The Foo Fighters File

With the release of their eighth studio album Sonic Highways this week, Rust Is Just Right is celebrating with a week devoted to the Foo Fighters.  Today, we take a look over their discography.

Foo Fighters.  By now, most people are familiar with the story behind the first Foo Fighters album.  In the aftermath of the unfortunate end of Nirvana, Dave Grohl recorded an album’s worth of material (playing nearly all the music and instruments himself), passing around the demo to various friends.  Some of the songs were old ideas that were tossed around during the Nirvana era and earlier, with a few more written during the recording process.  Though it was moButre of a personal passion project and not initially intended to be a full-fledged solo album, it eventually caught the attention of record labels, and Grohl created a band to perform the songs.

But one doesn’t need to know the history of the album to enjoy its pleasures.  Knowing the modest circumstances helps explain the less-professional recording style to the uninformed, but divorced from that knowledge one can enjoy the album as one of the most accessible lo-fi albums of the era.  Looking back, one can see that Foo Fighters has more in common with a Sebadoh album than a lot of the rock music being produced in the mid-90’s, but it was catchy and dynamic enough to have a broader appeal.  One could see Dave’s punk roots poking through the edges, as well as the lessons in songcraft that he learned from his time in Nirvana, and it added up to a side project that had enough legs to sustain a second career.  It’s amazing that the album holds up as well as it does nearly twenty years later, even beyond the big hits like “This Is A Call”, “I’ll Stick Around”, and “Big Me”.  I’m still holding out hope that one day the guys will see fit to include “For All The Cows” in their set once again.

The Colour and the Shape.  I believe we covered this pretty thoroughly yesterday, but I’ll reiterate that this is clearly the high-water mark for the band.  Not only that, but it provided a lot of the musical template that would come to define the Foo Fighters sound, though sometimes in more subtle ways than one might expect.

There Is Nothing Left To Lose.  “Everlong” may have cemented the Foos among rock royalty, but it was “Learn To Fly” that got endless plays on both the radio and MTV, thanks to its goofy video.  In many ways it’s a more upbeat and relaxed record, with gorgeous ballads like “Aurora” and “Next Year” fitting comfortably with moderate fun rockers like “Breakout” and “Generator”.  Nate Mendel has some nifty basslines scattered over the course of the album, marking some of his most important contributions and really fleshing out the fact that this is now a group.  But it’s the ultra-aggressive opener “Stacked Actors”, with its groovy Drop-A riff that threatens to blow the bass out of your speakers, that leaves the greatest impression on me.

One By One.  There are few concert memories that I remember as fondly as seeing the Foos open with “All My Life”: standing ten feet away from Dave Grohl, backlit by sparse lighting during his palm-muted intro, followed by sharp bursts of spotlights once the full band entered the fray, and culminating with a dramatic banner-drop during the final chorus, all the while feeling the sensation of floating as the crowd packed in so tightly and moving along with the music.  It’s a feeling that will never diminish no matter how many times I hear the song.  That may explain why I hold the album in higher regard than many other fans, but I simply think that it’s a much more consistent effort than TINLTL.  “Times Like These” is one of those rocker/ballad hybrids that the Foo Fighters do so well, and though its main riffs employ some unusual chords, the band makes it sound like a timeless pop record.  While some people complain about the deliberate second half of the album, I believe that the band keeps the music interesting enough and pushing in different directions to keep my attention.  Also, it should be mentioned that it’s kind of amazing that “Tired Of You” was used for a pivotal scene in a Chris Rock movie.

In Your Honor.  This is where we first see the Foo Fighters show some real ambition, and how they look to classic rock for inspiration with a tried-and-true maneuver of established acts: the double-album.  The hook was that there would be one heavy rocking disc and another softer disc of ballads (instead of allowing for a more natural flow within the course of an album’s running time), but as is usually the case, there simply wasn’t enough material to justify the gambit.  This was especially true of the second disc, as the Foos overestimated their ability to produce ballads on such a large scale, though it did lead to interesting experiments like “Razor” and “Virgina Moon” (the latter with Norah Jones).  But the first disc does contain some of their biggest and best rockers, like the epic title track and the titanic “Best Of You”.

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.  Probably the weakest entry in the entire Foo Fighters catalog, which is strange because it isn’t necessarily a bad record.  It’s just that there is so much that feels so inessential, with few songs calling out for repeated listens, either out of joy or even spite (before doing the research for this write-up, it had been three years since I listened to the album).  It leaves only a superficial impression on the listener’s mind, even though it’s a beautifully produced record that sounds great on the home stereo where you can bring out all the different voices (especially the strings).  That said, “The Pretender” was a fucking great song.

Wasting Light.  After taking some time off after Echoes to do stuff like release a Greatest Hits record, one would think that the Foo Fighters were comfortable heading into the twilight era of their career, but they surprised everyone with the ferocious Wasting Light.  It had been years since they played with such fury and passion, as the band seemed to fully embrace the idea of “getting back to the garage.”  With Pat Smear now fully back in the fold, the band composed songs that actually required three guitars, with fantastic results.  It’s amazing that the band made the process seem so natural, as there’s never a moment on the record that feels like that this is an “old guys trying to rock again” kind of deal; we can just accept that these guys can still bang out something like “White Limo” with no questions asked.  Though I’d claim that the album contains some of the weakest lyrics of the band’s career, to tell the truth, that never really was a primary concern I had with the band, so I can let it slide.  I’m just content to see that the band still is full of verve after all these years.

We’ll see where Sonic Highways fits in with the rest of the catalog, but considering the touring-the-country gimmick that came along with the making of the album, I have my suspicions it will be similar to their In Your Honor period, and that the band’s reach may exceed their grasp once again.  But I can at least commend the band for continuing to push in new directions and constantly searching for new inspiration, and we’ll see if I’m correct soon enough.

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