Maybe not everyone knows who The Goo Goo Dolls are, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has NEVER in their life heard the pop-rock ballad by the name of Iris which made its home on Dizzy Up The Girl in 1998, the sixth studio album which solidified The Goo Goo Dolls sound and catapulted them into success. Iris. The popular single that is still part of the staple diet of mainstream pop-rock throwback playlists, and with good reason. I feel like it’s one of those songs that even people who hate it, would still not be able to stop themselves singing, or at least humming to it when it comes on. It’s one of those songs a beginner guitarist would want to learn because it has that recognisable acoustic guitar strumming/picking pattern and rought emotional vulnerability that makes you feel like you’re part of the world and yet still a stranger from it. Singing this in your room while alone, I imagine (and perhaps have experienced myself if I’m going to be completely honest), would provide the kind of cathartic experience usually reserved for those who are in close proximity to the Dalai Lama.
If we are going to continue with the trend of cathartic, we can’t not talk about Black Balloon which is by far the best song on the album. It was a single that should have reached the popularity and radio play of Iris, but it’s kind of nice it didn’t. It feels like a little secret to yourself knowing it’s not going to be overplayed on throwback radio. Everything works perfectly in this song, lyric, vocal, harmonics, pace, structure, arrangement. “You know the lies they always told you/And the love you never knew/What’s the things they never showed you/That swallow the light from the sun inside your room, yeah.” is just a sample of lyric from Black Balloon, swathed with raspy vocals, rising and falling strings, a warm bass, easy electrics, and iridescent acoustic guitars. It is drawing and emotional, and the melodic content matches the journey it takes. “And there’s no time left for losin’/When you stand they fall” is where the climax is reached in all its glorious efforts. And you can’t help feeling washed clean. According to lead singer, Johhny Rzeznik, Black Balloon is about “Seeing someone you love that is so great just screw up so bad”. The feeling of helplessness, and loving someone you can’t necessarily save is palpable, and a strong topic of emotion. It’s one thing to be going through your own destruction but it’s another to watch someone you love self-destruct because there is only so much you can do to redirect that path. It’s that old saying about not being able to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves.
While the more upbeat tracks can at times get lost on you, Slide with that all-American sounding electric guitar riff on the intro, that peppers throughout the song, is one of the catchiest feel-good songs on the album alongside Hate This Place, with its distortion on the guitars and simple soaring chorus, it is surprisingly uplifting, despite its skeptical title, and it is the perfect closer to the album. “Hold on dreamaway/You’re my sweet charade” is the chorus and is repeated but still doesn’t sound repetitive, it actually sounds endearing instead. It is a beautiful open melody with held notes that glides as easy as a bird through the air.
With 98 being within the decade that in part revelled in alternative, grungy, rock, punk music, it’s no surprise why The Goo Goo Dolls found their footing and resonance within the 90s with Dizzy Up The Girl. And if we just revisit the origin of Iris (written for the City Of Angels soundtrack), for one moment, and for all the records it broke, it is interesting to note, that only days before it was written, lead singer Johnny was experiencing serious bouts of writer’s block, which for a writer (especially for a musician in a band) is kind of like losing a limb. But alas it wasn’t meant to be and days later Johhny wrote Iris. And that little ancedote my friends, is what you call the pulling back of an arrow before it flies. “And I don’t want the world to see me/Cos I don’t think that they’d understand”. Well ironically not only did Johnny make the world take notice with that one, he also seemed to make them understand too.