December 31, 2021 Goo Goo Dolls – Rarities (Album Review)
Edging toward four decades strong, the unstoppable duo of Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac excels at crafting radio-ready earworms that sucker punch the feels with their heartfelt sincerity. Prolific songwriters who have topped the charts countless times, the pair—better known as the Goo Goo Dolls—deserves a moment to kick back and venture back into the less-celebrated depths of their impressive oeuvre.
They do just this with the double compilation Rarities, which arrived back in June 2021 thanks to Warner Records. A collection that features 20 rare and, in some cases, unheard b-sides, radio performances, acoustic renditions and live performances that span 1995 to 2007. These 20 songs provide a window into the Goo Goo Dolls’ past, while revisiting the classics is apt to fuel a hunger for their future. (And it’s not exactly difficult to get excited for new material.)
The double-stuffed compilation kicks off with “Hit or Miss,” a lo-fi rocker that originally served as a b-side to the group’s 1995 German release of the “Only One” single. Here, the pair’s raw, gritty textures and Punk Rock attitude show their ever-evolving songwriting and artistry. They use its toe-tapping beat as a guide, easily maneuvering into a cover of Tommy Keene’s “Nothing Can Change You,” a song that offers up guitars bedazzled with enough glitter to give Poison a ‘good time.’
From here on out, the bulk of the material leans heavily on fan favorites that were mega-hits for the Goos. Songs such as the edgy “Long Way Down,” remixed by Grammy Award winning Chris Lord-Alge; guaranteed highlights “Iris” and “Slide,” both done acoustic here; “Black Balloon,” which appears twice; “Broadway,” from 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl; and, one of the more ‘recent’ offerings, 2006’s hope-filled “Better Days.” It’s a cast of characters that, familiar as they are, feel like old friends come back into our lives.
They return in a myriad of formats. Take, for example, the subtle beauty of “Name,” which, in its live acoustic format, embraces a minimalism that injects an exquisite intimacy into the song. Or the one song that the world needs most right now: “Better Days,” acoustic here and perfectly paired with the live “Let Love In.” The murky depths of “Black Balloon” are delivered to us as an outtake from [email protected] as well as a live recording, while “Broadway” is similarly an outtake from their AOL session.
Then there are the less predictable moments. The excitement of a live audience is palpable as the Goos’ cover INXS’ “Don’t Change,” while the pair’s sincerity shines brilliantly on the live acoustic rendering of “Girl Right Next To Me,” a track that originally appeared on 1993’s Superstar Car Wash. One of its fellow super-siblings, “Another Second Time Around,” appears as a live acoustic moment, Takac taking the lead, as he also does on the live recording of “Listen.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rarities is its rawness; none of its rough, pitchy edges have been sanded down. This results in what can only be considered a project aimed at the band’s hardcore fans, those that don’t care about the little fumbles that paint a picture that is anything but flawless. It is a humanizing quality, really, one that shows their sincerity for their craft and their refusal to be anything more than what they are. Which, in this world of studio finesse and playacting perfection, is in itself inspiring.
Despite this, the choice to end with a one-minute snippet of “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” still manages to feel awkward, at best, and its abrupt conclusion leaves the compilation hanging. Where is the grand finale that a Goo Goo Dolls’ double disc deserves? How do you collect so many moments from such an extensive career, proudly present them in an unadulterated format, then end it all with a 50-second outtake?
Just as the possibility of an inhabitant at Loch Ness continues to confound cryptozoologists, some of life’s greatest mysteries may never be solved. In the instance of Rarities, the double album might lack the awe inspiring heft of a dinosaur, but it’s meant to weigh heaviest with its crackling embers of nostalgia. With the warmth of time spent laughing with old friends, this trip back in the Goo Goo Dolls’ DeLorean presents listeners with a chance to re-experience some handpicked, lesser known moments from the Melodic Rock mainstay’s career. And what a career it has been! For this, Cryptic Rock gives Rarities 4 of 5 stars.