Outside the Box(es)

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I’m sure most of you came to my blog today expecting a Rogue One review.  Don’t worry, it’s in the works… I’m not seeing the movie till tomorrow, so I’ll have it up later this week.  In the meantime, I’m getting to an album review that is long overdue.  The Goo Goo Dolls have had a long, rich career full of ups and downs, and Boxes marks their eleventh full-length album.  It is their first since 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl not to feature Mike Malinin on drums, as he left the band somewhat acrimoniously in 2013.

The funny thing is, despite the “drummer by committee” approach they took on this record, the drums stand out fairly frequently.  Their strong beats are what most frequently drive the songs forward, with the most prominent examples being on “Souls in the Machine,” “The Pin,” and “Over & Over.”  I suppose that’s always the job of the drummer, but rarely is it as noticeable as it is at times on Boxes.

Boxes also shows the band experimenting with different rhythms and sounds much more than they ever have.  Sometimes it works, like the stop-start feel of the chorus of “The Pin,” and sometimes it doesn’t, such as when the same sort of technique is used to create a staccato feel in “Flood,” that feels out of place.  Despite that, Echosmith singer Sydney Sierota’s vocal stylings complement lead singer John Rzeznik’s quite well.

Some interesting sounds can be found on “Reverse,” which features an electronica beat that could fit comfortably in a Lady Gaga song if sped up.  This builds on the electronica hints in the previous song, “Free of Me.”  There are lots of little common threads like that that tie certain songs to each other.  I wouldn’t call Boxes a concept album by any stretch, but little hints like that help make the album more unified.  “Reverse” and “Lucky One” can be seen as inverses of each other, and “So Alive,” and “Long Way Home” discuss a lot of the same subjects.

John Rzeznik and Robby Takac are the last two "official" members of the Goo Goo Dolls left.

John Rzeznik (left) and Robby Takac are the last two “official” members of the Goo Goo Dolls left.

But let’s face it, instrumentation was never this band’s calling card.  It was the lyrics and vocal delivery of Rzeznik.  The Goo Goo Dolls’ recent albums have never really captured the songwriting brilliance of songs like “Iris,” “Name,” or “Here Is Gone,” but they get closer than they have in awhile on Boxes with the second single “Over & Over,” which in my opinion is the best song on the album, and possibly their best single since 2006, when Let Love In became probably their best overall album.  It has a decent amount of energy, and the lyrics are relevant and interesting, talking about how to pick up the pieces after repeated failures or rejections.  The guitar parts are simplistic, but not in a bad way, like many of their previous hits.  It also flows well without feeling like the band tried to shoehorn it into the single box, so to speak.  The first single off the record, “So Alive,” feels more deliberately radio-friendly.  The start of “The Pin” screams 90s, like they’re trying to recapture something, with the acoustic opening that recalled the song “Run,” which Collective Soul lit up the airwaves with back then.  Rzeznik’s lyrics throughout the album are interesting, but don’t quite resonate in the same way as before.

Robby Takac also gets his usual turn at lead singer duties, and does a good job on “Free of Me,” and “Prayer in My Pocket.”  His role as a singer has diminished in recent albums, and I think it has to do with deterioration of his voice.  He struggled a lot in the last live show of theirs I attended in 2013.

Overall, Boxes doesn’t mark a return to the Dolls’ glory days of 1995-2006, but they’re closer to that standard on this record than they have been recently.  I’d give it a borrow it rating.  The track picks below are the biggest reasons to give this album a go, and the experimental sounds will sustain listeners’ interest, even if there are fewer standout songs on this album than fans remember from the past.

“Over & Over”

“The Pin”

“Prayer in My Pocket”

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