Typical wisdom suggests that as an act moves through their career, one of the most important things to maintaining an audience is changing up their musical style, something The Goo Goo Dolls have largely eschewed until this point. Since their breakout hit Iris in 1998, the band has been largely content to hone their pop-rock sound, drawing an audience through catchy choruses. This reached something of a nadir with 2013’s Magnetic, with many reviewers critiquing the band for sticking to their house style. Their new record, Boxes, contains attempts to shake up the formula, but is it enough to make The Goo Goo Dolls fresh again?
Lead single So Alive revolves around a sweet piano riff, and a chorus of grandiose vocal chants. It’s catchy, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that it’s an empty bombast, with the metaphors used in the lyrics being distinctly strained – “open up my heart like a shotgun”. Flood is more successful, reigning in the outsized sounds for a more intimate style (although it still sounds huge, it is The Goo Goo Dolls). Sydney Sierota’s guest vocals are delicate, and meld well with John Rzeznik’s, leading to a particularly memorable chorus (although the lyrics are once again, pretty bad – “you’re the flood that opened my heart”).
The main problem with album, outside of the lyrics, is that the attempts to add variety don’t feel like enough to differentiate it from the band’s more catchy back catalogue. Flood has some nice staccato strings in the chorus, and The Killers-esque pulse of album-highlight Reverse is very engaging, but the rest of the album sticks closely to the sound the band has been exploring for decades. Rzeznik is very skilled at writing catchy hooks, and it’s a nicely produced record, sounding appropriately anthemic, but ultimately the amateurish lyrics and overbearing consistency undermine it.