Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
I spent this past week with the two most recent Foo Fighters albums, but before getting to them I wanted to discuss Dave Grohl’s heavy metal side project, Probot (2004). With Grohl playing nearly all of the instruments, he brought in different guest vocalist to pay tribute to the heavy metal, hardcore & punk bands that inspired him. Although those last two genres aren’t usually what I listen to, I do have an affinity for well-played heavy music, and there’s a lot of that on display here. What’s most impressive is the diversity Grohl displays in his songwriting, instrumentation & production. This could pass for a “various artists” collection instead of the one-dimensional vanity project it might have been. Things begin super heavy with “Centuries Of War” featuring Cronos (from the band Venom). His vocals sound like a more demonic Dave Mustaine (of Megadeth), and there’s a great chorus (“Falling-Calling,” “Screaming-Dreaming,” etc). “Red War,” with Max Cavalera (from Soulfly and Sepultura), has some excellent double kick drumming & splashy cymbals, and a great rhythm with quick stops at the end of each line in the instrumental sections. The music is super dark with screamed vocals (“watchyourback watchyourback…”) and a memorable chorus (“Red war will fall on my enemies”). Lemmy appears on “Shake Your Blood,” a fast punk-influenced song that could pass for Lemmy’s own band, Motörhead. One of my favorites is “Ice Cold Man” featuring Lee Dorian (of Cathedral and Napalm Death) and additional guitar by Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. The Black Sabbath influence is obvious, with downtuned guitars, sneering vocals and eerie guitar harmonies. “Big Sky,” with guttural vocals from Tom G. Warrior (of Celtic Frost and Hellhammer), is dark & pummeling. I love the heavy bass, processed guitar and industrial production. Snake (of Voivod) appears on “Dictatosaurus,” one of the fastest driving songs here with Grohl all over the drum kit. The section with “From now on things are gonna change” is probably the most melodic, almost “pop” section on the whole album.
“My Tortured Soul,” with Eric Wagner (from Trouble), is a ‘70s heavy rock throwback with dense production and an awesome high-pitched chorus (“Oh no, please come for me, for me & my tortured soul”). Album closer “Sweet Dreams” features King Diamond (of Mercyful Fate and solo artist) on possibly my favorite song here. Between the big, booming, splashy drums and the snarling, sneering, operatic vocals, it ticks a lot of my heavy metal boxes. It also has me eager to finally listen to the Mercyful Fate & King Diamond albums I copied from a friend’s CDs several years ago but have yet to play. I believe this was Grohl’s wish for this project: inspiring listeners to check out the artists on display here. The few songs I didn’t mention are all pretty good but didn’t have the same impact on me as those I did. There is, however, an enjoyable hidden track featuring actor (and sometime Tenacious D musician) Jack Black called “I Am The Warlock.” His voice, which is cartoonish but lots of fun, is barely recognizable. Probot isn’t for everyone, and I can imagine many Foo Fighters fans scratching their heads over this music, but I’m really glad I took it off the shelf and decided to include it as part of my reappraisal of the Foo Fighters catalog. It’s not like Grohl needed to prove his musical prowess after so many excellent Foo Fighters records, but this album only enhances his reputation. I hope he releases a follow-up someday.
Carrying on with Foo Fighters, we now arrive at Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007), which reminds me of their third album (There Is Nothing Left To Lose) with its blend of heavy, fast-paced rock, melodic radio-friendly pop and more quiet, introverted tunes. It’s not as consistently great as the first two albums, but at least half of the twelve songs are instant Foo Fighters standards. “Erase/Replace” has a great tom-tom driven rhythm & fuzzy guitars in the verses, a tasty melodic guitar lead, and a sing-along chorus (“We made these promises, Erase, Replace, Erase, Replace”). I especially like the call-and-response “echo” vocals at “Erase, Replace.” “Long Road To Ruin” has that classic Foo Fighters combination of melody, groove & energy, and Grohl’s voice is as inviting as it’s ever been. I found myself immediately singing along with the chorus (“Long road to ruin there in your eyes, under the cold street lights, no tomorrow, no dead end in sight”). The extended intro in “Come Alive” is quiet & pastoral, bordering on British folk, and slowly starts to build after nearly two minutes at “I lay there in the dark, I close my eyes, you saved me the day that you came alive.” Eventually it reaches an anthemic peak, repeating “Come alive” numerous times, and although it’s lyrically repetitive & a bit long, it shifts gears often enough to make it one of their most powerful songs. “Summer’s End” has a midtempo ‘70s rock stomp and is super catchy, especially at “Meet me in the summertime, we can move the air, Sweet Virginia countryside, I will meet you there.”
The highlight of the album for me is “Statues,” with beautiful piano and a weeping guitar sound. At times it had me thinking of Ben Folds, and I absolutely love the chorus (“We’re just ordinary people, you and me; Time will turn us into statues, eventually”). The piano ballad “Home” closes the album. It’s stark & heartbreaking, most notably when he sings, “All I want…is to be home.” The lyrics here provide the album’s title. The other six songs don’t reach the same heights as the ones I’ve mentioned, but there are a few noteworthy tracks. “The Pretender” is one of those huge, anthemic songs they do so well, with Grohl barking, “What if I say I’m not like the others?” There’s an unplugged feel to “Stranger Things Have Happened,” which would be a stronger song if it was edited down a bit. I like the way he switches from subdued vocals to a higher register at “Oh maybe, maybe, maybe I can share it with you.” It also features some great acoustic guitar playing throughout (plucked, strummed and lead). “Cheer Up Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)” is driving, jangly melodic pop, which is a style I love. I would probably like it more if they hadn’t done this type of thing better in the past. There’s a lot to like on this album, and if it’s someone’s first exposure to their music I’m sure they would want to hear more. It’s just not as thrillingly consistent as the first two, but I shouldn’t hold that against such an excellent collection of songs.
Foo Fighters are currently on hiatus, and whenever that happens to a band there’s always going to be speculation that they’ve broken up. If that’s the case (and I hope it’s not), they couldn’t have left us with a better swan song than Wasting Light (2011). At least eight of the eleven songs are among the best they’ve ever done. At this point I assume that Taylor Hawkins does most or all of the drumming on their records, and he really shines throughout the entire album, including the first song, “Bridge Burning.” I love the layered guitars in the intro, and Hawkins’ hi-hat work is superb. It also has a great chorus (“Your bridges are burning down, it’s all coming down”). “Rope” is a monster track that’s tailor made for the radio. It has another killer groove & excellent guitar tones, and Hawkins’ Neil Peart-inspired cymbal work really drives the chorus (“Give me some rope I’m coming loose”). Bob Mould, best known for the bands Hüsker Dü & Sugar, lends his vocal & guitar talents to “Dear Rosemary,” a splashy midtempo rocker with a cool, syncopated groove in the verse. I’m only vaguely familiar with some of Mould’s work, but I do love his debut solo album Workbook, and his distinctive vocals take this song to another level. At the start of “Arlandria,” the vocal & choppy guitar figure remind me of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” although it eventually goes in a different direction. This song has numerous hooks, including the “Hush hush, settle down” section and the amazing chorus (“You are not me, Arlandria…You and what army, Arlandria?”). “These Days” has a great start-stop groove and a super-tight arrangement with the classic Foo Fighters sound at “Easy for you to say, your heart has never been broken.”
I like the subtly propulsive rhythm in “Miss The Misery,” one of the poppier songs here which features guest vocals by Fee Waybill (of The Tubes, an excellent & under-appreciated band). Hawkins’ half-time on the hi-hat & cymbals gives the song a loping feel that sets it apart from the rest of the album. There was a lot of advance chatter about the song “I Should Have Known” when it was revealed that Grohl’s old Nirvana bandmate, Krist Novoselic, would be adding bass & accordion to this track. His rumbling bass line is certainly noteworthy, but there’s so much more to this song. Bob Mould contributes backing vocals, and the unsung star is Jessy Greene, whose lovely violin lines add a unique atmosphere. I love the way it slowly builds and shifts in mood & tempo throughout, and there are a couple of haunting melodies at “Lay your hands on mine, heal me one last time, though I cannot forgive you yet.”
Album closer “Walk” has a chiming guitar figure that reminds me of the Tal Bachman song “She’s So High.” It’s another great song that slowly builds and features plenty of melodic hooks. Lyrically, it’s possible that Grohl was indicating his desire to put the group on ice for a while and start from scratch (“Learning to walk again”; “I think I lost my way”; “Set me free again”). This is an album that’s as tight and concise as any they’ve ever released, and confirms my earlier suspicions that Foo Fighters are most effective when they focus on the short, sharp shock of radio-ready songs, with the occasional change of mood & atmosphere. In my opinion, Wasting Light should be one of the first three Foo Fighters albums in your record collection, along with Foo Fighters and The Colour And The Shape (with honorable mention to the acoustic Disc 2 of In Your Honor).
This was one of the shortest artist catalogs I’ve revisited since I began this blog, but it’s also a very rewarding one. Just three weeks ago, Foo Fighters were a band I liked enough to own all of their albums, but I could probably name only a handful of their songs. I simply hadn’t played them enough, so I was only familiar with their most popular songs. They clearly have a knack for catchy, melodic, driving rock songs, but they also dabble in other styles so the albums never become repetitive. They’re certainly more than the band who have lots of radio hits, a number of Grammy’s and a collection of quirky, self-deprecating music videos. They may never ascend to the level of my favorite artists, but I’m so excited to finally know all of their music. Hopefully by discussing my impressions on their discography while it’s been fresh in my mind, I’ve helped some of my readers to better appreciate their music.