Forever
- Acoustic #3
- Extra Pale
- Hate This Place
- John Rzeznik: Guitar, vocals.
- Robby Takac: Bass, vocals.
- Mike Malinin: Drums.
- Released: Sept. 22, 1998.
- Producer: Rob Cavallo and the Goo Goo Dolls.
- Label: Warner Bros. Records.
- Sales (as of October 2018): 4x platinum certified (more than 4 million copies sold).