REVIEW: Goo Goo Dolls go folk with surprise ‘EP 21’

ReviewApril 12, 2021RIFF Magazine

The Goo Goo Dolls announced a surprise record, EP 21, Monday morning, just five days before its release. It consists of newish material; its four tracks are acoustic covers of the band’s own songs, and is the band’s first new material since 2020’s It’s Christmas All Over.

“As I Am,” a straight cover of the song originally on 2010’s Something for the Rest of Us, manages to become a bit heavier and more mournful in the transition. While the original’s electric guitar through the verses has a vaguely ethereal quality, the more complex and nuanced acoustic guitar on the 2021 edition gives it additional texture. The change has the opposite effect on the choruses. The original has the organized chaos of band’s typical blend of post-grunge alternative and pop-rock, while the acoustic guitar, which is more complex on the verses, is more subdued for the chorus. Overall, the result is a more nuanced and cohesive product.

The big change for “Bulletproof Angel,” the new rendition of 2013’s “BulletProofAngel” from Magnetic, replaces the original’s synths with a proper piano. Gone are the soaring synthetic melodies and simplified percussion that Imagine Dragons briefly made all the rage in the early 2010s. It’s replaced by a more traditional and far more timeless piano ballad. In addition to not firmly planting itself in a certain place and time, the new version of the song more closely matches the mood and tone of the lyrics. Of the four songs, this feels least like an acoustic rendition and most like what the original song was trying to be all along.

“Feel the Silence,” from 2006’s Let Love In, has that signature alt-rock restrained energy, like it’s pushing just to the edge of rocking out and never quite getting there. Meanwhile, 2021’s “Feel the Silence” doesn’t have any rock energy, alt- or otherwise. It’s most decidedly a folk ballad, an updated version of what the folk revival refined in the ’70s. Interestingly, neither version really works better or worse than the other. Both stand on their own, just with very different energies behind them. It speaks very well of the songwriting that the same basic structure, the lyrics and melodies, transition so cleanly between genres.

Finally, “Happiest of Days,” also from Magnetic, probably changed the least from the original. Both versions feature an oddly raspy, vaguely Dylan-esque vocal style. Both are acoustic and their lengths are only a second apart. In fact, the vocals sound almost identical in places. The main difference is that the acoustic instrument in the 2021 edition is a piano—it’s the only instrument—rather than the guitar and strings of the 2013 edition. There’s not a lot of ways to make an acoustic song more acoustic than to just put the singer at a piano, so it makes sense, but is an odd choice to further strip down an already stripped-down song.

EP 21 showcases the depth and talent of Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik as he’s able to showcase his abilities in other genres without missing a step, and it serves as a bridge to the band’s back catalog for folk fans and those who recently became folk fans when Taylor Swift dove head-first into the genre. Whether the acoustic trappings continue to the new LP the band is currently in the studio recording remains to be seen, but if it’s only a temporary diversion, it’s a good one.