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The Tao of Goo

Johnny Rzeznik explores what's got us all worked up these days

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>WHEN JOHNNY RZEZNIK began writing the new Goo Goo Dolls album, he wasn't working from a blueprint. He just knew that he wanted Something for the Rest of Us to address some of the discontent and anxieties that have gripped the planet since the economic downturn.

"I'm not the kind of writer that's going to make any overt social or political statement like Get out of Iraq," says Rzeznik. "I wanted to focus my attention on the stories I hear about the way our society is going and how it affects people emotionally. There's so much heartache out there. The majority of [the album] is about the emotional impact of living with two wars that look like they're never going to end and how it affects families and what it feels like to be a man and lose your pride."

Albums don't come much heavier than that these days. The trick is to surround all these dark and potentially draining ideas with music that helps reality go down a little easier. "You keep sitting with it, and you get frustrated with it," says Rzeznik about his writing process. "It took a long time, but eventually the anxiety gives way to actually doing the work."

One of the first songs Rzeznik wrote for Something for the Rest of Us (which comes out on August 31) was the powerful "Notbroken," a melancholy yet hopeful ballad that helped set the tone for everything that followed. It's inspired by the story of a woman whose husband was wounded in Iraq.

Like many injured vets, the soldier felt less than whole after the incident. "I wanted to write a love letter to this guy from her, because her whole opinion was, 'I love him every bit as much as I ever did,'" says Rzeznik. "But he was injured so badly, he didn't know what kind of life he was going to be able to give her. He was having a hard time coping."

From the Buffalo band's punk beginnings in the mid-'80s to its transformation into heartland rockers a decade later, the Goo Goo Dolls had a steady climb into the mainstream. "Name," "Iris," and "Slide" all hit the Top 10. They've racked up four Grammy nominations and sold more than 10 million albums. The Goo Goo Dolls' ninth album appears certain to push the band out of its comfort zone.

The record was all set to be released a while back, but after listening to the final mixes, Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac, and drummer Mike Malinin decided to return to the studio with different producers to rework a few songs. "It's difficult not to fall in love with your own reflection, but it really wasn't what I wanted to hear," says Rzeznik. "I didn't think I'd gone deep enough with what I wanted to say.

"That was a hard decision to make. One part of me was like Fine, put it out. But if I don't want to listen to this start to end, I don't think anybody else will."

Combining Rzeznik's moody lyrical focus with Replacements-like scuffed-heart-on-sleeve punk-pop and Bruce Springsteen-style blue-collar anthems, Something for the Rest of Us travels down a decidedly downcast path.

"I'm not a trust-fund hipster from Brooklyn, and I can't relate to that scene," says Rzeznik. "I understand that when there's really hard times going on, pop culture trends into escapism. But there are a lot of people struggling, and I wanted to give a voice to that."

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