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The Goo Goo Dolls have never seemed like a band that would go out of their way to charm a record company. Nevertheless, everything indicates that Warner Brothers is seriously smitten with their latest effort, Superstar Car Wash, which should be in the stores by now. What’s more, Warner Bros. is ready to pledge its love for the Goo’s by showing them with all those tokens of corporate affection that bands yearn for- tour support, a big campaign for radio airplay & placement of their videos on MTV. Johnny, Robby & George could be stars before the year is over. Their new stature can already be measured on Buffalo radio dials. 97 Rock is primed to play their debut single, “We Are The Normal,” while the Fox, preferring something harder-hitting, plans to run with the lead-off track, “Fallin’ Down.” All this good fortune didn’t descend upon the Goo Goo Dolls, however, without what seem like a few compromises on their part. For one thing; Superstar Car Wash was not recorded exclusively in Buffalo at Trackmaster Studio. It spilled over to Triumph’s Metalwork’s Studio in Mississauga, outside Toronto, & to Master Control Studios in Burbank, a stones thrown from Warner Corporate headquarters.

Furthermore, after months of demo sessions, the production duties were shifted away from Armand John Petrie, who’s guided all the previous Goo’s albums. The band was turned over to Scottish alternative rock producer Gavin MacKillop, architect of breakthrough hits for Toad The Wet Sprocket, among other people. And finally, to let them share the aura of alternative rock genius, they were teamed with Paul Westerberg of The Replacements, who penned lyrics to “We Are The Normal,” a semi-sweet number that sits smack in the middle of the album. Given the fact that the Goose have been characterized as a 90’s version of the beloved ‘Mats & their amiable history of touring together, it’s a natural choice. So is the presence of Mary Ramsey & the Buffalo folk-rock duo John & Mary. Her viola offers graceful counterpoint to the distorted push of Johnny’s guitar. Once again, it’s Johnny’s guitar which gives the Goose their muscle, their territorial definition. From the first notes of “Fallin’ Down,” it cuts a broad sonic swath, clearing the way for the driving power of Robby’s brawny, brooding bass & George’s crisp snare drum.

What MacKillop has done is bring these elements into sharp focus by applying pop verities-rising tension in the verses, harmonies lifting the choruses, elimination of instrumental clutter. For example, the complicated indictments of “Lucky Star” comes clear in its chorus of “As bright as you are, don’t get burned by your lucky star,” & finishes in a sudden major-chord affirmation. Not only does this give the Goo’s a consistent punch, but it also makes them seem more tuneful. “Girl Right Next To Me,” a song of romantic disconnection, rams the vengeful sentiments of its lyrics home neatly with well-placed power chords. No wonder the record company loves it. No wonder the radio guys think it sounds like something they could put on the air. These considerations do not corrupt the band’s raw essence, however. The voices may be more polished & harmonized. The choruses may be more radio-friendly. The instruments may be neater & better defined in the mix, But it’s still them-defiant while they’re hurting, heartbroken despite their bravado.

So while the Goo’s have taken the commercial plunge, they’ve kept their soul intact. They’ve taken the older harder-faster philosophy that blew back the walls at the Continental & channeled it into an album that’s so aggressively agreeable that it’s an odds-on-bet to tear up the college/alternative scene. Maybe some of its main stream too. If so, they’ll do it dragging their Buffalo roots with them. Hometowner’s should get a kick out of the classic local landmarks that grace the CDs booklet, including the infamous House O’Quinn on Chippewa St. & the legendary Stransky’s hardware store, which alas, has burned. It’s gratifying to see familiar people & sights get wider recognition. The Goo Goo Dolls will do an in-store performance at New World Records on Elmwood Ave. on Sat. Feb. 27th at 3:00 pm.
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