Mike Malinin

REVIEW: Goo Goo Dolls – Dizzy Up the Girl (1998)

GOO GOO DOLLS – Dizzy Up the Girl (1998 Warner)

The Goo Goo Dolls were made for the 90s.  When the big bands dropped off the charts, where were we to get our fix of melodic rock with acoustic ballads?  From Buffalo, NY.  The sixth Goos album, Dizzy Up the Girl, was the latest in a stream of albums that got progressively less punk and more acoustic.  It was also their first album with critically acclaimed new drummer Mike Malinin, and the first since they had a huge single in “Name”.  It’s no surprise they went further in that direction.

Commercial intents aside, Dizzy Up the Girl is a remarkable album.  Every song helmed by singer/guitarist Johnny Rzeznik boasts an explosive chorus.  The four tracks with bassist Robby Takac singing are the ones that maintain a punk aesthetic, but with a refined sense of composition.

Lead track “Dizzy” is the first of many great single-worthy choruses.  In fact it was a single, though not the biggest of the bunch.  That would of course be “Iris”, previously issued on the soundtrack to City of Angels.  The 90s were not that much different from the 80s when it came down to it, and a power ballad is what made the Goos a household name.  Better than Iris though is the single “Slide”.  It charted just as high as “Iris” (#1) in the US and Canada.  Unlike “Iris”, “Slide” has a driving acoustic vibe.  It’s the kind of tune Extreme made their bread and butter with, like “Hole Hearted”.

Two years after “Iris”, the album was still producing singles.  “Broadway” is just as good as “Slide” with more emphasis on the electric guitar.  It has an earthy, down home quality.  “Black Balloon”, another single, takes it back to acoustic with harmonics, and strings added by Canadian David Campbell (father of Beck).  Even without the accompaniment it’s one of their biggest and best choruses.

Takac’s four tunes (“January Friend”, “Amigone”, “Full Forever”, and “Extra Pale”) are great breaks between Rzeznik’s more mainstream crooning.  Robby’s rasp isn’t commercial but it’s the only real link back to their punk rock days.  His songs don’t suck.  “Amigone” (pronounced “Am I Gone”) sticks to the brain like chunky peanut butter.

Four of the five singles are top-loaded onto the front of the album, normally a death knell for a solid listen.  Not in this case.  The Goos boasted album tracks as good as their singles.  “Acoustic #3” is good enough to be yet another single.   “Bullet Proof”, with its driving guitar, could have been the album opener.  The chorus lifts off to the atmosphere.  It’s the kind of chorus you expected from the 1980s, not the 1990s.  A dramatic “All Eyes On Me” could also have been a solid album opener.  All they need is a closer!  Nope, they got that too:  “Hate This Place” winds things up nicely the way it began.  “Hold on, dream away, you’re my sweet charade.”

Dizzy Up the Girl might not be up your alley, but in the 90s, choice was more limited.  It was hard to find mainstream rock that didn’t suck.  This one stands the test of time, with a collection of excellent guitar-based tunes that fit the mold.

4.5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Goo Goo Dolls – Live In Alaska (2002)

GOO GOO DOLLS – Live In Alaska (2002 Earth Escapes DVD)

I bought this for myself the week after I broke up with Radio Station Girl, looking for some new music to soothe my soul.  This DVD hit the spot for two reasons: the music and the scenery.  I like a lot of Goo Goo Dolls’ albums, and I really love the icy landscapes of the north.  Live In Alaska delivers on both.  From a series called “Music in High Places”, the DVD takes us all the way to Arctic Circle among the glaciers.  The band don’t play a traditional concert.  Instead they made videos in unusual locations, such as outdoors next to a partially frozen lake in the tundra.

That is the scene for “Black Balloon”.  There must have been some serious technical challenges to record there.  There are scenes of people arriving by small plane and air drops of equipment by helicopter, and then getting into position via rubber dinghy.   Wouldn’t it be hard acoustically to record songs in an open expanse?  I don’t know, but they did it and I like it.  The visuals add another element, and it surely must have been inspiring for the band to play in such a clean, isolated environment.

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Up next, the Dolls get to participate in the sport of dogsledding on Punchbowl glacier.  Lead singer Johnny Rzeznik says, “I have a really cool job. I get to do stuff like this,” and I’m jealous!  It’s warm enough for just short sleeves.  He is then taken by helicopter to an even more beautiful and remote location.  Standing on an ice island in the middle of a sparkling blue lake in the middle of Knik glacier, Rzeznik sings “Acoustic #3”, and it’s haunting.  It’s also a sight to behold.  The frigid water is bluer than anything you have seen before, not to mention this is one of his most beautiful songs.  You can hear the water gurgling faintly behind.

The band reconvenes in Hope, Alaksa at a tiny little bar to play the hit “Broadway” acoustically.  If the locals know who they are, they don’t let on, but one does play harmonica with them.  This is one of their best tunes, and I like the sound of it in this environment.  Only one thing pisses me off, and that’s interrupting the damn song to edit in some interview footage!   Bad editing.  I don’t know why some videos do this — splice interviews into the middle of the song.  Fucking stop it!  I hate that!  Fortunately, one of the DVD bonus features is something called “just the music”, where you can watch the song uninterrupted.

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Going mudsliding looks like a ton of fun.  The Dolls had a blast playing this game with kids, and getting absolutely covered in mud in the process.  (Rzeznik after cleaning: “It looked like a mud bomb went off in my bathroom.”)  Another cool concert location is on a train, where “Here Is Gone” is performed.  I must wonder if this was a technical nightmare to record.  The train appears to be moving extra slowly, perhaps to reduce noise.  I am sure this scene was meticulously planned.  The train was a special charter for the Dolls, and they could start and stop as they pleased.  The band are in a coach car with a glass dome roof.  The train enters a tunnel mid song, and things get dark, before it emerges in the light again at the end of the tune.  Really cool shot.

Flying to Kotzebue, Alaska the band are greeting by a cheering crowd.  The local news crews are out for this major event!  The next concert location is a bridge, where they play “Big Machine”.  This song isn’t as strong acoustically.  The album version with its electric riff is more interesting, but hey.  It’s the outdoors in Alaska in the summertime.  What more do you need?

Taking a break from performing for a moment, the band next get to enjoy some native culture and music.  But then it’s back to work, and they play “What A Scene” right there on a stoney ocean beach surrounded by the townsfolk.  10% of the population turned out for it!  This track works a bit better acoustically to my ears than “Big Machine” did.  Some of the kids in town are into it, some look bored, but soon it’s back to fun and games.  People are hurled into the air via a huge trampoline-like skin.  Robby Takac volunteers and gets pretty high up there!  But he only does it once!

The final song of the DVD is “Slide”, another huge favourite of mine. This is performed by the full band, on another chunk of ice in the middle of a lake.  You could not imagine a more perfect setting for such a bright, melodic song.  Once again I wonder about the technicalities of recording this performance but it sure looks and sounds 100% live.  Behind the scenes shots show giant boom mics and cameras on cranes.  Great tune to close on though, a highlight of this set and their career.

GOO GOO_0003The DVD has some very cool bonus features.  These include a terrible text bio that nobody will ever read.  The others include behind the scenes documentaries about Kotzebue and its inhabitants, and the Alaskan railroad.  Some of this material is included in the main feature, but it’s not really about the band.  It’s about the people and the scenery, but that’s cool in its own right. Interesting fact:  Even though the sun shines all night in Kotzebue in July, they still have fireworks on the 4th.  They’re not as cool, but they do have ’em!  They also have warm sunny swimming at 1 am, and the local radio station gets calls for requests all the way from Russia.

Not listed on the back of the package, but more important than the other features, are two bonus songs.  These can only be found if you happen to check out the “just the music” section.  “Sympathy” is the first, performed acoustically on the train.  Great tune.  “Do You Know” is the second, on the beach on Kotzebue.  This is Robby Takac’s only lead vocal (and it was cut from the main feature)!  This song reflects the Goo Goo Dolls punk rock side, from which they originated.  Robby’s vocal is raspy and ragged, just like I like it!

For Goo Goo Dolls fans, I can’t recommend this DVD enough.  The cool thing is that even if you’re just a casual fan who knows the hits, you’d dig it too.

4.5/5 stars

Part 172: The Goo Goo Dolls

RECORD STORE TALES Part 172:  The Goo Goo Dolls

Back in 1995, when the Goo Goo Dolls finally made the big time with “Name”, I sold an assload of those albums in my store.  People couldn’t get enough of them back then.  I personally had never even listened to it.  I mean, there were so many alt-rock bands in 1995 and ’96!  Better Than Ezra, Presidents of the United States of America, Matchbox 20…and I wasn’t interested in any of them.  I was a metal head.

As it turns out, (this is complicated, so bear with me) my uncle worked with the mother of the fiance of bassist Robby Takac.  So my aunt started asking me all these questions about this band, Goo Goo Dolls.  Do you know them?  Do you sell them in your store?  Etc.

I told my aunt, yes I know Goo Goo Dolls, and yes, I sell a ton of them in our store.  They were definitely one of our top sellers, for pretty much a year straight.  I mean they were huge at the time.

My aunt and uncle ended up being invited to the wedding, and Goo Goo Dolls played at the reception.  They had a great time, very much enjoyed herself, and met the band.  Not knowing that I had never listened to a Goo Goo Dolls song in my life, my aunt told Robby and the band that I was a big supporter and sold a whole bunch of their discs in my store for them.

To their credit, they were very thankful (if a tad misled), and FedEx’d my aunt a signed glossy in gratitude!

“Hi Michael,” it says, “Thanks a lot for your help!”  It was signed by Robby, lead singer Johnny Rzeznik, and new drummer Mike Malinin.

A tad bemused, I thought it might be a good idea to actually do them the service of listening to their music.  So I began to do that, in store, and found that I actually enjoyed the band quite a bit.  I like A Boy Named Goo, the album that I supposedly helped them out with, but I think Superstar Car Wash (the album previous) and Dizzy Up The Girl (the album that followed) are both superior.  I still like them today, leaning towards the early punk material, with a preference to their excellent deep cuts compilation, What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art & Commerce.  

So there you go.  If it wasn’t for a slight misunderstanding, I might never have discovered the band!