It’s been an awfully long time since the Goo Goo Dolls truly belonged to Buffalo.
When the band played the Continental regularly, could be seen around town on a consistent basis and seemed poised to fulfill our hopes as Western New York’s own version of the Replacements, we felt like we owned them.
With the release of album No. 10, “Magnetic,” (out today) it’s more than obvious that John Rzeznik, Robby Takac and Mike Malinin now belong to the world. They’re not our scruffy and sweaty bar band anymore. Rather, they are a mainstream hit-making powerhouse. Certainly, bassist and co-founder Robby Takac still makes Buffalo his home as much as is humanly possible, and he has invested in our town’s culture immensely. But the Goos are primarily a Los Angeles band these days, and they sound like one.
That’s not an insult. Survival on a major label these days is not guaranteed, even if you’ve had as many hits as the Goos have. You’ve got to keep cranking out those hits if you want to be deemed relevant. And “Magnetic” is the most potentially hit-filled release of the band’s career. There are 11 songs on the album, and every single one of them sounds like a hit.
The Goos worked long and hard on the construction of “Magnetic,” painstakingly trimming fat, honing hooks and fine-tuning arrangements over a two year period at studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles and New York City. Most significantly, principal songwriter John Rzeznik opted to work with outside songwriting collaborators on nine of the album’s 11 songs. (The other two tunes were penned by Takac all by his lonesome.)
Rzeznik has said in recent interviews that working with outside writers was a liberating experience for him. That liberated feeling pervades “Magnetic,” and makes it easily the band’s sunniest collection.
2010’s “Something For the Rest Of Us” revealed a narrative voice embroiled in turmoil, and Rzeznik has said that the album was written amid trying times in his personal life. “Magnetic” stands in stark opposition to its predecessor, as is immediately apparent from the get-go. Album opener and first single “Rebel Beat” makes a joyful noise, its blend of acoustic instruments and subtly interwoven electronica conspiring in service of a jubilant stomp of a pop tune. This is one of four songs Rzeznik penned with producer Gregg Wattenberg, known for his work with Train, Daughtry and O.A.R., among others.
The Rzeznik/Wattenberg team also is responsible for “When the World Breaks Your Heart,” a ballad introduced by a lilting guitar arpeggio, before it evolves into a grandiose slab of arena-pop touched by shades of Coldplay-like grandeur and a hope-tinged lyric. “Slow It Down” boasts richly layered backing vocals, the electric guitars trimmed back in favor of electronic percussion, keyboard strings and acoustic guitars during the verses, before exploding into what by this point in the proceedings we can accept as the Rzeznik/Wattenberg style.
Elsewhere, Rzeznik teams with producer John Shanks (Keith Urban, Bon Jovi, Alanis Morissette, among others) for “Caught in the Storm,” a classic power-ballad, and “More Of You,” which represents the band’s most successful assimilation of electronica into its ensemble sound.
“Bringing on the Light,” the first of the two Takac tunes, starts as a ballad, with the bassist’s vocal layered and heavily produced, but things return to familiar Takac territory with the song’s chorus, a delicious slice of scruffy punk-pop that reveals the band’s roots in that genre. The electric guitars are cranked up nice and loud for this one.
Takac’s other “Magnetic” offering, “Happiest of Days,” is a lilting ballad with a nice string arrangement. The tune commences with some lovely acoustic chordal work, Takac’s charming rasp mixed front and center, and then builds slowly toward its strong chorus hook.
Magnetic concludes with the strongest of the Rzeznik/Shanks contributions in the form of “Keep the Car Running,” one of the album’s most richly detailed productions. This is classic Goos, redolent of the band’s “Dizzy Up the Girl” period, and the blossoming of Rzeznik’s gifts as a pop songwriter. Ultimately, “Magnetic” is a celebration of those gifts. It’s also a testament to the fortitude of this band of survivors.
Goo Goo Dolls