Last week the Goo Goo Dolls' 10th album "Magnetic" arrived. Hopes were high, but this release continues what seems to be a trend with all of their post-Gutterflower work: on again, off again, very uneven. For every good album (previous disc Something for the rest of us definitely fits that category) the next one up is invariably so-so. Usually not bad, just not that good.
Magnetic is a tease right from the start. Opening track & lead single "Rebel Beat" pumps with an almost hip hop backing beat, then layers on the trademark Goo Goo Doll guitar crunch, harmonies, and just enough strings and starry-eyed lover lyrics to make it great. Such a great start is a sign of great things to come, right? For this album, not really. The last album had them delving into more diverse topics - a welcome diversion off the well beaten path Rzeznik and co. have trodden over the years (lots of love and love lost songs being their bread and butter.) This time around, they are right back to business as usual, and 10 albums in, the emperor's clothes are looking a bit thin indeed. "When the world breaks your heart" feels like it's trying to be a jangly, splashier, more upbeat sequel to "Iris" - but it ends up sounding like an idea that never quite got where they wanted it to be. The strained, sometimes not quite matching the music vocals don't help. "Slow it down" and "Caught in the storm" bring back a little of the moderation they found on some of the previous album's best tracks - still layered Goo Goo Dolls, but a bit less busy and all the more enjoyable because of it. They're still playing the songs-about-love card with an overly heavy hand, and the album isn't even half over at this point.
The good news comes at the midpoint - with "Come To Me" they spin a song that sounds like a spiritual sequel to previous disc's "Soldier." It is a touch less grim and self-serious than "Soldier" is, which makes it a fine way to deliver the same message with a bit of a lighter touch. It slides into territory too familiar for this album near the last 2 minutes with hintings of a wedding and growing old together, but the slight change is a breath of fresh air just the same. "More Of You" is a taught, energetic mid-tempo rocker that feels built to be amazing live - another of those tracks where you can see the lighters waving in the crowd just listening to it.
Robbie Takac gets his expected turn at the mic with "Bringing on the Light" and "Happiest of days." He's certainly aged well, his raspy delivering mellowing into a worn-in groove that fits the songs he sings. Still, it's too bad he isn't given one of the more zippy numbers, as he has done on past albums. Nothing wrong with ballads, just that they aren't what Takac does best.
Later on tracks like "BulletProofAngel" spin yet another tale of that perfect woman who makes the man feel humble - conjuring thoughts of "Wait, haven't I heard this one before?" While it's true the Dolls' focus has been a bit narrow over the years, most of the time they managed to twist that focus into a continuing array of variations on the same theme that were always compelling and pleasant to listen to, even if they did sound repetitive. Here, compelling goes away and repetitive is the only thing that really stands out - not a good place to be for any band. Rzeznik intones on the album closer "Keep the car running" that "There are times that I feel no matter what I do / it's wrong." Everything they do isn't necessarily wrong, but that "98% right" feeling isn't there anymore. This track is an exuberant extolling of free-spirited life - again, something the Dolls do well, and it mostly escapes the love-lorn washes that nearly drown the rest of the album. Shame there weren't more tracks like this one on there, really.
Given the pattern the Dolls follow, it's fair to expect that album number 11 will go back to more diverse and interesting lyrical topics, and avoid the near self-parody this band is slowly descending into. If it doesn't, their artistic goose may be cooked.