Foo Fighters Week

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 14 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend, as we bring “Foo Fighters Week” to a close…

Fulfilling our need to have a #longread specifically on the Foo Fighters, Consequence of Sound takes a look at the career of Dave Grohl for their FACES retrospective.

Speaking of the Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl came up in the music controversy of the week, as the industry deals with the fallout of Taylor Swift pulling her music from Spotify.  First, I’d recommend reading this letter from songwriter Aloe Blacc which illustrates how the Spotify business model shortchanges artists, and then taking a look to see that pop artists aren’t the only ones concerned about the streaming service.  Dave Grohl, as per his usual, gave his own opinion on Spotify, which of course was only half-reported in headlines around the internet (the qualifier “But I can understand how other people would object to that” changes the tenor of his response).  Of course, as the frontman of a band that CAN sell out Wembley, he’s in a different spot than a lot of other musicians, so I’d weigh his sentiments with only a grain of salt.

For some reason, I feel this is the right weekend to finally getting around to reading an extended essay on Billy Joel from the New Yorker.

It may be hard for some of our younger readers to believe, but there was a time when Ice Cube was a legitimate musician, but one of the most feared rappers on the planet!  Relive those years at least for a little bit (or experience them for the first time, if that’s the case) with this AV Club look back to his landmark album The Predator.

And finally, with Pink Floyd releasing their first album in decades this week with The Endless River, Pitchfork takes the opportunity to explore the unexpected connection between the prog rock of Floyd and the evolution of punk and other independent music.

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.

Essential Classics: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape

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 close look at their most beloved album, The Colour and the Shape.

Last week, one of my friends suggested to me that despite its initial popularity, The Colour and the Shape is “criminally under-appreciated today.”  After spending some time contemplating the proposition, I wrote that I agreed with his assessment, while expanding on his point and making some minor modifications.  I think most people would agree that it’s a very good album, but I also believe that a majority of those fans wouldn’t even begin to consider TCATS a “classic” or one of the best albums of the 90’s.

I would contend that there are a few reasons that The Colour and the Shape is not held up in the same regard as other classic albums of the era.  First, the fact that the Foo Fighters are not only a still-functioning band, but have continued to be one of the most successful rock bands of the past two decades, works against them in this case.  This prevents an appropriate distance from the album from being formed, so that we as an audience can stand back and reflect on its merits.  The Foos have churned out a fairly consistent product over time, with good-to-very-good albums released every few years; there hasn’t been a need for fans to ask “hey, when are these guys going to get back to the formula of The Colour and the Shape” or for critics to say with each review “THIS is their best album since TCATS!” as they do with every Pearl Jam release since No Code.  Fans today aren’t rediscovering the bands early work that they missed the first time around like they would with Pavement or the Pixies, as they just get caught up in the normal album cycle; the anticipation that builds up when a band may potentially reunite doesn’t create the same fervor for their early work as a normal album progression does.

And with Dave Grohl’s status as the Unofficial Mascot of Rock, even when the band takes time between album releases, their frontman is never far from the public’s consciousness.  He’s the modern guy that musicians from all eras and genres call up, from living legends to standouts from the underground,* so we’re always hearing about him teaming up with this guy on this record or performing with those guys on that show.  And in an era where there are fewer and fewer rock stars, he’s a consistent source for quotes and interviews–if Gene Simmons says something stupid about the state of rock, you’re damn sure Grohl will have a rebuttal.

This leads into a secondary issue that leads to people underrating The Colour and the Shape, and that it is a mainstream rock record.  It’s not an underground classic waiting to be discovered (most everyone has heard the Big Singles from this album; at the very least “Everlong” was definitely featured at every single one of your middle school dances), so it doesn’t evoke a need in its fans to proclaim its greatness.  Nor is it an album that will blow your mind with its experimental take on different genres or change your attitude as to what actually constitutes “music”, so there is no need to argue with detractors that “They just don’t get it, man.”  I highly doubt that musicians would point to it as a highly influential record, beyond stating that they may have been really big fans; if there’s one takeaway to be had from TCATS, it would probably be that you can have songs with big hooks without being dumb, so maybe it was an inspiration for some in that regard.  But there’s nothing exciting in being a person that cites The Colour and the Shape as a classic, especially as mainstream rock is caught between two competing trends in critical thought–that there is merit to pop music, as long as it isn’t rock, and that the best rock music is the stuff isn’t popular.**  By sticking up for TCATS, you’re begging people to say, “Congratulations, you’re praising a record that went double-platinum and enjoy hearing when it comes on the radio.  Have a cookie.”

Fine, I’ll take that cookie.

The Colour and the Shape is a brilliant guitar album, first and foremost: it’s packed with memorable riffs and great hooks, and guitars dominate the songs from beginning to end, whether they are electric or acoustic.  Fans immediately remember that huge descending riff from “Monkey Wrench”, the delicate strums of “Everlong”, and that killer melody from “My Hero” when reminiscing about the album.  Even the deeper cuts are defined by their guitars, from the arena-rock-ready lines “Hey, Johnny Park!” to the sugary-sweet melody of “Up In Arms”.  But while these parts are so catchy that they sound easy, there’s a greater layer of complexity to these guitar parts than your standard garage-rock/bar-band fare.  The Foos often use unique chords or uncommon voicings, altering your expectations just enough that you can’t predict a progression the first time you hear it but done in a manner that’s not so jarring that it affects your attention.

There is another area which shows the technical expertise of the record when you dig in a little deeper.  The Colour and the Shape is a Drop-D album that doesn’t succumb to the laziness that is often inherent in the technique.  Usually, down-tuning the bottom string invites guitarists to simply crank out a riff and then let the tuning give it a superficial depth, since they can easily turn a single-line melody into a chord by simply pressing one finger over multiple strings (though guitarists deserve credit if they use this convenience to write more intricate riffs than they would otherwise–then Drop-D is used appropriately).  Instead, the band uses that tuning to create bigger-sounding chords, using the entire width of the neck and allowing for more individual voices to be heard and more complex melodic lines within a chord progression, and also to create unique chords in and of themselves, as in “Everlong”.  The progression itself is not particularly complex, but by using the Drop-D it creates a more unusual and novel chord for each step of the phrase.  That means when your roommate picks it out on his acoustic that it is not nearly as impressive as Grohl writing the progression in the first place, but good on roomie for trying to impress the audience with a great song.

The album is known to the masses for its big singles, and rightfully so.  “Monkey Wrench” was a furious introduction as the lead single, and you can instantly connect with the anger and passion of the band’s performance, especially that all-shouted third verse.  “My Hero” with its thunderous and epic intro was the perfect soundtrack to movie climaxes and sporting events, and its simple message of praising the ordinary heroes among us is one we can all recognize.  And of course, there’s the monumental “Everlong”, which remains one of the totemic songs of the past twenty years.  Even stripped down to its barest elements, just a hushed voice and a delicate guitar, one can feel the power of all the emotions associated that come with the experiences of first love, from the anticipation to the anxiety and everything in between (if the acoustic version has one flaw, is that it cuts out the fantastic bridge from the original electric version, but it’s a forgivable omission).  I’m sure someone in the past decade has paired it with My Morning Jacket’s “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2” on a mixtape, and if they haven’t, I want to alert you that you’re missing a golden opportunity.

(I would also like to take a moment to praise the Michel Gondry-directed video, which in addition to being excellent and unforgettable, also is one of the few music videos that extends the song instead of cutting it short, making one wish that the band actually add an extra chorus to the end.)

But the true strength of the album is in its deeper cuts, the songs between the tentpoles that defined the album.  As mentioned above, there’s “Hey, Johnny Park!” with its huge riffs and its gleeful willingness to toss in all sorts of goofy rock tricks, like slides up and down the neck and amusing manipulations (the effect used for the bridge being the most easily identifiable example), and “Up In Arms” with its catchy melody and the way that it inverts the seriousness of its intro by cranking up the volume and repeating everything in double-time.  Then there are other fun tracks throughout that stay fresh after all these years, like the pounding “Wind Up” and “Enough Space” or the gentle bounce of “See You” or the delicate ballad “Walking After You”.  But the true standout that all fans of the album would point to is “February Stars”, a song that should immediately rectify any prior misgivings that one may have had about the term “power ballad”.  It earns its huge final chorus, and the band makes sure not to waste any of it by piling on layers and layers of guitars playing big, thick chords.

It’s not perfect, and I have a few minor quibbles–I’d end “Doll” on the sustained chord instead of resolving it, so as to build tension and use it as a true intro to “Monkey Wrench”, and I’d slide “February Stars” behind “Walking After You”, to provide a more natural trilogy with “Everlong”, creating a better flow between each of the songs as well.  But these trivial issues aside, it’s an otherwise unimpeachable record.  It’s at its base a simple rock record, just a few guys on guitars, bass, drums, and vocals, but it never feels limited by those potential constraints.  And while it may be known for many of its quiet and sweet moments, there is still an edge to the album, and the Foos are never afraid to let loose and crank the distortion up.  In that context, The Colour and the Shape shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere mainstream rock record, but should be praised as a quintessential example of the form.  It’s not merely a good record, but an all-time great album.

*Just consider that Dave Grohl performed in a band with John Paul Jones (Them Crooked Vultures) AND with Paul McCartney, as well as .  He’s the musical equivalent of Kevin Bacon–you’ll connect him with anyone from the past fifty years in less than six steps.

**That’s not to say that we here don’t tend to prefer less-mainstream fare, but instead that just because it’s obscure it doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because it’s popular, it doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I Saw Them Live! Memories From a Foo Fighters Show

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 reminisce about a favorite concert memory from a Foo Fighters show.

I’ve seen the Foo Fighters live a couple of times over the years, and each time they put on a great show.  I have to give a lot of credit to a band that’s willing to make a stop in Salem instead of skipping over it just to play Portland, even if it means that they have to perform in the footlocker known as the Armory.  That show in particular will always have a special place in my memory as it was the day after my friends and I graduated from high school, and we had one last party together before breaking off for the summer and going our separate ways to different colleges.

But it’s a different concert that’s the focus of our new feature, one the Foos played a couple of years later up in Portland.  Before the show, I had read an interview that Dave Grohl did for Rolling Stone magazine, and he had mentioned that one of the things that he was most appreciative of after ten years of touring with the Foo Fighters was the fact that people in the crowd had stopped throwing Mentos at the band.  If you are unaware of the reason why this was a common occurrence, then you need to take two minutes and watch the video for “Big Me”, helpfully embedded above.  It is well worth your time.  Of course, being the young knuckleheads that we were, my friends and I decided to take this as a challenge, and made sure to purchase rolls of Mentos before the show.  Was it to prove that we were true fans, dating back to the earliest days of the group, or was it just because we were assholes?  The truth, as always, lay somewhere in between.

Our initial plan was to of course wait to see if on the off chance the band decided to play “Big Me”, then we would unleash hell and launch our supply of Mentos at the band.  As the set went on, we were pleased to enjoy a number of the Foos’ greatest hits as well as their hilarious stage banter, but we soon began to get antsy about releasing our payload.  The band was reaching the end of its set, and the three of us reached a consensus that we would start tossing Mentos if the band played anything off their debut album.  The problem was that at this point there were far too many songs off their subsequent releases that required their attention, so there was no guarantee that we would have our opportunity.  The Foos reached their encore, and we weren’t sure how much longer the show would go on, so we decided to start our assault during “Breakout”.

I began tossing individual Mentos as soon as the song started, as did one of my other friends.  Unfortunately, we were just a bit too far away from the stage (we did not have any interest in engaging in any sorts of mosh-pit behavior, so we kept our distance), and our volleys were not reaching the stage.  Nonetheless, we kept picking our spots and tossing candies when an opening developed.  However, one of our friends kept waiting for an opportunity before deciding to strike.  Now, I should tell you that this friend will soon be referred to as “Dr.” due to his eventual completion of his Ph.D. in Physics, so he had a better plan of attack than us.  While my friend and I were encountering the problem of wind resistance as tossed individual candies at the band, our friend quickly solved the problem by refusing to toss individual candies, but instead giving a heave of the entire stick of Mentos at once.

My friend, despite possessing only a small percentage of the average arm strength of an adult male, managed to hit Dave Grohl in the shoulder with his stick of Mentos.

Dave of course was surprised at being hit by the unknown object, and mouthed the words “What the fuck?” as he looked around the stage to see what had struck him.  It took him a second, but he identified the object, and gave a quick chuckle as he continued playing the guitar.  He then reached down, picked up the stick of Mentos and…proceeded to use it as a slide during the bridge of “Breakout”.

It was an unbelievable combination of coincidences, but our juvenile escapades resulted in a truly unforgettable concert moment.  The rest of the audience probably had no idea exactly what it was that Dave Grohl had in his hand that he was using to run up and down the neck of his guitar, but the three of us certainly did.  It could not have gone better if we had planned it.

The Foo Fighters then finished the set with “Monkey Wrench” and it was awesome.

Over the Weekend (Nov. 10 Edition)

New music, videos, and other fun as we prepare for “Foo Fighters Week”…

The Foo Fighters are released their eighth studio album today, Sonic Highways, and we’ll be running features on the band all week long.  To help get you into the spirit, SPIN has provided a ranking of all 147 Foo Fighters songs, including covers and soundtrack selections.  As with all lists, this one has its fair share of faults, including a weird affinity for the band’s weakest effort (Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace), dismissal of some of their best recent work in Wasting Light, and an unfortunate-but-expected disdain for tracks from One By One, and ranks “Hey, Johnny Park!” at least thirty spots too low.  On the other hand, it does provide the proper reverence for deep cuts like “A320” and “February Stars”, so we’ll take the good with the bad.  And though we have most of these Foo Fighters singles, including several obscure ones, this list did inform us of the existence of this performance with Serj Tankian of the Dead Kennedys’ classic, “Holiday In Cambodia”.

Aphex Twin recently sat down for an extensive interview with Dan Noyze, and not only that, provided a number of outtakes and and fragments made during the making of Syro.

Hutch Harris from local favorites The Thermals sat down with Late Night Action recently, and talked about subjects including the band’s early recording methods as well as the band’s personal involvement with their merchandise.  It’s always fun to listen to Hutch, so watch when you can.

Here’s an excellent list of “Songs You’ll Never Hear on a Sufjan Stevens Album”.

We’ve mentioned Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler’s upcoming side-project before, but now we have a bit more info about Big Noble.  They’ve also provided a video of one of their songs, which is a nice combination of Kessler’s crystalline guitar with intriguing soundscapes.

Mark Ronson is going to be the musical guest on SNL in a couple of weeks, and to get an idea of where he’s at, he recently released one of the songs he wrote with Tame Imapala’s Kevin Parker, and the result is something that sounds a bit like MGMT.

We’re looking forward to the second album from Father John Misty, since Fear Fun was such an excellent debut; plus we need an additional enticement to go see Josh Tillman’s stage show once again.  I Love You, Honeybear will be released next February, but last week FJM performed on Letterman the new track “Bored In The USA”, and it was fantastic.

Cults performed in Austin, and Pitchfork was there.  That should be enough to get you to click the link.

And because we’ve spent the entire weekend pondering the philosophical conundrum that comes with “too many cooks”, we’ll ride that out the rest of the week and post the video here.