It’s the start of another week, another Monday rising to meet us like the tip of the working-week iceberg that looms beneath the chilly waters.
So let’s grab a mug of the good stuff* and take a look back at the week that was in terms of listening delights that penetrated my lugholes.
Courtney Barnett – Write A List of Things to Look Forward To
I have really missed out here – Courtney Barnett being one of those names I’d heard and read of numerous times but never checking out. I guess we’re too spoilt for music these days and it’s hard to get to grips with anything, it’s like my son when we visit the Lego store; there’s so much he didn’t know he wanted and can’t make his mind up as to what to walk away with.
My wife got me back into monthly music mags recently and one of Ms Barnett’s tunes appeared on one of the cds they come with and proved to be the trigger I needed to check out and enjoy her new album Things Take Time, Take Time this last week. It’s pretty damn good.
Foo Fighters – Generator
I’m reading Dave Grohl’s ‘The Storyteller’ at the moment and it’s a cracker of a book. There’s a lot he leaves out for obvious reasons but it turns out that’s he’s quite the memoirist. In it he states his belief that There Is Nothing Left To Lose remains the best album they’ve made to date. I can see why he likes it, personal reasons aside. It’s certainly their first to sound like a real ‘band’ album and it’s stripped-back sound – thanks to Adam Kasper and the bare-bones nature of Grohl’s home studio where it was made – makes for a great listen to this day. I think I ranked it quite highly in my Least to Most a couple of years back but not a top three, good as it is.
John Fahey – Requiem for John Hurt
Because there’s always time for something so great
Cold Water Flat – King of the Undergound
In a weird jog of memory I found myself thinking of Cold Water Flat – a college / alt-rock band that never took off but, as they were formed by Paul Janovitz, brother of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, came across my radar many years ago. Pretty sure that if I have the cd it’s one of those boxed up in the garage and they’re not on the streaming service beginning with S so had to resort to YouTube to hear the album again. They managed just two of them, one for a major (which borrowed BT’s producer Sean Slade), before going their own separate ways. The drummer would actually go on to pick up the Pullitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel ‘Tinkers’.
Snail Mail – Valentine
Another of those new artists I’d read about / heard about but never checked out. This time it was the weekly emailer from my local / favourite record store Vinylstore Jr that got me tuning in when he pitched it as a ‘midway point between Lucy Dacus and Hole’. Now: I like a bit of Hole and I like Lucy Dacus, but which is best? There’s only one way to find out…
Jimmy Eat World – Just Tonight (Phoenix Sessions)
I hadn’t listened to Jimmy Eat World in blood years until I saw this crop up last week. Apparently the band did some of those full-album performances as streamed concerts when the world of touring was shut down last year and are now releasing the audio. Futures was one of their albums I thought was hampered by production so I’ve been enjoying the rawer / live takes on this.
*a rather fruity Kenyan blend today should you be interested
It’s surprising the amount of stick Dave Grohl got for moving forward and making new music. Or, as some saw it, daring to make new music after the death of Kurt Cobain. As the man himself has often pondered – did they just expect him to stop? Music was all he’d done up until that point and he was only 25, why should he stop? In October of 1994, six months following Cobain’s suicide, Grohl booked some time at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle – where Nirvana’s final, aborted studio sessions had taken place (which yielded the demo of what would become ‘You Know You’re Right‘) earlier that same year – and recorded a fifteen-track demo, playing every instrument (save one guitar solo) himself.
Not sure where his future lay Grohl considered looking for another band with a vacant drum stool. One such stool had recently been vacated by Stan Lynch and there’s a great video of Grohl going full Animal with the Heartbreakers on SNL – “it was the first time I’d looked forward to playing the drums since Nirvana had ended.” Ultimately, though (and even after a couple of shows sitting on the vacant Pearl Jam drum stool*), Grohl wanted to give his ‘Foo Fighters’ project his attention as the demo tape he’d circulated was now picking up major label interest. The name was applied to the demo tape as Grohl wanted some anonymity post-Nirvana and to suggest that a group was behind the music.
Released in July 1995, there’s something wonderfully charming and warm about Foo Fighters. It’s very much a product of its time – the guitars are very grunge-like and loaded with the same levels of fuzz associated with Grohl’s former outfit but the songs quickly jump into more melodic and lighter routes and there’s an overwhelming sense of lightness and, yes, goofiness that wouldn’t be present on any other Foo Fighters release (likely down to the fact that the largely nonsensical lyrics were written 20 minutes before recording). It’s loaded with hook, charm and warmth and positivity. Though I have to wonder if I’m the only Foo Fighters fan that doesn’t care for ‘Big Me’.
Highlights: ‘This Is A Call’, ‘I’ll Stick Around’, ‘Alone + Easy Target’, ‘Good Grief’,’Floaty’
Fuck but I love this album. This is the one instance in which the Gimmick behind it paid off in spades. In an effort to recapture some of the rougher sound of earlier Foo Fighters releases, Grohl decided that Foo Fighters Album 7 would be stripped of all the production bells and whistles that had been draped over Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace and bought in Butch Vig and to record the entire album on analogue equipment in Dave’s garage.
At this point, though, it would be futile to expect such a process to result in a raw sounding record. It’s not like Dave Grohl has a small garage for that matter either. But, what makes Wasting Light such a late career highlight is that Vig captures a sense of purpose and drive in the band that had been lacking for at least three albums previous. It’s a big, anthemic rock record shorn of production sheen and filled with a sense of energy that comes from the fact that they recorded the entire album live and – with Pat Smear back in the ranks – a heavier, three-guitar strong attack.
From the off with ‘Bridges Burning’ powering into ‘Rope’ and ‘Dear Rosmery’ there’s no let up. Instead, when you’d expect it at track four, ‘White Limo’ has been described as “a blistering, paint-stripping thrash track” with Grohl’s vocals lost as he screams at what must be the top of his register. There’s no slowing down on Wasting Light. No ballads. ‘These Days’ looks like it’s gonna be that track until it turns into a thumping Foos classic that will no doubt rub shoulders with ‘Run’ and ‘Something From Nothing’ on the inevitable Greatest Hits 2. No, Wasting Light found a revitalised band firing with an energy and power few thought they had left in them and got me really paying attention to the band again and, depending on the day of the week, could just as easily sit right at the top of this list.
Twenty years on (gulp), the moment when the practically-throwaway ‘Doll’ gets torn apart by the arrival of ‘Monkey Wrench’ and The Colour and The Shape shifts into gear remains shit-the-bed-amazing. So good that the band themselves would give the formula another go and top it with ‘T-Shirt’ giving way to ‘Run’ on this year’s Concrete & Gold. That being said, while ‘Run’ is a great song, it doesn’t match the sheer power and fire of ‘Monkey Wrench’ – an absolute stone-cold classic. And it’s not the only one on the album for is home to a tonne of em: ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero‘, ‘Walking After You’, ‘Enough Space’ and, easily their best song, ‘Everlong‘.
The Colour and The Shape was the first Foo Fighters album recorded as a group (although Grohl would end up re-recording the drum parts himself leaving drummer William Goldsmith little choice but to leave the band. He’d be replaced by Taylor Hawkins before the tour behind the album began) and is the most cohesive and consistent set of songs they’ve put to tape, still. After an extensive tour behind Foo Fighters, the band were coming together with Grohl emerging more confident in his role as singer and band leader – if you go back to ‘Monkey Wrench’ when he hits his final “one more thing before I quit” you can here that confidence screaming through. On the downside his first marriage was ending in divorce. This meant that, in place of the nonsensical lyrics on the first album, much of Grohl’s domestic strife was poured into the lyrics – ‘Everlong’ in particular is a strange mix up as it was written against both the collapse of his marriage and the beginning of a new relationship.
What makes this album stand out for me is that in between the staggering strength of the obvious hits, the songs that are so often forgotten are really bloody good too. Take ‘Enough Space‘ – watching ‘Back and Forth’ it’s clear how important this song was as one of the first new ones Grohl wrote for the band, with a tempo inspired by the jumping up and down of European audiences to heavier tunes. Or ‘My Poor Brain’ or ‘Wind Up’ or the best Foo Fighters album closer to date – ‘A New Way Home.’ These are great tunes and on any other album would be stand-outs. When put on an album stacked with killer classics they’re almost forgotten but prove that The Colour and the Shape is an album full of strengths (and ‘See You’ which, frankly, you can forgive).
Check out any review for a new Foo Fighters album and it will be this one that it gets judged against and with reason. The Colour and The Shape built the template of every song and direction the Foo Fighters would make yet remains their benchmark in terms of quality and consistency.
Highlights: All of it.
*Despite all the MTV (and Courtney fuelled) Nirvana vs Pearl Jam schtick the animosity between members really wasn’t there. Grohl sat in for two shows in Australia pre Jack-Irons and it’s been suggested that, having heard and recognised Grohl’s direction, they told him he’d be better doing it alone rather than playing for someone else. Eddie Vedder would actually premier two of the album’s songs on his radio show in 1995 as well as playing alongside Grohl in Mike Watt’s backing band – whose tour Vedder’s band Hovercraft were on along with Foo Fighters.
When touring the split-personality In Your Honor Foo Fighters would play two shows in each town / city – one big rock show in an arena and another in a smaller venue showcasing the quieter acoustic side of that album along with some re-readings of their back catalogue with an expanded line-up including a violinist, a pianist and former-Foo Pat Smear. The latter format would be captured in the lacklustre Skin and Bones and, at some point after the tour – as Dave Grohl tells it in ‘Back And Forth’ – the chief Foo was chatting with Clive Davis, boss of RCA (with whom the Foo Fighters have been since 1999) and expressed how great it would be if the Foos could be the band that did these different shows to demonstrate the different sides of their music and people could go to whichever appealed most and wouldn’t necessarily have to go to both. In what Grohl seems to have taken as a Svengeli comment (as opposed to, say, simply stating the bloody obvious), Davis replied “you can do both together” and the ‘Gimmick’ behind Foo Fighers Album 5 took root.
Taking In Your Honor‘s half-electric, half-acoustic approach and deciding to do it all on one album, often one song, meant that Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace saw the Foo Fighters incorporating more instrumentation and styling detours than before and scoring plenty of scorchers along the way. Lead single and opener ‘The Pretender‘ is top-drawer Foos and still ranks as one of their best. ‘Let It Die’ – acoustics giving way to screaming power chords and Grohl at full wail – is the perfect meld of the two Foo dynamics and shows the formula working at its best and ‘Erase/Replace’ is another and holds up well ten years later. ‘Long Road To Ruin’ is standard Foo Fighter mid-pace that was killed by over-play, ‘Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)’ (a working title that stuck) is a good, fun blast. Thing is, even with Gil Norton at the helm, it’s when the band stretches that the cracks show – ‘Summers End’, ‘Statues, ‘Home, ‘But, Honestly’…. they’re ‘ok’ but not quite the finished article they should be and there’s nothing about them to lodge in memory and the lack of power house riffs apparent in the first half of the album makes the closing third drag just a bit too long.
Still, I’d be the last person to fault a band or artist for trying to stretch themselves – to stand still is to go backwards and all that – and the efforts would yield fruit soon enough….
Highlights: ‘The Pretender’, ‘Let It Die’, ‘Come Alive’, ‘Erase/Replace’,’Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running).’
There Is Nothing Left To Lose
This is where I, and I’m sure plenty of others, came in. ‘Learn To Fly‘, it’s video and There Is Nothing Left To Lose broke the Foo Fighters to a lot of people and deservedly so though I can’t help but feel that, in the passage of time and the band’s continual evolution into STADIUM ROCK BAND, it’s often forgotten.
Just before the band would head out on tour for The Colour and the Shape, Pat Smear announced he wanted to leave. He hung around and continued to tour while the band found a replacement in Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl but, after that tour, Stahl too was fired. It’s clearly still a sore point for those involved but it would appear that writing for Foo Fighters Album 3 wasn’t working with Stahl. Feeling that the previous album’s recording sessions with Gil Norton were too arduous, Grohl decided to record the next one in his basement with the band as a three-piece – once Nate Mendel had quit for a day*.
Grohl has said of the sessions that “At that point it was me, Taylor and Nate and we were best friends. It was one of the most relaxing times of my whole life. All we did was eat chilli, drink beer and whiskey and record whenever we felt like it.” There Is Nothing Left To Lose feels like it was a blast to make. It’s got the energy and drive that would inform their later work but also retains the quirky charm of their earliest recordings. If I recall correctly there was an interview around the time where Grohl said he was focused more and more on melody too and there are times – ‘Aurora’, ‘Generator’, ‘Live-in Skin’ and the Police-like ‘Headwires’ when There Is Nothing Left To Lose is a great power-pop record. ‘Next Year’ and ‘Ain’t It The Life’ are great showcases for the band’s developing mellow side while ‘Stacked Actors’ and ‘Breakout’ are the obligatory harder edged cuts which, oddly, do nothing for me and seem positively out of place overall on this album.
Highlights: ‘Learn To Fly’, ‘Headwires’, ‘Aurora’, ‘Next Year’,’Generator’
Concrete and Gold
I gave my first impressions on this one only recently and I still think it ranks up there as one of the band’s finest. Free of the gimmicks the band headed to a big studio, hired a producer and the only focus was on creating a shit load of good songs. They succeeded. When talking of Gil Norton’s involvement on Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Taylor Hawkins said it had been the first time “Dave had to deal with someone in the room questioning all his ideas”. Between these two albums it would seem that nobody really questions Dave’s ideas when they needed to because Concrete and Gold is the Foo Fighters album they’d been trying to make for a long time – a heavy mother with plenty of diversity and reach but, more than on any other attempt, consistency and quality.
In the build up to its release, the PR machine latched on to Dave Grohl’s description of it being Motorhead taking on Sgt Pepper. Ryan Adams has called it their Revolver. Concrete and Gold doesn’t quite achieve the premise of its PR – though it does feature Paul McCartney – and is, at the end of the day, a Foo Fighers ROCK album. To quote my initial review “It does, however, stand apart in the Foo Fighters cannon and is the sound of the band playing to those highs and strengths its achieved during its ascent to stadium rock act while also stretching out enough sonically to both refresh its sound and offer a welcome hand to those fans like me that had begun to wonder if Dave Grohl had anything interesting left up his sleeves. Turns out he does.”
Highlights: ‘Run’, ‘Make It Right’, ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’, ‘Dirty Water’,’Arrows,’ ‘Concrete and Gold’.
This year Dave Grohl and his bunch of merry men released their ninth studio album and have embarked on another stadium slaughtering world tour. It seems somewhat strange – having been listening in attentively for most of the ride – for the Foo Fighters to have reached such a scale when the band’s beginnings were so decidedly quieter and personal.
A lot changed in the years between Dave Grohl recording the entirety of the first album across a one-week period in 1994 and topping the charts with Conrcete and Gold as a six-piece member band and with a total of nine studio albums to their name I’ve been listening back through the back catalogue and decided, once again, to try to share my thoughts on each
My previous undertaking of a Least to Most was almost too much of an undertaking. To keep the fun and momentum, I’m not going to be exploring every album in a separate post for one thing though will be looking at them ‘One by One’ but in three hits of three.
It’s worth noting that, as with that initial series; it’s just that, personal favourites – I don’t lay claim to my judgement of one album’s quality to being universal or true. It’s supposed to be fun after all. Though it may well correlate with just such features’ listings, this isn’t a ‘worst to best’ just a ‘least to most’ favourite and, again, I listen to these albums pretty regularly so I wouldn’t call any of them ‘bad’ or they wouldn’t be sat on my shelves.
So, let’s get on with it and get going from the Least end…
One By One
Relax, something had to start this off and I know that this album most definitely has it’s champions. Hey, I can understand it; there are some cracking songs on One By One – there’s just not enough of them and, overall, the album doesn’t gel cohesively. It suffers from both its troubled birth and the band themselves having seemingly stepped away from it.
Coming off the back of the successful There Is Nothing Left To Lose, the band started working up songs and demos before taking a break in 2001 to play some European festivals. I happened to catch em at V2001. Unfortunately, after that show Taylor Hawkins suffered a heroin overdose, landing in a coma for two days.
Once back underway, sessions on the album grew stale, the heavy use of ProTools and rough mixes left band members feeling unsatisfied and, amidst risig tensions, the “million-dollar demos” were abandoned and the Foo Fighters went on pause as Grohl headed out on tour as drummer for Queens of the Stone Age. One massive fight during rehearsals for Coachella and a blistering ‘make or break’ show at the same festival later, the band got back together to take another stab at some of those songs already recorded and get down some of Grohl’s newer compositions including ‘Low’ and ‘Times Like These’.
When One By One dropped – heralded by the spectacular ‘All My Life’ which remains one of the band’s strongest songs – it was initially well received. But time hasn’t been kind to this one and it’s not aged well. It’s a frustrating listen with a good few songs but bogged down overall by several that don’t really cut it after repeated listens. I very rarely listen to this one and when I did so recently I couldn’t remember most of the song titles or melodies beyond the keepers – ‘All My Life’, ‘Low‘, ‘Have it All’ and ‘Times Like These.’ Oddly enough these happen to be the first four songs on the album and, beyond that, I very rarely venture.
Some great moments on One By One but the band’s heaviest album is also it’s hardest listen. As Grohl himself has said ” “four of the songs were good, and the other seven I’ve never played again in my life. We rushed into it, and we rushed out of it”
Highlights: ‘All My Life’, ‘Low’, ‘Have it All,’ ‘Times Like These.’
It pains me to put this one so low on the list as it’s one I’ve listened to a lot – chiefly because my almost-four-year-old requested ‘Something From Nothing’ so often- but, while it’s less of a challenge to listen to than One By One the truth is that Sonic Highways is not a great Foo Fighters album.
This is peak-concept Foos and it suffers as a result, almost coming across as not a real Foo Fighters album but as a soundtrack to their documentary series of the same name. Each ‘episode’ would see Grohl adding lyrics to songs based on conversations and ‘nuggets’ from that city. As such the references to Muddy Waters in ‘Something From Nothing’ seem forced and even Grohl’s tribute to his DC punk roots ‘Feast and the Famine’ is glossed and buffed into sonic tameness by Butch Vig. The other problem with the concept is that it forced guest stars onto every track whether or not they were needed – even Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilson questions whether they need a fourth guitar on ‘Something From Nothing’ – as though the songs must be forced through a strict criteria in order to make it to the album rather than happening organically because it was part of the Project to have guests on every song.
Some of the songs and details are good, though, don’t get me wrong. The feedback squall and solo at the end of ‘Something From Nothing’, Gary Clark Jr’s solo on an otherwise turd of a song ‘What Did I Do? /God As My Witness’, Joe Walsh’s chilled guitar licks in ‘Outside’ and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s blasts on ‘In The Clear’ all give a good hit of enjoyment and ‘Subterranean’ is a great one.
The problem is that songs like ‘I Am A River’ and ‘ don’t hold up to repeated listens or justify their length and ‘Congregation’ still holds its place as my least-favourite Foo Fighters song ever. The album, to my ears, sounds like good songs left half-baked, their gestation and development into something better sacrificed in the name of Concept as borne out by the release of the Saint Cecilia at the end of 2015 – four songs recorded without concept or Vig’s production buffing it all out that managed to kick the arse of everything on Sonic Highways.
Highlights: ‘Something from Nothing’, ‘In The Clear’, ‘Outside’, ‘Subterranean’.
In Your Honor
Aside from the whole *Honour thing…. In Your Honor was the start of what I’ve come to regard as the Foo Fighers ‘gimmick’ phase. After touring One by One – a tour which saw them become a genuinely thrilling live act – Grohl was unsure where to take his Foos next and, after the gruelling sessions for that album, didn’t fancy rushing into a new album straight away. Thinking of looking for film score work he picked up his guitar and set about writing acoustic songs, managing to amass a whole album’s worth. But, this being Dave Grohl, he couldn’t just have an acoustic record, he’s a man who has ” to have loud rock music in my life somewhere” so decided it was time for a double album. One CD of “really heavy rock shit” and another of “really beautiful, acoustic-based, lower dynamic stuff.” Uh-oh, sounds like a Concept….
What handicaps In Your Honor, though, is that Concept. That it has to be twenty songs long rather than it being that long because Grohl had written that many belters. That it needs to have ten really heavy fucking songs of wall-to-wall riffs AND ten songs that are as gentle as a kitten’s fart. And to keep them as far apart from each other as possible too. As such while at least half of the ‘heavy’ songs are top drawer, the rest just sort of repeat the notions and many of the songs on the ‘soft’ disc wouldn’t be released were it not a case of needing enough of them to fill a double album and the sheer distance between the two make it hard to link the sides of the same album to each other.
But.. as with all misguided double album’s there’s one gleaming, top notch, single-disc album in here waiting to be heard once shorn of its excess. The opening two on the ‘rock’ disc – ‘In Your Honor‘ and ‘No Way Back’ are as strong and relentless as a viagra’d up trouser snake and break only to let in the album’s lead single (and Foo classic) ‘Best of You’* and ‘DOA’ is equally as catchy while ‘Resolve’ is a 70’s Rock tinged earworm.
Despite the sensation that the band aren’t quite settled in feeling out their gentler side, the ‘Soft’ half has some of the album’s more interesting moments. Opener ‘Still’ is bathed in backround ambience and sneaky piano, ‘Over and Out’ has some great tom-tom work from Taylor Hawkins (though his lead-vocal début ‘Cold Day In The Sun’ veers far too close to AOR Slush), ‘Miracle’ – with piano from John Paul Jones – is a definite keeper as is ‘Friend of a Friend‘, a hold-over written by Grohl while in Nirvana and undoubtedly about his bandmantes and ‘Razor’ features some great guitar interplay between Grohl and his BFF Josh Homme to bring it to a close.
While some of the first disc gets tiresome and some of the “really beautiful” second disc is more “really coffee shop background” – take half of one and half of the other and you’ve got a great album here. Keep them restrained by the Concept and they’re dragged down.
Highlights: ‘In Your Honor’, ‘No Way Back’, ‘Best of You’, ‘DOA’, ‘Resolve’. ‘Still’, ‘Miracle’, ‘Friend of a Friend’, ‘Over and Out’, ‘Razor’.
*Why is Dave Grohl so popular on Amazon? He’s always giving the best the best the best the best reviews.
This bloke from the Foo Fighters looks a bit like the drummer from that band Nirvana, doesn’t he?
Despite the PR, expecting the Foo Fighters to break new ground in 2017, some two decades plus into a career that has seen the band grow from a one-man project to stadium-filling rock heavyweights, would be optimistic to say the least. Since In Your Honour Dave Grohl, however, seems determined to try so we fans have been offered our Foo in separate acoustic and electric discs, a ‘serious musicians’ flavour, with ‘raw analogue’ toppings* and with added documentary options on the side. It’s still been Foo, though, no matter how much Mr Grohl has tried to spice it up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind, but, after There Is Nothing Left To Lose, there’s nothing that really sets aside, say, ‘The Pretender’, ‘All My Life’ or even ‘Rope’ as having been on different albums no matter the supposed narrative rules that rock’s smiliest ambassador has sought to apply to them.
Take Sonic Highways as an example – despite the concept and execution, there was nothing, really, to show in terms of sound or execution that differentiated its nine songs from any of the bands other mediocre cuts**. It’s as though there’s no concept or production technique that could change the established loud-quiet-loud-louder and colossal thump of the Foo Fighters at this stage of their career.
I found the concept behind Sonic Highways increasingly odd given how much time and effort the band had put into building their own studio (Studio 606 West) and HQ less than a decade before and seemingly abandoned after two albums – Wasting Light was recorded in Grohl’s garage. In fact, when Grohl declared that he already knew how the next Foo Fighters album would be recorded and that it was something so exciting that no band had ever done before…. I groaned a little inside. Why couldn’t they just get in their studio – or any studio – and apply themselves to the songs not to achieving some wacky concept?
Thanks to PJ Harvey, it seems, I’ve got my wish. Turns out that Dave Grohl’s ‘big idea’ for Foo Fighters Album 9 was to set up a studio on stage at the Hollywood Bowl and record it live in front of a 20,000 strong crowd. Shame, then, that discovering that PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project had been recorded in the same manner (albeit a far more English approach via an art installation in Somerset House) took the shine off the idea for him.
Instead Dave did what he describes as the most unexpected thing for his band to do and took the Foo Fighters into a big studio – EastWest Studios – and hired a producer to oversee their next album, gimmick-free. Well, I say that… this wouldn’t be a Foo Fighters album in the 21st Century if there wasn’t some form of ‘gimmick’ involved, would it? This time it’s the involvement of producer Greg Kurstin. Picked by Grohl for his work with his own band The Bird and the Bee, Kurstin is perhaps better known for his work with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Sia, Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding, Pink and that moaning banshee’s god-awful radio-melter ‘Hello’. Given the combination of a pop and rock heavyweight’s, the ‘gimmick’ of Concrete and Gold is that it’s being pitched as sounding like “Motörhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper.”
So…. does it? Of course it fucking doesn’t. Don’t be daft. But….. it takes a very very good stab at doing so and feels pretty much unlike anything else Dave and his merry men have done before. Yes, the sound is unmistakeably Foo but this time around the band are stretching out in ways they haven’t before and deliver plenty of unexpected and, frankly, great twists to deliver an album that offers psychedelic, prog-metal, abstract, heavy and, yes, Beatles-esque shades against a Foo Fighters sound that is, for the first time in a long time, suitably balanced and mixed by a producer.
Kicking off with a short throwaway ripped apart by a heavy rocker will inevitably draw comparisons to The Colour and the Shape but ‘T-Shirt’, for all it’s brevity, is a superior song to ‘Doll’ and pushes Concrete and Gold‘s confidence and palette front and centre and – even after maybe a hundred listens at my son’s request – ‘Run’ is an out and out fucking BEAST that ranks as one of the Foos’ best:
‘Make It Right’ offers more than the straight-ahead rocker it initially suggests itself to be, there’s a funk of a groove behind it, unexpected chord changes and a surprising slab of background harmonies that when combined bring, to my mind that is, Aerosmith’s Draw The Line*** album. Initially I’d been slightly less impressed by ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’ when catching the videos of its live reveals but the album version, along with many of the tracks here, shows that – despite their straight ahead live mode – on Concrete and Gold the Foos have actually become a studio band with plenty of unusual-for-Foo song structures and production choices that blend so well. Take the strings that slip so unobtrusively into ‘The Sky…’ as to change a song type they’ve churned out many a time before into something that genuinely lifts skywards.
‘La Dee Da’ falls into the same category for me – I wasn’t impressed by it’s live rendering but, away from the bludgeoning and sonic flattening of radio too, on Concrete and Gold I ‘get it’. If it’s Fab Four you’re after, there’s one of em on ‘Sunday Rain’ – as Taylor Hawkins is too busy singing this spacey (seriously, check out his ‘Range Rover Bitch‘) rocker, Sir Paul McCartney plonked down the drums. Sequentially it’s a good fit because, to my ears, the preceding ‘Happy Ever After’ makes me think of ‘Blackbird’ or one of Macca’s early solo melodies.
‘Dirty Water’ is an early favourite for me; it brings forth sounds of both early Foo Fighters, a playful lightness and airy feel (and, again, some real Beatles tinges) but is bolstered by something sharper and more focused that comes from both a more practised song craft and production that, despite its length, it remains on track and charm. In that respect it serves as a strong summary of the album as a whole.
Concrete and Gold doesn’t quite achieve the premise of its PR but show me an album that does. It does, however, stand apart in the Foo Fighters cannon and is the sound of the band playing to those highs and strengths its achieved during its ascent to stadium rock act while also stretching out enough sonically to both refresh its sound and offer a welcome hand to those fans like me that had begun to wonder if Dave Grohl had anything interesting left up his sleeves. Turns out he does.
I hadn’t pre-ordered this one but I’m already on my third listen of Concrete and Gold and haven’t skipped a track left. For all his efforts to make a ‘concept’ of an album, Dave Grohl has, when he wasn’t even trying to, created a fucking belter of a Foo Fighters album that works not just track-by-track but as an album in itself. Well worth a listen or three.
*I’ll put this out there: Wasting Light is the best Foo Fighters album to date.
**Concept over substance unfortunately applies to the album and I wouldn’t slip any of its tracks onto a ‘Best of’ comp.
As the caption says “SURPRISE! Run. Our new song. Video directed by Dave Grohl. Turn it up”
Foo Fighters dropped a new song (their first new music since 2015) this lunch time – whether it’s from an upcoming album hasn’t been confirmed but after another new song was played live recently and given that the band have a very heavy touring itinerary lined up with a few festival dates in the mix it would be a very safe bet.
I’m a few repeated listens down the line already and I’m really enjoying this one. Better than anything on Sonic Highways. It’s ambitious, catchy as the flu and bloody good. The video is a blast too.
147? Granted this includes b-sides, covers etc. But it’s still 147 songs that have been released by Mr Grohl and his band of merry men.
I agree with the list for the most part. It’s unlikely they’ll ever better Everlong. But what surprised me and begs the opening questions is – how and when?
Granted; next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the first Foo Fighters album (yes, yes; that was all Dave) but somehow they’ve gone from being ‘that guy from Nirvana’s new thing’ to a bonafide, long-lasting band with a very very strong back catalogue chock full of songs that are precisely written and virtually all guaranteed a place on whatever alternative / rock radio stations still exist (I think it’s usually a daily occurrence to hear a Foo’s song on Xfm).
They’re like the Matt Damon of rock in this way – quietly and calmly going from ‘that Good Will Hunting guy’ to an actor with an extremely credible filmography and calmly churning out strong, consistent and enjoyabe (though not ‘set the world alight’) performances.
So, just as I’m quite happy about the announcement of a new Damon-starring Bourne film, I was quite happy to hear about the new Foo Fighters album when it starting being discussed…. how “nobody has ever done anything like this” etc etc.
Grohl has talked about going the Radiohead / experimental route (I do wish he would) but it was something a bit more straightforward – the Foos put together a bunch of solid, guitar crunching riffs and went on a tour of those 8 (budget / logistics restricted) cities in the US that have a documentary-worthy / personally relevant music scene / history for a week at a time, talk to the leading lights of that scene, write the lyrics based on the experience, have a few guests from each week guest on that track, record it in a famous local studio and have HBO film it, put the whole thing out as a very engrossing docu-press kit type thing.
Well, I say “straightforward”… that is quite a big task. The whole recording in multiple settings has been done before, usually when a bands on a long tour and keen to get another album out (REM’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi possibly the best) but the rest… probably not. And, to be honest, because there’s probably not all that much point to it, really.
I’m sure, from the little I’ve been able to see, until a Blu-ray version drops (probably / hopefully in time for Christmas), and read of, the Sonic Highways series is a great 8-part gem. How could it not be; Dave Grohl rocking up in Washington DC, Seattle, Austin etc and talking to local musicians / icons about music then strapping instruments on at the end?
However, how much this lends to the album itself remains negligible. Each of the eight tracks on Sonic Highways has a guest. Each of those guests could just as easily have not swung by. It’s virtually impossible, for instance, to pluck out Rick Nielsen’s baritone guitar from the mix on “Something From Nothing” or what’s specifically ‘Joe Walsh’ of that Eagles’ contribution to “Outside”. Though Gary Clark Jr does tear the arse off of the otherwise plodding, Skynrd-esque “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness”.
The other element that stops me listening to “In The Clear” and perhaps saying “oh you can totally hear the New Orleans scene in that” is that a) as a now three-guitar strong band, it would take a lot to really have an obvious impact and b) I’m English and have no bloody idea what any influence of the New Orleans scene might sound like.
The kinda-pointless approach does mean, however, that while it doesn’t add to the album in an overly noticeable way, it also means you don’t need to know about the depth of, say, Washington’s music scene, to enjoy the album as it remains a thoroughly enjoyable slab of Foo Fighters guitar blast.
Opener “Something From Nothing” is my son, Elliott’s, favourite sound at the moment. He’s 11 months old. When this song comes on it gets his full attention and when the drums kick in so does his rocking out dance. This makes me a little bias of course. It’s a solid album opener, a little different for the band in it’s slow-to-build style and has the strange addition of a 70’s porn-style breakdown. It’s lyrics “fuck it all I came from nothing” are a fitting nod to the nature of the Foos, perhaps, and Chris Shifflett’s guitar solo is a little too late and short but this is a solid track that will get lodged in your head.
It’s followed by “Feast and the Famine” – a strangely heavy / punk-rock song to staple Martin Luther King Jr assination references too but it’s got the stop/start, fast/faster Foos dynamics that they’ve got down tight all over it. At 3:49 it’s the shortest thing on Sonic Highways.
Further on the album “Congregation” is a belter of a track (a sister track to Wheels perhaps) but, lyrically, no matter how many times I hear it I can’t really get down to the use of the word as being anywhere near as anthemic as they’re going for – it’s far too lumpy as a word.
“What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” is, sadly, a turd. Well, almost. It tries to do too many things and leans far too close to Lynyrd Skynrd BUT it is – as mentioned – saved by the guest spot. Gary Clark Jr tears through his lead part on this and pulls the song through the muck it dropped itself in. I also love the story of his recording:
…he walked into the studio and didn’t even bring a guitar. He just took one from Pat Smear – Pat hadn’t even played it yet and it still had a tag on it – and does three takes and that’s it. Pat said, “Just fuckin’ keep it.”
Elsewhere; “Outside” – obviousness of guest or not – is a dark, brooding beast that I enjoy everytime. Ben Gibbard’s presence on “Subterranean” is a nice addition but the song is strong in its own right and “I Am A River” is another slow burning build up.
The only real disappointment from me with Sonic Highways is that – again, as a UK resident – I didn’t get to specify the cover on my LP. I got… and I had to actually look it up as I haven’t a clue of this city’s landmark… Austin. Though, given this is the city of the Gary Clark Jr solo I suppose I couldn’t mind despite – obviously – hoping for the Seattle cover.
So, I’m off to find what I can hear of Gary Clark Jr….
Following the Top Five Debut text, I recently texted two of my most music loving, list-compiling friends another simple message: “All time top five second albums?”
Only the one cross-over across the lists (Nevermind popping up on two of the three). Here, however, are mine (in no particular order, that’d be too hard):
Pixies – Doolittle
Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’
In all likelihood still my favourite Dylan album.
Nirvana – Nevermind
Yes, I know; this is such a commercial choice… blah blah. Commercial, sell-out, whatever – the importance of this cannot be denied.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Foo Fighters – The Colour and The Shape
I still don’t think they’ve bettered this. Yes this makes my list a bit Grohl-heavy but what can you do?
The second album is important. A debut album tends to be more of a compilation of songs that the artist has been living / gigging / tinkering with for years prior to a deal. A second finds them more established, a bit more at home with the idea of recording and who they are and building on those foundations laid by the debut. I think….