This is going to be a new regular feature I’ll be trying out, looking at veteran bands through their albums. Any feedback – positive or negative – would be appreciated! I’ll leave you to your reading now.
Q. What was the last thing the drummer said before he got fired?
A. “Hey guys, let’s try these songs I wrote!”
Drummers have a reputation as being the least appreciated members of a band. Their job isn’t as glamorous as the singer or as awe inspiring as the guitarist. Even their own fans often don’t know their names. They’re the butt of countless jokes – for example, John Lennon was once asked whether Ringo was the best drummer in the world. John replied he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.
However, if there’s one drummer who can be said to have made it big, it’s Dave Grohl. He went from playing in Kurt Cobain’s shadow to the driving force of one of the biggest bands in the world, the Foo Fighters. For nearly 20 years now, they’ve represented alternative rock on the world stage. Their winning combination of quiet, melodic verses followed by thrashing choruses owes a fair bit to Nirvana, but they’ve matured over the years and showed they can deliver a range of different styles.
Foo Fighters (1995) – The Solo One
Dave Grohl had spent his time in Nirvana (working on their classic Nevermind and In Utero albums) in awe of Kurt Cobain. He had recorded some demos in his own time, but after the singer’s tragic death, he decided to take the plunge and record an entire album. Foo Fighters was basically a one-man band at this point; Grohl did all vocals, guitar, bass and drums himself. Although it was only meant to be an experiment, it quickly attracted interest. Songs like ‘This is a Call’ showed Grohl already had a good idea what the band would be about. It was cleaner than Nirvana’s grunge, and more willing to embrace rousing, upbeat choruses. The only part that marks it out as from their early career is the nonsense lyrics. With this success under his belt, Grohl quickly assembled a band to play live and set about recording a follow-up.
The Colour and the Shape (1997) – The One Everyone’s Heard
The Colour and the Shape was almost an embarrassment of riches as far as singles went. It includes Monkey Wrench, My Hero and Everlong, all of which went on to become instantly-recognisable rock anthems. It resisted the temptation to mine the profitable garage-rock genre and created hard yet melodic rock. The lyrics were more focused too, based around Grohl’s recent divorce. “And I wonder, when I sing along with you, if anything will ever be this real forever; if anything could ever be this good again,” he sings on Everlong, longing for something even as it slips away. It wasn’t just the singles that were hits though; delve deeper into it and songs like February Stars and Walking after You show the band’s more tender side. It’s truly one of the most influential albums in modern rock, and one that you’ll never be afraid to stick in the CD player at parties.
There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999) – The One That’s More of the Same
For most albums, ‘more of the same’ would be an insult, but effectively making The Colour and the Shape Part II is no mean feat. After leaving their label, the band retired to Grohl’s house in Virginia and simply recorded whenever they felt like it. Without studio pressure, they were free to strip songs down even more, giving it a looser, poppier feel. The track list contains gems like Learn to Fly and Generator. It was also their most consistent effort, and the first one that sounds like a cohesive album.
One by One – (2002) – The One that Nearly Wasn’t
Soon after finishing the touring, the band went back to the studio. They nearly finished an album but discarded it instead, and went on side-projects. (Grohl toured with Queens of the Stone Age, which is probably the coolest thing anyone’s ever done to get away from work.) They returned reinvigorated and recorded their darkest, yet most polished album yet. Grohl was still improving as a song writer, and the constantly shifting roster band members led to a constant infusion of new ideas. Strangely, the album is best known for Times Like These, a wistful, emotionally honest pop song with killer riffs, a big departure from the rest of the album.
In Your Honour (2005) – The Schizophrenic One
What do you do when you run out of ways to reconcile two conflicting parts of something? The answer, if you’re Dave Grohl, is to separate them and push them both to the extreme. Like oil and water, In Your Honour separated the band’s garage rock side and its softer acoustic one onto different sides of a double album. The trouble was their music was made by contrasting the two, keeping the listener off-guard. (Just listen to Everlong for a perfect example.) The first disc managed to conjure up a few good melodies and channel their rage, but the second was extremely one-dimensional. If you don’t like Grohl crooning over an acoustic guitar, you might as well toss it away. The best song, Resolve, manages to marry both sides well. So full marks for an interesting concept, but being obliged to record ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ songs to fill out the track list doesn’t lead to the most inspired music.
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007) – The One That Started Well…
After the last album’s experimental structure, the Foo Fighters wisely decided to reunite both halves of their musical repertoire, but something was still missing. The first couple of songs are as lively as ever, particularly the slow build up to screaming on both the Pretender and Let it Die. However, after the halfway mark (or track five if you want to be picky), the usual precision and passion takes a nose dive. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s missing as none of the songs besides a sense of enjoying themselves. The only actually bad song is Home, a song so cold and detatched, the lyrics could have been written by a computer. It won a Grammy just because it was the Foo Fighters, but you’ll be hard pressed to listen to it all the way through.
Wasting Light (2011) – The Comeback One
With the longest gap yet between, many Foo Fighters fans began questioning themselves. Is this the end? Do we even want them to continue? Is Nirvana relevant anymore? However, the only question the band asked themselves was Do we care what anyone thinks? Concluding the answer was no, they recruited producer Butch Vig of Nevermind fame and Nirvana’s old guitarist, Krist Novoselic, then proceeded to not give a fuck and have as much fun as they could in the studio. It was rawer, heavier, and wilder than anything they’d done before. It was deliberately recorded with older equipment in garages and computer-free studios, then tested on crackly speakers. Some fans complained they had pushed the heavy sound too far; stadium audiences disagree as soon as Walk or Rope came on.
TBC (2014) – The Next One
All we know about the next album so far is that they are well into recording it and that Grohl has said it’s different to anything the band’s done before. Butch Vig is rumoured to be back, suggesting it will be another heavy album. By this stage, the band can’t have much left to prove. Grohl has come from being ‘the second drummer in Nirvana’ to one of the most respected names in rock with a world-class band at his back. Whatever direction they choose, it’ll be because they want to make the best album possible rather than chasing sales, and that’s an exciting position to be in.