Photo Credit: Bob Mussel
When we think of celebrities that people typically like to do impressions of – Humphrey Bogart, Howard Cosell and John Wayne come to mind, just for starters – Dennis DeYoung is generally not one of them. Still, in a 1996 Saturday Night Live sketch, Will Ferrell played the former lead singer and keyboardist of Styx in a commercial parody for a fictitious album called Songs that Ruined Everything, which complied tracks which were huge hits but seemingly cost the artist their credibility, i.e. Starship’s “We Built This City,” the Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” and Van Halen’s “Jump”.
Obviously, it was just a joke, but about a year after the sketch first aired, what may be the textbook example of this phenomenon occurred when the Goo Goo Dolls had a Top Five hit with “Name”. With that ballad, from their album A Boy Named Goo (clever title, gotta give ‘em that at least), the band basically went from being accepted as alternative (with perhaps even a shred of punk credi left) to getting dismissed as easy listening. So after all this time, will listeners find their current, twelfth full-length studio album, Miracle Pill, enlightening, or difficult to swallow? Its chart performance thus far would suggest the latter, as the release has barely cracked the Top 100. Accordingly, Miracle Pill is something of a mixed offering.
Opening cut “Indestructible” would certainly suggest that the Goo Goo Dolls still fancy themselves as arena headliners, and from the title forward, these grandiose Springsteen-eque rockers seems to make that clear. Still, the track does suffer just a bit from the same problem with plagues much of Miracle Pill, namely the overproduction. Indeed, after more than three decades and something of a roller coaster of both sales (and lack thereof) and respectability (ditto), The Goo Goo Dolls come off as a bit too anxious to keep up the game on much of Miracle Pill. This is can be heard through the ultra-modern, echo-y just-like-everything-else-on-the-radio production being misused on songs like “Fearless,” “Money, Fame & Fortune” and “Life’s a Message”.
However, a couple of standout tracks do make Miracle Pill go down just a bit easier. Getting back to the subject of impressions, the psychedelic-flavored title track is a great imitation of the Beatles (or at the very least a great imitation of Oasis doing a great imitation of the Beatles). “Autumn Leaves” is another wannabe AOR epic, with classic starts-slow-then-rocks-out structuring on a song which at various points recalls the Guess Who and the Foo Fighters. Although, the final diamond-in-the-rough award would have to go to “Over You”. The song is a raw up-tempo mostly acoustic number and is the true miracle of Miracle Pill.
“Think It Over” closes the album and revisits both the slow-then-fast song structuring as well as taking another stab at the Beatles with the employment of a “Yesterday” type of string section. “When it’s over, what more can I say?” longtime lead singer and guitarist Johnny Rzeznik ponders in the song’s lyrics. It’s probably not over just yet for The Goo Goo Dolls, and this album – or at least the better cuts – proves that the do have more to say. At the same time, unfortunately, the album’s shortcomings suggest that Miracle Pill won’t cure anyone of a preexisting general distain for the band any time soon.