Will Goo Goo Doll Johnny Rzeznik ever be satisfied? Not with his personal life--there's a trail of Goo songs about dashed hopes long enough to suggest that Rzeznik's stream of pent-up disappointment will never run dry--but with the lucidity of his sleek pop-rock, which since the Dolls' 1995 breakthrough disc, A Boy Named Goo, has started to resemble music that only exists on the radio or MTV or during the closing credits of big Hollywood movies--venues in which maximum impact is linked to minimum exposure and complicated textual elements get lost in the bounce of Meg Ryan's hair and the pitch of Nicolas Cage's 5 o'clock shadow.
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On Gutterflower, the band's new one, all that streamlining pays off in a set of anthemic ballads (or balladic anthems) so clear-minded they're nearly transparent: I've heard the album at least a dozen times and can't remember a single hook or lyric that stands out from the whole, yet the music feels familiar on every spin, its cozy song structure and tasty guitar tones signifying whole decades of white guys who mean it, entire seasons of VH1's 100 Greatest Album-Oriented Rock Nuggets programs, countless cases of small-town ennui and ambition. It's so easy to understand--so well-attuned to our memories of John Mellencamp and Bryan Adams and the Replacements, so gratifyingly rehearsed--that actually hearing the songs is like catching a glimpse of some shaggy-haired phantom you can never remember when you wake up: "I'm not the one who broke you," Rzeznik probably sings on "Here Is Gone." "I'm not the one you should fear/What do you got to move you, darling?/I thought I lost you somewhere/But you were never really there at all." Harnessing the collective unconscious without dipping into the mundane is no small accomplishment; if Rzeznik's not happy with his work this time, he never will be.