There seems to be an undercurrent of expectation these days that rock bands need to strive to reinvent themselves or take quantum evolutionary leaps forward with each new album they create. However, after 25 years, 9 studio albums and gobs of success, it’s a bit unrealistic to place that kind of expectation on the Goo Goo Dolls. They have a sound that works for them, a sound their fans have come to enjoy and expect; there’s no need to change it up too much.
That said, what a band like Goo Goo Dolls can do is tweak their sound—to brighten it up, to make it fresh again. That’s just what they’ve done on their 10th studio release Magnetic. In contrast to the sober tone struck on 2011’s Something For the Rest of Us, Magnetic livens things up with sing-able melodies, high production values and enough earworms to secure plenty of airplay for months to come.
What does “tweak” mean in this case? At heart, the structure and sound hasn’t changed, but some of the peripherals have been updated. The first thing you hear on opening track/lead single “Rebel Sound,” for example, is an electro-pop drum loop, closely followed by an anthemic pop/rock chorus that sounds tailor-made for concert crowds and radio stations. From there, the electro influence makes several appearances throughout the track list—perhaps enough to make the purists nervous, but not actually enough to accuse the band of pandering to the audience. Some might find it out of place, but I find it tasteful.
But perhaps the most notable “tweak” in my opinion is the melodic lines of the tunes. John Rzeznik’s signature raspy voice has its own appeal, but the down side is that sometimes it can make even an interesting melody line sound a little redundant, even on prior hits like “Name” and “Iris.” But something in the way these songs have been crafted sits remarkably well with Rzeznik’s voice, keeping things much more interesting throughout. The overall result is an increased sense of energy—“brightness”, for lack of a better term—that we haven’t heard from the Goo Goo Dolls in several years.
As far as the album itself, the strongest parts of Magnetic are its bookends. The aforementioned “Rebel Sound” and the followup “When the World Breaks Your Heart” are indeed two of the album’s best tracks, and are likely to be fan favorites. From there, the momentum slows a bit as the tracklist progresses, although it would really be unfair to categorize these songs as “bad” compared to the others—they are just perhaps less memorable. The only song that could be considered a throwaway is “More Of You,”; its overreliance on electro and comparatively weak hook doesn’t help the album’s cause much. However, the record regains momentum with the last four tracks, starting with “BulletProofAngel,” easily the strongest ballad on the album, and continuing into “Last Hot Night,” “Happiest of Days” (one of two tracks where Robby Takac takes the lead vocal) and the memorable closer “Keep the Car Running.”
Some will undoubtedly critique the updated sound of Magnetic as catering too much to what is “current” and “relevant” to garner the popular vote; others will fall in line with the undercurrent of expectation that the band should have tried harder to reinvent. In my view, however, the Goo Goo Dolls have struck a happy middle ground with Magnetic, crafting a record that sounds not only current, but fresh. It’s the first record they’ve released in years that could seriously match the success of their late-1990s heyday.