Foo Fighters (Capitol ‘95) Rating: A-
Who knew? After several years toiling behind the drum kit with Nirvana, Dave Grohl emerged into the limelight again with a new band (though in truth he plays almost everything on this album) and this often-outstanding debut album. And let’s get this out of the way right away: yes, there are major traces of Nirvana on Foo Fighters, as the album predictably features big drums and grungy guitars. But Grohl’s voice is much smoother and his melodies considerably sunnier than Kurt Cobain’s, though like Cobain Grohl has a (heretofore hidden) knack for killer grunge pop melodies. “This Is A Call” and “Big Me” are great examples of Grohl’s simple but irresistible pop craftsmanship, and heavier tracks such as “I’ll Stick Around” (with it’s famous “I don’t owe you anything” refrain, thought by many to be directed at Cobain’s widow Courtney Love) are effectively rendered by a raw mix. The rest of the album has a hard time living up to that fantastic 1-2-3 punch, but songs such as "Alone + Easy Target," "Good Grief," "Floaty," "For All The Cows," and "Exhausted" also have much to recommend about them. And though there are a couple of nondescript tracks ("Weenie Beenie" being the weakest link) and it’s difficult to decipher exactly what Grohl is getting at lyrically, this deliciously grungy sonic onslaught was very well-received by the masses, and rightfully so. Of course, with the element of surprise no longer on his side, and having put together an actual band composed of former Germs/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear and the excellent ex-Sunny Day Real Estate rhythm section (drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel), more will be expected of Mr. Grohl the next time out.
The Colour And The Shape (Capitol ’97) Rating: A
One of the hardest things for a rock band to do is to follow up on a strong debut album, but the Foo Fighters smashed any thoughts of a sophomore slump with this stellar second album. I’m not going to get into psycho-analyzing Dave Grohl’s mindset with regards to Kurt Cobain; amazingly, Rolling Stone’s review of the album went through great pains to tell us all about Grohl’s alleged state of mind, while failing to mention much at all about the actual music on the record! What I will say is that Cobain’s death and Grohl’s recent breakup with his wife seem to weigh heavily on his mind, as Grohl reveals much more of himself here than on his catchy but cryptic debut. I’ll also note that The Colour And The Shape is more of a band effort than the Grohl-dominated debut, and that most of these songs follow a similarly soft and then loud pattern, with big riffs and an even bigger beat carrying most melodies. Grohl’s vocals are also rougher this time around, which is ironic considering that Gil Norton’s production is much smoother than what was offered up on the demo-like debut. As for the songs, I'd argue that the awesome power pop surge of “Monkey Wrench” is equal to anything that Nirvana ever did (especially memorable is its incredible "one last thing before I quit..." section, which I always sing - make that scream - along to). However, the pulverizing (drum) pop and epic chorus of “My Hero,” the tightly coiled, extremely intense groove rocker “Everlong” (which I find slightly overrated but which many seem to regard as their best song ever), and the softly whispered ballad “Walking After You” were also deservedly popular radio tracks. Other catchy, hard-hitting highlights include “Hey, Johnny Park!,” “My Poor Brain,” and "Up In Arms," while “See You” is a charmingly light and singable little ditty (actually, the album on the whole is mellower than the debut, though it certainly rocks hard enough). The rest of this more varied album is rock solid as well, as only the grating "Enough Space" fails to really add anything to what is probably the band's best overall album. Note: Controversially, Grohl decided to redo Goldsmith’s drum parts for the album, and though he probably could’ve handled the situation better, there’s no denying that Grohl did a terrific job, as the drums sound fantastic and seem to explode from the speakers. Unsurprisingly, Goldsmith then left the Foo Fighters to rejoin a reformed Sunny Day Real Estate, and guitarist Pat Smear also left the band after the tour in support of the album, citing burnout. Note #2: The band re-recorded a superior version of “Walking After You” for the X-Files soundtrack.
There Is Nothing Left To Lose (RCA ’99) Rating: A-
With new drummer Taylor Hawkins in tow, Foo Fighters returned with the desperately titled There Is Nothing Left To Lose, which was recorded as a three-piece at Grohl’s home studio for a new record label. Now, I don’t normally quote press releases, but the one I received describing this album sums it up both succinctly and well: “the Foo Fighters remind us that it is okay to play loudly and in tune, that songs can still be about girls, and that not every band needs a goddamned DJ in the mix.” Indeed, Foo Fighters have little in common with much of what you’re hearing on the radio these days (the less said about that the better), as big pop hooks anchor catchy, commercial-sounding songs such as “Breakout” and “Learn To Fly,” the latter the album’s soaring first single and one of the band's best songs ever. And though Dave Grohl has rocked both melodically (“This Is A Call”) and softly (“Big Me,” “Walking After You”) before, this is easily the least likely Foo Fighters album so far to have the words "alternative" or “grunge” associated with it. Grunge is dead, after all (or so everyone says), and while I for one miss the great early ‘90s likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains, Grohl has never been one to live in the past. That said, this album has a classic rock influence that reaches back further than anything on their first two albums, and Grohl isn’t above borrowing from the past, introducing a Foghat-like riff on “Gimme Stitches” and a Frampton-styled talking fuzz box on the briskly-paced “Generator” (whose best attribute is still its catchy, tuneful chorus). Elsewhere, the band nods to smooth '70s soft rock by turning down the volume on the warm, pleasingly mellow, summery melodies of “Aurora,” “Next Year” (the theme song to the eccentric T.V. comedy Ed which I was a fan of for a couple of seasons), and the country-ish “Ain’t It The Life,” while harder rocking tracks such as "Stacked Actors," “Live-In Skin,” and “M.I.A.” also manage to be melodic ("Stacked Actors" is the best of that bunch, plus it's the grungiest song on the album). Yet for all the album’s consistent quality it must be said that it could use a jolt of that old punk energy at times. Still, "Stacked Actors," "Breakout," "Learn To Fly," "Generation," "Aurora," and "Next Year" in particular are first-rate Foo Fighters songs, and this was another really good full length release by a maturing band that refuses to stay in one place, as Dave Grohl and company continue to build their own impressive legacy irrespective of Grohl's glorious past.
One By One (RCA ’02) Rating: B
This is the album where I started to think of the Foo Fighters as a great singles band who merely make good (sometimes very good) albums. Truth is, when I hear a Foo Fighters song on the radio chances are good that I'll turn it up and sing along, but by the ninth or tenth Foo Fighters song in a row I sometimes have a hard time staying enthused. This merely good, extremely frontloaded album stands out due to its return to a grungier sound, and by the fact that it’s more atmospheric and less poppy than past efforts. There are some notable highlights as well, as "Low" is a dead ringer for Queens Of The Stone Age (whose last album and tour Grohl had played drums on), only with Grohl singing. Grohl and new lead guitarist Chris Shiflett also unleash cool riffs on "Have It All" and "Times Like These" (which also has the album's best lyrics and vocals), while the intense first single "All My Life" has an agreeably hard-hitting chorus and "Halo" is an impressively anthemic shout along. Actually, there really isn't a bad song in the bunch, but though I generally enjoy listening to these songs while they're playing I'll be damned if I can remember more than bits and pieces of most of them afterwards. "Come Back," an alternatively evocative and explosive epic (7:45) that ends the album, is an adventurous exception, and truth be told I'd welcome more such successful experiments on future releases, as the Foo Fighters' formula is starting to get a little stale here. That said, though it's a clear step down from their first three albums, One By One definitely has its moments, as previously mentioned; "All My Life" and "Times Like These" in particular have become undeniable classics that still get plenty of radio airplay years later.
In Your Honour (RCA ’05) Rating: B+
With his band sounding increasingly strained and formulaic, Dave Grohl decided he needed a break. Enter Probot, Grohl’s heavy metal side project whereupon he co-wrote and performed songs with metal icons like Lemmy, Max Cavalera, and King Diamond, among others. With the self-titled Probot album out of his system, Grohl and his main band reconvened for In Your Honour, easily their most ambitious album to date. Unfortunately, though the album is chock full of loud, anthemic rockers and contains a bevy of well-crafted soft rock compositions, the album’s sequencing and conception are seriously flawed. This is a 2-cd set, with the first cd containing 10 loud songs and the second showcasing 10 more slices of Grohl’s softer side. Never the most adventurous or diverse band, this grouping together of like-minded songs only reinforces the band’s shortcomings, particularly on disc 2, where the songs seem to blend into one another, despite several high profile cameo appearances from the likes of Norah Jones, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Kyuss/Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme, and The Wallflowers' keyboardist Rami Jaffee. Fortunately, like I said before, almost all of these songs are good so the album is largely enjoyable anyway, even if I can’t help but think that a shorter set list that intermingled loud and soft songs was the way to go. That said, rather than focus on the albums flaws, let’s talk about its considerable strengths, shall we? On disc 1, all the classic Foo Fighters elements are in place: the guitars of Grohl and Chris Shiflett are crisp and loud, Hawkins and Mendel ably add heft to the bottom end, and Grohl’s alternately smooth and screaming rough vocals inevitably lead into the payoff: catchy chorus after catchy chorus that you can easily sing (or scream) along with. Although I marked down “In Your Honour,” "No Way Back," “Best Of You,” “DOA,” “The Last Song,” "Resolve," and "The Deepest Blues Are Black" as highlights, almost every song here is a potential hit or highlight. Simply put, this disc provides clean, highly professional arena rock (remember, Grohl has never worried about silly things like “indie credibility”) that doesn’t offer anything different but which rocks harder and with more consistent quality than any Foo Fighters album since the first two. As for the mellower second disc, which in all honesty I hardly ever listen to, it’s less impressive and can get pretty boring, but again that’s partially due to the sequencing, as the songs are of a surprisingly high quality given that the band is usually much better at rocking out than on ballads. Personally, I prefer songs such as "What If I Do?," “Miracle,” “Over and Out,” and “On The Mend,” which are a little more instrumentally fleshed out, but there’s nary a truly duff track, and fans of Cobain (who “Friend Of A Friend” is about), Norah Jones (who sings the bossa nova flavored “Virginia Moon” with Grohl), and Taylor Hawkins (who sings the livelier “Cold Day In The Sun,” probably the second disc's most easily remembered song) should take particular note of those tracks. Alas, some albums add up to more than the sum of their individual parts, some add up to less (which is why track-by-track album reviews don’t really work), and In Your Honour is clearly the latter case, strong though many of its individual songs are.
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (RCA ’07) Rating: B
After a live acoustic album (sorry not interested), the band reunited with The Colour And The Shape producer Gil Norton, but the resulting album unfortunately ranks among the lesser Foo Fighters efforts so far. I've been thinking about it, and I think that there are three main problems with the band. One is that they've strayed too far from their grunge/alternative roots; the fact that they've become Grammy favorites (three statuettes for Best Rock Album) shows just how mainstream they've become. That in of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the band has become too predictable. For example, "Come Alive" and "But, Honestly" start slowly and eventually pick up a head of steam (and again by and large the band are much better at rockers than ballads), but they take too long to get going and the payoff isn't quite worth the wait (unlike "Let It Die" which builds similarly but is better). As for problem number two, I understand Grohl wanting the Foo Fighters to be a real band, but they were better when he handled the drum parts. Hawkins is a very good drummer but he's simply not the dynamic force behind the drum kit that Grohl is, and as a result subsequent albums haven't quite matched the explosive pop of their first two albums. Thirdly, somewhere along the way Grohl lost his sense of humor; this guy has it pretty good, but there's too much bitter fingerpointing on this album. That said, the current incarnation of the Foo Fighters still have their virtues. "The Pretender" (a serious contender for "best Foo Fighters song ever") and "Long Road To Ruin" (classic chorus) can be added to the band's growing list of terrific singles, and there are other strong efforts as well, such as the rocking "Erase/Replace" (which unsurprisingly has mellower moments as well) and the intense acoustic ballad "Stranger Things Have Happened." "Summer's End" and especially "Statues" have airy '70s So. Cal vibes that I also find appealing, but I could live without the filler-ish instrumental "Ballad Of The Beaconsville Miners" and the pretty but boring ballad "Home." "Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)" exemplifies what's right and wrong with the band, as it's a standard surging melodic rocker that's reliably listenable and hard-hitting without being especially exciting (though I like the potshots it takes at whiny emo bands). I'm still glad that they're around, as the band continues to do their part in making modern rock radio a little more listenable, but I'll probably have to think twice before buying their next long player. Rather, I might just wait until the arrival of their eventual "greatest hits" album, which ought to be a stone cold killer.
Greatest Hits (RCA ’09) Rating: A-
Well here it is at long last, and I’m disappointed. This should’ve been an easy slam dunk, a simple run through the Foo Fighters actual greatest hits plus one or two new songs and maybe a rarity or two. Where the heck are “I’ll Stick Around” and “DOA?” Good grief, those are inexcusable omissions. “Walking Into You” (preferably the more rare and in my opinion superior X-Files soundtrack version, which got some airplay back in the day), “Stacked Actors,” "Next Year," “Low,” “No Way Back,” and “Let It Die” are other questionable omissions, being that they were actual singles and hits, unlike “Skin and Bones” and the acoustic version of “Everlong.” OK, I can understand why two new songs were included (gotta appeal to the completists, right?), and “Wheels” in particular is good (plus it became an actual hit), but for me this compilation is defined as much by what’s not here as by what is. Fortunately, what is here is mostly great, including Foo Fighters classics such as “This Is A Call,” “Big Me,’ “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero,” “Everlong,” “Learn To Fly,” “Breakout,” “All My Life,” "Times Like These," "Best Of You," "The Pretender," and "Long Road To Ruin." Still, even though any Foo Fighters fan will likely get considerable enjoyment while listening to this 16-track compilation (why only 16 tracks?), it's hard for me to overlook the fact that it should've been much better.
Wasting Light (RCA ’11) Rating: A-
When did the Foo Fighters become this classic band? I'm not exactly sure, but they're as much if not more of a radio presence, both on current and "classic" stations, as hipper bands such as Nirvana (who never played a sold out Wembley Stadium, though I suppose they could have at their peak). I still think they're a great singles band who make merely good to very good albums, but this album definitely falls in the "very good" category, and there's no denying the number of first class individual songs the band has released over the years. If you're not a fan, I suggest you check out the excellent Back and Forth documentary that was released in conjunction with the promotion for this album. It documents the recording sessions for the album but also presents a thorough career overview, warts and all, but I know that I gained a further appreciation for the Foo Fighters as a band and the band members as individuals after watching it. Anyway, back to this album, which was recorded by old friend Butch Vig (who remember had produced Nirvana's Nevermind, so in some ways with this album Grohl has come full circle) in Grohl's garage using analog equipment, as the band wanted to keep it real and capture the raw, unprocessed sound of a band playing live. The strategy worked very well, because the sound is definitely a throwback to their earliest (best) records, and the album is also aided by several guest appearances, including singer-guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Krist Novoselic (ex-Nirvana), singer Fee Waybill (The Tubes), and keyboardist Rami Jaffee (by now a frequent contributor and regular touring member), plus Pat Smear is back with the band as a permanent member (having already rejoined their touring ranks since 2006). As per usual, this album will likely be best remembered by its often-played anthemic singles, and "Rope," "Walk," and “These Days” (my favorite of the three) are all very good efforts if not among their absolute best. What distinguishes this album from their prior album is how consistently strong it is from top to bottom, as "Bride Burning" is a hard-hitting opener with a lighter catchy chorus, and "Dear Rosemary" is moodier but still rocking, with Mould adding his trademark intensity and memorably weird vocals. Elsewhere, "Arlandria" is a grower track with another big chorus, "Back & Forth" manages to have a raw sound and still be poppy, with yet another easily singable chorus, and "I Should Have Known" is an emotional ballad (mostly) whose last minute-plus (where Novoselic really shines) is among their most intense ever. Even the lesser songs (typically the less hooky ones) usually have some cool parts that make them worth listening to, as this veteran band shows that they're still capable of surprises after all.