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By William Michael Smith
By Jef With One F
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Sonya Harvey
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Goo Goo Dolls
Dizzy Up the Girl
My first clue that the Goo Goo Dolls had completely lost touch with their working-class garage-band roots came by way of a brief backstage conversation with bassist Robby Takac back in 1996.
Me: "So, how about those Sabres?"
Me: "You know, the hockey team."
Takac: "Oh ... yeah. I haven't really been following 'em this year."
As any resident of the Goo Goo Dolls' hometown of Buffalo, New York, will tell you, failing to keep tabs on a playoffs-bound Sabres team is akin to a crime against the city itself. It's also a pretty good indication that the Goos have other things on their minds these days --like arena tours with No Doubt, contracting high-dollar help in the studio and hiring former Green Day producer Rob Cavallo in hopes that some of Dookie's multi-platinum mojo might rub off on them. Which brings us to the second clue that the Goo Goo Dolls have finally lost touch with their working-class garage-band roots: the unequivocally bland Dizzy Up the Girl.
Not that there's anything wrong with selling out -- from a practical standpoint, anyway. Given their belated success, it's easy to forget that the Goo Goo Dolls have been making albums for 11 years. And they've spent more than half of that time trying to perfect a compromise between accessibility and credibility. They accomplished as much with 1990's Hold Me Up, a well-delivered major-label party invitation that reconciled the band's beer-basted, prank-punk roots with its potential future as a tough, savvy hard-rock band with hooks aplenty.
But that's pretty much where the Goo Goo Dolls' creative evolution ended. It was only a matter of time -- and money -- before the group succumbed to the sway of the formulaic power ballad: "Name," from the band's 1996 breakthrough A Boy Named Goo, put the band on the mainstream map. It didn't seem to matter that the tune was essentially a reworking of "We Are the Normal," the sobering hymn to the masses singer/guitarist John Rzeznik co-wrote with Paul Westerberg for 1993's Superstar Carwash.
Further along the Goos' de-evolutionary scale is "Iris," a saccharine, strummed ode to some hypothetical movie-house diva plucked from Rzeznik's short-sighted imagination. Listening now, it's almost impossible to connect with the approachably idiotic Goo Goo Dolls of old, a freakish power trio partial to ludicrous high-speed renditions of classic rock hits, often sung by a lounge singer pal named Lance Diamond. But everyone's got to grow up sometime, and now that Rzeznik, Takac and drummer Mike Malinin have families and other loved ones to worry about, the pre-Dizzy success of "Iris" on the City of Angels soundtrack must have seemed like a revelation. It was also the green light, no doubt, to pad the next album with slower numbers -- most of them sensitive and serious, all of them diabolically dull.
For an album that was (technically) two years in the making, Dizzy Up the Girl sounds like it was written in a week -- the work of a band phoning it in, the product of three bodies barely breaking a sweat. Even Takac, usually good for one or two exhilarating numbers per album, seems listless, bored, unamused. It's as if the band's aggressive instincts have completely shut down. There's the feckless, chug-a-chug opener, "Dizzy," where Rzeznik runs down a list of the things he digs most about his lady, doing so with little more enthusiasm than a talk-show host reading off a teleprompter ("You're dirty and you're sweet / You know you're everything to me"). He turns dispassionately somber on the day-in-the-life serio-snoozer "Broadway," singing, "See the young man sittin' in the old man's bar / Waiting for his turn to die," as if still peering down from his observation tower in the "Iris" video. As for the aforementioned smattering of ballady nonsense ("Black Balloon," "Amigone," "Full Forever"), it succeeds only in giving the album its sagging, jelly-belly middle.
Rzeznik has said that the Goo Goo Dolls aren't kids anymore, that they need to act their age. If anything, Dizzy Up the Girl proves that adulthood is overrated.
A startlingly ambitious release, Psyence Fiction is less a soundtrack for a movie never made than a wonderfully cinematic fluke of nature. UNKLE's director (so to speak) is James Lavelle, owner of trip-hop's influential Mo Wax label and remixer of Everything But the Girl and Tortoise, among others. Its script was co-written by him and master sampler/turntablist DJ Shadow. Both principals have shown vision in the past, but never would you have thought this sort of pairing capable of anything this spectacular.
Psyence Fiction is a dreamy, meandering masterpiece that encompasses trip-hop, symphonic pop, heavy rock and hip-hop. Woven into the ambitious mix are inspired appearances by an unlikely lineup of signature vocalists, including Kool G Rap, Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Richard Ashcroft of the Verve, Jason Newstead of Metallica and Mark Hollis of Talk Talk. UNKLE makes the most of its star power: Mike D shows up, in part, on the opening track, "Guns Blazing (Drums of Death Pt. 1)," in snippets of a fully evolved performance we hear later on ("The Knock [Drums of Death Pt. 2]"). Richard Ashcroft's contribution on "Lonely Soul" drifts out of a passing ambulance on "Chaos," five songs after it originally appears.
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