Dolled up

By ASHLEY FANTZ of the Tribune's staff

With a new look and refined sound, The Goo Goo Dolls have climbed the charts

 In early 1995, The Goo Goo Dolls were dubbed "America^“s Best Unknown Band."

 That was how music critics, quick with the pen, pigeonholed the three-man
band even after playing together for 12 years, writing a hit track with
Paul Westerberg, overcoming drug addiction and claiming a large and loyal
fan base.

 "The evolution of the band was a slow and natural thing," front man Johnny
Rzeznik said in an interview from Columbus, Ohio, where the Goos were
playing their  "millionth" concert date.

 The Buffalo, N.Y., band's latest album, "Dizzy Up the Girl," is selling
faster than its previous albums due to the commercial success of "Iris," a
song that also was on the "City of Angels" movie soundtrack. The latest
single, "Slide," is now a video and radio staple. 

 Formed in 1985 as Sex Maggot with bassist and singer Robby Takac and
drummer Mike Malinin, the band signed with the punk label Metal Blade. At
the urging of a manager, the Goos changed their name after seeing an ad in
the back of a detective magazine for a doll with a movable rubber head.
They've changed their look, their label -- now Warner Bros. -- and their
sound, from rough, thrashing alternative punk to sexy, mature and refined.
In short, they'll seem a whole new band to those who saw them at The Blue
Note in 1993 or 1996, when they looked like a product of the alternative
spin-cycle that cranked out a thousand Nirvana look-alikes.  [Randy says
BUNK!]

 "I just wanted this record to reflect what was in my head and my life,"
Rzeznik, the lead singer and guitarist, said. "I've never contrived an
album to be one thing or another. This is not a wall of guitars screaming
in your face. I decided that there was power in space, besides power by
volume."

 "Dizzy Up the Girl" is quieter and moodier than the band's last album, "A
Boy Named Goo," which featured their first hit single, "Name." Eloquent
down-and-out lyrics laced over moaning guitars make "January Friend" and
"Broadway" likely successes.

 "I love playing the hits," Rzeznik said. "But it's not that easy to write
a No. 1, you know. I always say to Mike, ^—Hey, you wanna listen to my next
No. 1?' I've been saying that for years. But playing ^—Hate This Place' ? I
just get high from it. And ^—Slide,' I love playing that song. It just
rolls; it's so cool. I picture Dean Martin singing
 it."

 But Rzeznik admits he wasn't always the coolest kid in the neighborhood.
In keeping with the rock 'n' roll cliche, he was a something of a geek
before he started playing the guitar at age 12.

 "I wasn't good at sports and I needed a way to make girls like me," he said.

 Rzeznik does indeed make his female fans salivate, but rather than dwell
on his Teen Beat status, he uses his band's influence for a larger cause.
The Goo Goo Dolls will donate a portion of every ticket sold on the next
leg of the band's tour -- which includes opening for The Rolling Stones --
to the National Organization for Women to benefit domestic violence victims. 

 "That kind of stuff means something to me," Rzeznik said. "My mother
didn't get out of the house in time."

 When the musician was 15, his father died of complications from alcoholism
and his mother died six months later. There was a time in the early '90s
when Rzeznik and  his band mates had to make a choice between drugs and
drinking or their music. 

 "It was a personal decision, because my family had problems with serious
drugs and alcohol," he said, "There was a day when I would drink and take
drugs to escape  the things in my head. I finally removed them from the
equation."

 Although "Dizzy Up the Girl" might seem an inappropriate choice for
someone who's championing a charity for battered women, Rzeznik said it
means nothing more  than "taking your loved one out and showing her a good
time, getting her a little drunk and having fun."