Goo Goo Dolls - What I Learned... (album review)

ReviewJanuary 22, 2013Sputnikmusic

Review Summary: While it is not a conventional greatest hits album, What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce is full of strong, accessible album tracks that highlight the Goo Goo Dolls first six albums.

Even if you haven't heard of the name Goo Goo Dolls, you have heard some of their music before without even knowing it. The band, which was formed in Buffalo in 1986, originally started out as a hair metal outfit, but after a few years of improving and polishing their technique (and switching lead vocalist from bassist Robby Takac to guitarist John Rzeznik), the band quickly solidified itself as a college radio mainstay, and, with the release of 1995's A Boy Named Goo and 1998's wildly successful Dizzy Up The Girl, the band had become pop-rock royalty.

Dizzy Up the Girl especially represented a major changing point in the bands career. Suddenly, legions of fans made their way into stadiums all over the world to hear songs like “Iris,” “Slide,” and “Black Balloon” songs which only years earlier seemed impossible for a band like the Goo Goo Dolls to even have written, never mind having success with. With these new legions of fans came a demand for new music from the band three years after the success of Dizzy. While a new studio album was still over a year away from being released, (their 2002 album Gutterflower), the band and their label decided to put out a retrospective album called What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce (hence forth called What I Learned...).

What I Learned... is by no means a greatest hits album. In fact, their biggest hits are conspicuously absent from this release. Instead of the album relying on their mega hits, the album works it way chronologically backwards through the band's material from 1998 to 1988, with each of their studio albums getting at least one song on this generous, but slightly overlong 22 track album.

Even though it is only filled with album tracks and minor hits, the album is surprisingly strong for a retrospective release. As one listens through the first half of this album, it becomes clear that the Goo Goo Dolls are not just a singles band, but that they also have a wonderful and very strong back catalog from the early and mid nineties that deserves just as much attention. Songs like “Naked,” “Burnin' Up,” and “Ain't That Unusual” from A Boy Named Goo sound just as raw and immediate as they did in 1995, while also highlighting the musical changes that the Goo Goo Dolls had made in just a few short years. Some other first half highlights include an extended edition of fan favorite “Acoustic #3” that adds an orchestral interlude in the middle, a very slightly different, but far superior version of the aforementioned “Naked.”

Most likely, if you are a casual fan of the Goo Goo Dolls, track ten is probably the point where things start to become new. Starting with “Fallin' Down,” and ending six tracks later with “On the Lie,” we hear a great deal of Superstar Car Wash, the Goo's 1993 album that mainly had success on college radio. Even though this album did not find the vast success of their next two albums, all of the tracks from Superstar Car Wash that are included on this release are accessible, filled with hooks (and even a few guitar solos), and, generally worth listening to. This includes the punchy guitars of “On the Lie,” and “Cuz You're Gone,” and the melodies of “Another Second Time Around” and the Paul Westerburg (The Replacements) co-written “We Are the Normal” are top notch.

The final six tracks of What I Learned... are dedicated to the Goo Goo Dolls pre-1993 material. While “There You Are,” (which was also the band's first official single back in 1990) is solid, most of the last part of the album is throw away generic 80s hair punk/metal, most notably “Up Yours” and “I'm Addicted.” However, the final part of the album also contains the best track of this album: the re-recording of “Two Days In February.” “Two Days in February,” a song that was originally recorded in a park with cars driving by in the background, and was originally included on 1990's Hold Me Up, is given a much deserved second chance, complete with a sparse and beautiful arrangement and stronger vocals.

What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art and Commerce is by no means for casual listeners of the Goo Goo Dolls. However, it does provide an opportunity to look into some of the stronger points of the Goo's back catalog. The album as a whole should only be purchased by true fans, and even then, most fans probably own the first nine tracks already. If you are looking for a Goo Goo Dolls greatest hits album, then this is not for you, but, if you want to dig deeper into the Goo Goo Dolls vast catalog from before 2001, then this album is absolutely worth taking a listen to.