When I was young, I did what most kids did and liked whatever my parents liked, especially when it came to music. Until I was about 12 years old, I didn’t listen to new music aside from what my parents liked. So aside from Aerosmith and Gloria Estefan, I listened to old school Rock n’ Roll such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Rod Stewart as well as some soft rock and pop acts like Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, and Elton John. This type of music remains my favorite kind of music but I did eventually start listening to more modern music (thanks to VH1) and have grown an affinity for Adult Alternative music, specifically from the 90s.
One of the first CDs I ever bought was The Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy Up The Girl. I specifically remember wanting this album so much I decided to get it for my birthday instead of a trip to Disneyland. Side note: I know now that one CD isn’t the same price as a trip to Disneyland and that was kind of a dick move on my mom’s part. Anyways, at the time, I remember not really listening to most of the album and focusing only on the singles, which does consist of a little more than a third of the album, but I remember listening to it more as I got older and liking it more. Now I’m older and have more experience with various genres of music and I thought I would revisit it and see how it holds up today.
Before we begin, some ground rules. I will be looking over each song on the album individually as well as the album as a whole. I’ll take into consideration the music as well as the lyrics and give each song a rating as well as the album as a whole. The album rating is not a median score of the songs! Sometimes albums are better or worse than the sum of their parts. The rating system is a five star system with half scores. So 1 star is garbage, 1.5 stars is terrible, 2 stars is bad, 2.5 stars is mediocre, 3 stars is average, 3.5 stars is good, 4 stars is great, 4.5 stars is awesome and 5 stars is masterpiece, though a 5 star score does not mean it’s a perfect song. Finally, I’ll tell you whether you should pick the album up or not. I also might tell you whether to get a few songs or a greatest hits from the artist instead. Alright! Enough exposition! Lets get started!
Track 1: Dizzy
“Dizzy” is a song that describes a person who is impulsive and tortured and who’s lover (the narrator) is infatuated with them. The song has more of a harder edge than most Adult Alternative tracks as there’s definitely a grunge/hard rock tone to the song. However, there’s still a pop sheen to the entire production of the song, most noticeable in the chorus when singer Johnny Rzeznik exclaims “Everything you are falls from the sky like a star” behind choir-esque backing vocals. The bridge also gives a nice break from the driving verse and chorus with its elongated notes and restrained drums before revving back into the chorus and closing reprise.
The guitar rift and tom heavy drums during the verse has a driving feeling to it as if you’re running, which helps with the manic feeling of the lyrics. The lyrics tend to convey this manic feeling by combining contrasting descriptors like “You’re cynical and beautiful” and “You’re dirty and you’re sweet”. Despite the seemingly instability of the person of interest, the narrator is actually contributing to the supposed unhealthy relationship by wanting to keep the person all to themselves as evident in the lyric “tear down your defense ‘till there’s nothing left but me”. The narrator is definitely under the thumb of the person as evident in the lyric “I’m drowning in your vanity” among others but the narrator wants the person to equally be wrapped around their finger.
“Dizzy” is a invigorating song and a great way to open up an album. It’s just polished enough to present to a pop audience, which is was as the album’s second single, without hiding its rough edges and although its lyrics are, at least at this point and time, a tale told many times, this is a great telling nonetheless.
Track 2: Slide
“Slide” is the lead single from the album and has fairly heavy subject matter despite its catchy hook and tame pop melodies. The song is about a teenage girl who gets pregnant and is trying to decide with her boyfriend (the narrator) whether or not to keep the baby. The lyrics describe the boyfriend as loving and supportive with whatever she decides but is equally as conflicted as whether or not they should become parents. Reasons for this include the girl’s religious parents being ashamed of her, as shown in the lyrics “Your father hit the wall, your ma disowned you,” as well as the boyfriend’s doubt in his own maturity (“Don’t suppose I’ll ever know what it means to be a man”).
The song has a great opening melody that sets the tone of the song which is that of a whimsical pop melody that makes the clearly bleak lyrics digestible. In fact, due to the clear love the young couple have for each other in the lyrics, that combined with the feel good melody gives a positive outlook for the story. The two may be having trouble deciding what to do (“Do you want to get married or run away?”) but they are hopeful, despite the strain this has put on their relationship. The guitars in the song, both the acoustic chords and electric notes, have a driving sound to them, not too unlike “Dizzy” but without the harder edge that song has. As such, it too gives the impression of running but with a more positive motive. It could almost be interpreted as a prance.
The song ends with the vague assumption that the couple decided to abort the baby but it could also be interpreted that the couple broke up perhaps due to pressure from the girl’s parents. This is a great song that’s easy to sing along to and although it by no means has the depth to encompass all the hardships and challenges teen pregnancy entails, it does a great job of highlighting the love that could come from it.
Track 3: Broadway
“Broadway” is a mid tempo adult alt song about the previously hip and cool generation now being considered old. The lyrics describe various people hanging out at an old bar that used to be the hip place to be, drowning their bitterness and generally aging poorly. The darkness of the bar hides the appearance of age (“The dim light hides the years on all the faded girls”) but not the sentiment (“The world slapped in your face”).
Unlike the previous two songs on the album, “Broadway” is a much simpler song in its composition. There’s no progression to the song’s lyrics as it presents an idea rather than a story or situation with a sense of progression and as such the lyrics just give more examples of said idea as the song goes. Similarly, the music doesn’t serve to assist the mood or tone of the lyrics. The guitars have a jangle tone to them that give the song a bouncy yet laid back quality to them and the drums and bass serve their purpose to support that. That’s not to say that the song is bad or even lazy. In fact, it’s quite a nice listen if not immediately catchy or interesting.
Not all songs need to be profound or radio ready, though this was the four and final single from the album. “Broadway” is a middle tier type of song with a fun melody and good lyrics that may not be deep but doesn’t need to be.
Track 4: January Friend
Like “Broadway”, “January Friend” is another mid-tempo song but is much more an alternative rock song than adult alternative. The song seems to be about a moment of passion that seems to be regulated to just that one time, despite the narrator’s desire to repeat it. I say it seems to be about that because the lyrics are unclear. This is the first song on the album not to be written and sung by guitarist Johnny Rzeznik but instead by bassist Robby Takac and, unfortunately, it shows. The lyrics are extremely vague but not so much as to open their meaning for interpretation. The words lack continuity and come across as random phrases and sentences that somewhat blend well together. Except they don’t.
Musically, the song is mostly just guitar chords and a steady beat that kind of just meld together. Even Takac’s vocals sound less impactful than they seemingly wanted to be. It’s a shame as I do like Takac’s strained, scratchy singing in theory. It could be a great contrast to Rzeznik’s more defined and polished vocals. There’s nothing really interesting about the composition and if it wasn’t for the short runtime, the song would definitely just turn into a slog and you could argue it still does. Ultimately, I think it’s really the lyrics that bring this song down, though the uninteresting music doesn’t help.
Track 5: Black Balloon
“Black Balloon” has a lot in common with the Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Iris” which was released on the “City of Angels” movie’s soundtrack the same year as this album and was later put on this album. Both songs have a driving acoustic base that is backed up by a string orchestra as a means to emphasize an emotional response. Although its melody and lyrics aren’t as catchy as “Iris”, it does succeed in capturing a lot of what made that song good (more on that when we get to that song later in the album). I particularly like the intro and ending of the song with the reverberating guitars that give the illusion of rippling water, which in turn gives the feeling of floating aimlessly. The song as a whole has an epic feel to it without being bombastic, which lends itself well with the personal tone.
However, I start to take a little bit of issue with the lyrics of the song. My own take of the song is it’s about someone dealing with some kind of hardship and being lost as to how to handle it. According to writer Johnny Rzeznik, the hardship in question is heroin addiction. I can’t read anything that would lead me to that in the lyrics but fine. A lot of the lyrics describe the narrator seeing this person struggle with their addiction and almost being sucked into their drama and these lyrics are done well. However, the lyrics also try to show how the narrator supports this person by explaining that the world will be bleak without them and sympathizing with how the person was wronged. However, there are several times these lyrics seem to contradict each other. One lyric describes how they were wronged by the ones around them (“You know the lies they always told you”) and the next tells them about what the person will be missing out on in said world that wronged them (“And the love you never knew”).
The lyrical problems are ultimately not too much of a problem as the intention of the lyrics are still understandable and mostly prevalent. Ultimately, the music does a better job of conveying the message of perseverance in the midst of a self induced stupor better than the lyrics. It’s problems notwithstanding, “Black Balloon” is still a good song that serves also as a good contrasting single to the bouncy melodies in “Slide”.
Track 6: Bullet Proof
“Bullet Proof” starts off with a crunching riff and a drum beat that seems to walk with purpose. The verses taper off the storm of the intro, making it the calm after the fact but still with foreboding intent. The bridge brings back that purpose feeling before culminating into the confident charge of the more pop ready chorus. But that doesn’t detract from this song’s harder edge. Lyrically, it’s not unlike “Dizzy” as it’s about an impulsive and naïve woman and the narrator who wants to protect her. The difference is it seems she doesn’t want his help and there’s no relationship between the two. Unfortunately, the lyrics aren’t really anything amazing but they do serve to help the tonality of the song.
The big crime here however is that this is sung by writer Johnny Rzeznik. As I mentioned before, Rzeznik has a more polished voice and that actually works against this song, making it sound more produced and, by extension, watered down than it actually is. This song could’ve benefited from having bassist Robby Takac sing the song as his vocal style would’ve given the song more of a rougher edge the music itself is asking for. Takac does sing the response lines during the bridges and it’s there you can hear what I’m talking about. The weak lyrics but strong music make this song lopsided and unmemorable but still not bad. Side note: I found this cover on YouTube of this song that was really good. Check it out!
Track 7: Amigone
Another Robby Takac song and another mediocre track. Again another alternative rock song instead of adult alt but there’s enough pop punk simplicity to it that this song wouldn’t feel out of place on a Blink-182 album. However, the lack of any real passion in the instrumentation makes this simple song sound boring. The lyrics describe a couple who aren’t happy with their lives and lines like “Is it too late to face the truth that it was wrong” make this song sound like a proto-emo track. However, there’s nothing to distinguish the song as the lyrics are too melodramatic to feel impactful and the music too weightless to give the lyrics any sense of purpose.
The lyrics are more focused than Takac’s earlier “January Friend” but ultimately, the quality is only a little better. One definite positive I can say about this song is that I like Takac’s singing. His vocals definitely fit the song and I just enjoy his scratching voice contrasting against the distorted guitars. The song does sound like it could be in a teen movie like American Pie or something. So there is definitely a fan base for this track.
Track 8: All Eyes On Me
“All Eyes On Me” sounds like a song intended to be a single from the album but somewhere along its composition, focus was lost. The song begins with a calming guitar arpeggio and purposeful rhythm section. The song later punches out into a dramatic chorus and even ends with a pretty good instrumental solo, forgoing the typical third chorus ender. It’s still a fairly standard adult alternative song overall but the differences in the structure of the song as well as the rather well done performances from all of the band members makes the song sound pretty good. Even the string section added in the back helps compliment the overall harder sound of the song.
However, what falls apart are the lyrics, which don’t complement the music at all. This song is credited to both Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac but I don’t know who was responsible for what or if it was a purely collaborative effort. Regardless, the problems are two fold. The lyrics, much like “January Friend” are too vague to get any real impression as to what is being said. I think the song is about someone who is more happy with who they are in their dreams than what they are in life but I’m not 100% on that at all. I mean there appears to be a narrator but I don’t have a clue what their role is other than just seeing what’s happening. I’m not against vague lyrics when there’s a meaning behind it. However, that’s not present here. The second problem is musically, the lyrics don’t gel well with the music. The line “And all that you knew slips away” sounds like singer Johnny Rzeznik was rushing to fit it in the beat of the music. “All Eyes On Me” ultimately sounds like a missed opportunity of a song that could’ve been better if more time was taken on it but as it is, it’s merely okay.
Track 9: Full Forever
“Full Forever” is probably the most boring song on the album musically. The song sounds almost the same from verse to chorus from a technical standpoint and Takac doesn’t give a great performance vocally. The instrumentation is similar to “Amigone” in both tone and effort, which is to say it’s a nearly pop punk alternative rock song in desperate need of energy. However, unlike the last two songs from Takac on this album, the lyrics are not too bad. The lyrics describe the narrator’s desire to stay asleep despite wanting to wake up for a girl. The lyrics are unfortunately unclear as to what is being said but the imagery used is better off. It’s most likely that the lyrics are trying to present a theme rather than a narrative, vague or otherwise. Lines like “And I had to fight another blurred affair tonight” and “will this Neverland free me from its clutching hand” are strong and help rescue this song from being the worst on the album. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much else. The music is just way too boring and underdeveloped.
Oh, and I couldn’t find this song on YouTube so sorry no video for you!
Track: 10: Acoustic #3
The Goo Goo Dolls have in their previous albums included small acoustic songs on their albums and this is in that tradition. Having only an acoustic guitar, Johnny Rzeznik’s singing and a string accompaniment in the background, Acoustic #3 is a simple, pleasant and inconsequential song about being trapped in traditional means of life despite your own feelings to do otherwise, such as hiding truthful yet harmful realities of the world, and staying in a marriage despite not being in love anymore. The song is short at less than two minutes and as a result, these admittedly serious topics don’t get the time to breath and make an impact as Rzeznik just moves on from verse to verse. This means the lyrics don’t resonate as much as they could. However, the music is relaxing, meaning the song won’t leave a last impression but will be enjoyed regardless.
Track 11: Iris
Probably the most well known song by The Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris” was originally released on the soundtrack for the movie “City of Angels”, which itself is a loose remake of the German film “Wings of Desire”. The original movie had the theme of what it was to be human and, in the eyes of the two main characters who were immortal angels, limited. That feeling ultimately had one of the angels give up his immortality in order to become human and experience life. The same idea is also conveyed in City of Angels although not nearly as well, as the angel in question gives up his immortality to be with a woman. I’m paraphrasing drastically here so I would recommend you watching these movies, especially Wings of Desire.
I mention this because that concept of beauty coming from being human is what Iris is about. It’s done in simple words and it gets it’s point across quickly but it’s so impactful because of what it’s trying to say. It’s a love song, to be sure, but it’s one of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard, especially from an analytical perspective. The verse wax poetics with lines like “All I can taste is this moment”as well as referencing the movies in lines like “I’d give up forever to touch you”. However, the impact of these admittedly blasé lines are given context and more meaning in contrast with the chorus. The words in the chorus, unlike the verse, are not poetic but come across more like a snippet of a monologue, with the culminated line “When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.” That line expresses so much. Like the angel in the movie yearning to experience being human, the narrator wants their loved one to accept them for who they are, regardless of what predications there may be. It’s not only a pure form of love but a celebration of being human, of rejoicing not only strengths but faults as well. Of not wanting someone because they check off everything on the list but because as a whole, you would not change a thing about that person.
This is a high tier concept to present in a mainstream song but the instrumentation rises to the occasion. The guitar playing on the song feels joyous and energetic, even with the song calls for a somber moment. In fact, it revels in the somber moments as it knows what’s to come, and therefore sounds hopeful. Drummer Mike Malinin is in top form here as his energetic drum work give the song more of a bombastic and energetic feel than even the string orchestra playing in the background. Most impressive would actually have to be the instrumental break in which the band as a whole give an outstanding performance. I especially appreciate the lack of an actual guitar solo with numerous notes in lieu of several sustained notes. It’s a moment that doesn’t require the mind warping burst of emotion you get from a solo but instead a purposeful weaving of notes that burrows into soul to leave a lingering impression.
There’s not much else to say. It’s a wonderful song and it gave The Goo Goo Dolls arguably their most recognized song. It’s a classic. Oh and the video has the single version of the song but I highly recommend you all go listen to the original 4:50 minute version, as it is a lot better.
Track 12: Extra Pale
The last Robby Takac song on the album and it’s the strongest one. It’s an alternative rock track with good energy and has a solid performance. Takac’s bass drives the song with a solid groove that mimics the guitars but is more prevalent. The song almost never gives up in energy until the bridge where the song unexpectedly drops out for a quiet moment. I could see it as being a bit jarring for some but I liked it as it gave the listener a break while also succeeding in give the song a positive dissonance.
The lyrics are typical for an emo song, as they describe someone who lives a shell of an actual life and are themselves in pain as well. However, Takac’s vocals are appropriate for the context of the song and he performs it well. The major flaw of this song would have to be the ending of the song, which lacks a coda and just seems to end abruptly with no reason behind it. It kind of comes across as if someone just accidentally hit the stop button on the recording and the band made due with what they had. Regardless, it’s still a decent song if not remarkable.
Track 13: Hate This Place
The final song of the album is arguably the weakest from writer Johnny Rzeznik. The lyrics describe a person who is running away from the mistakes they’ve made, specifically to the narrator of the song. However, the lyrics are rather simple and lack any real subtlety. Rzeznik also seems to strain a little while singing the chorus. Musically, it sounds like a throwaway adult alternative song indicative of the times. There’s nothing specifically wrong with “Hate This Place” other than it’s remarkable mediocrity. It’s one of those type of songs that’s not really good or bad so it’s hard to have any kind of passionate opinion about it. There’s no real spark behind this song and it’s kind of a sad way to end the album.
So that’s The Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy Up The Girl. Overall, there’s nothing really bad on this album but aside from the singles, there’s nothing really memorable either. If you are a fan of the adult alternative genre, like I am, then there’s enough here to warrant buying this album. However, for most people, I would recommend picking up The Goo Goo Dolls’ greatest hits collection, “Greatest Hits, Vol.1: The Singles.” It has all the best songs from this album, as well as from others.