Sunday, July 21, 2013

Not really magnetic

album review

Goo Goo Dolls' new album plays it safe and suffers

Band: Goo Goo Dolls
Album: Magnetic

If the first thing that comes to your mind when the Goo Goo Dolls are mentioned is their 1998 single 'Iris', then you're certainly not alone. And if you haven't paid much attention to the band since the late '90s or early '00s, then you're not to blame. The New York based trio has been making music for nearly 27 years, and while they have steadily released albums over the last decade, their recent output has lacked both the charm and the memorability of their most popular hits. The band has gradually lost its edge to become more mainstream while also becoming more mundane in the process, and that is also the fate that befalls their tenth album, Magnetic.

A set of mid tempo, radio friendly rock anthems set to bland instrumentation that dole out cheesy lyrics, Magnetic does not seem like the work of the same group that made their eponymous debut record Goo Goo Dolls in 1987. Closer in sound to their more recent albums, albeit sunnier and more upbeat than some of their last few releases, Magnetic lacks the very magnetism that its title promises.

The 11 tracks that make up the record are quite uniformly inoffensive and predictable. The bubbly, up tempo first single 'Rebel Beat' and the electronic tinged 'More of You' are all the variation the set offers, although these two songs are not indicative of the rest of the material. There is plenty of melodic pop rock here - everything from the generally pleasant 'Slow It Down' to the sweet 'Come to Me' is all nice and radio friendly - but it's all pretty standard and straightforward. Bassist Robby Takac's raspy vocals on 'Bringing on the Light' and 'Happiest of Days' do help to cut down the monotony, although whether you find his contributions enjoyable or grating will depend entirely on your preference.

Overall it feels like the organic rawness, angst, and edge have worn off and what remains is bland and commonplace. The only thing that reminds us that this is the Goo Goo Dolls and distinguishes it from other similar bands is John Rzeznik and Robby Takac's voices. The material itself lacks distinctiveness and is at times so tired that it could fit in Train, OneRepublic, or even Taylor Swift's catalogue. And when you're writing something that would make sense in any average mid tempo pop rock and adult contemporary artists' discography, then it's time to reassess your position and try to reinvigorate your sound. The band's decision to work with different songwriters as well as a host of producers (including Rob Cavallo, Greg Wells, and John Shanks) might also have something to do with the diluted character this album displays.

Of course the songs on offer here aren't necessarily bad, nor do they suggest musical incompetence. What they do, however, exhibit is a lack of creativity and over reliance on a tried and tested formula. If there had been no 'Iris' or 'Name' or 'Broadway' or 'Black Balloon' or 'Sympathy', then maybe this record might not have seemed so mundane. In light of the better songs from their heyday, Magnetic feels thematically, lyrically, and musically unexceptional, and begs for variation and more complexity. Sticking to the same template makes the material unexciting and middle of the road. And while the Goo Goo Dolls may be content with generic pop rock mediocrity, their listeners deserve more than this.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 21st July, 2013

Sunday, July 07, 2013

More all over the place than rock and roll

album review

Never judge an album by its title… this one has little to do with the genre it professes to save...

Band: Fall Out Boy
Album: Save Rock and Roll

Failed solo outings and unsuccessful side projects have inspired many a hiatus to be cut short, differences put aside, and comebacks pursued, which is why Fall Out Boy's reformation doesn't come as much of a surprise. Between Patrick Stump's solo album and Pete Wentz's venture with his less than successful group Black Cards, all signs indicated that the emo-pop band's reunion was inevitable. Sure enough, after months of speculation, the group members confirmed in February this year that the band was back together, marking an end to their three year “indefinite hiatus”, and were already readying a new album.

This comeback record bears the ambitious tag of wanting to “save rock and roll” but apparently wants to do so through pop music.

Save Rock and Roll is a collection of slick and catchy tunes that picks up where Folie à Deux left off in 2008. Flavours of punk, R&B, hip hop, soul, disco, and even folk graze the songs, all diluted to fit in with the band's sonic spirit, with producer Butch Walker in charge of the genre blending set.

The urgency of 'The Phoenix' kicks off the record with force, and leads straight to the feisty first single, 'My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up)'. Then, for some reason, the band decides to takes its cues from dance and electropop on songs like the synthpop-ish 'Miss Missing You', the repetitive 'Alone Together', and the catchy 'Where Did the Party Go', all of which seem to channel Maroon 5.

A host of guest vocalists are on hand to add variety to the set. Foxes provides sublime harmonies for 'Just One Yesterday'; Big Sean contributes an unnecessary rap verse to 'The Mighty Fall'; Courtney Love makes a snarling appearance on the punk flavoured 'Rat a Tat'; while Elton John croons on the anthemic title track, the piano ballad 'Save Rock and Roll'. While these artists add some flavour to the collection, their contributions mostly feel like nothing more than random cameos, and Fall Out Boy remain distinctly in control of the sound.

But for all its supposed diversity, Save Rock and Roll never really seems new or innovative. The set feels like it is attempting to splice various familiar elements, and you can hear influences of different bands (like Panic! At The Disco, Maroon 5, The Killers, and even Train) that have already done this stuff over the last few years and have mostly done it more convincingly. Plus the generic, clichéd lyrics drowning in teen angst don't help the songs much either.

Few if any songs match the catchy intensity of their previous hits like 'This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race', and the general adherence to the commercial pop vibe makes Save Rock and Roll feel uninspired and overproduced. Whether the album's name is misleadingly or ironic remains unclear; for their sake, let's hope the title is tongue in cheek, because ultimately this album doesn't present Fall Out Boy as the saviours of rock and roll, but as the connoisseurs of unsubstantial and inconsequential but enjoyable pop music. 

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th July, 2013