After meandering, rock royalty returns to form
In my early teens, my musical tastes were mostly geared toward Pearl Jam, Nirvana and anyone remotely associated with either band. This was partly out of legitimate musical interest and largely out of adolescent fanatic devotion. So naturally, when Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder said he was going to play some of ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s self-recorded, self-composed, one-man-band demos on a pirate radio show in early 1995, I was all ears. But I had no idea how refreshingly powerful the music would be.
I remember hearing the song “Exhausted,” and being entranced (thank God I’d recorded it so I could listen ad nauseam until this and the other demo tracks were remixed and released as the Foo Fighters’ eponymous debut. The guitar riffs during the chorus were Helmet-worthy. The vocals were soft and the melody mysterious. Grohl was still unabashedly bashing his drum kit. And I had yet to hear My Bloody Valentine, so I was unaware a distorted guitar could sound so simultaneously trashy and beautiful.
Over the last 12 years, the impact and energy of Grohl’s music has matured into something that’s still exciting, and that spans far more musical ground than I ever expected when I ?rst heard those guitar parts ripping out of my stereo. I’ll admit that I was worried we’d already heard the ?nest the Foo Fighters had to offer by the time their last record—the half-loud, half-soft In Your Honor—was released. While there were a few solid tunes and some interesting textures on the album, it felt a bit more like a self-indulgent exercise in songwriting than a truly interesting album. Pigeonholing your songs into either “rock band” or “unplugged” styles leaves no room for hybrids. Plus, the sheer number of songs on the double-disc makes the whole thing a bit hard to digest. I ?nd myself choosing other Foo Fighters discs to listen to rather than choosing one or the other from that set.
Thankfully, the band has discarded the rules for Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. Recorded in Grohl’s newly relocated Virginia studio, the record sounds lush and epic, with a variety of genres and sounds all peeking their heads through the band’s established heavy-melodic-rock sound. There are mellow, intimate tunes and amps-to-11 anthems alike, and plenty that split the difference.
The album’s opening one-two punch, “The Pretender” and “Let It Die,” makes it clear that, even though the band’s last tour was an acoustic one, we shouldn’t expect it to give up on gutsy arena-shakers. Grohl still plays the role of acoustic balladeer on “Stranger Things Have Happened,” much the way he did on the second half of In Your Honor, as well as other acoustic renditions from the Foos’ catalog. It works, but not as well as album closer “Home,” in which 88 keys replace the six strings that are more within Grohl’s comfort zone. While crooning “All I want is to be home,” the seasoned rocker sounds honestly re?ective, his voice less perfect and, as a result, more genuine.
Among the more surprising material on the record is speed-pickin’ bluegrass instrumental “Ballad of the Beacons?eld Miners.” Grohl wrote the tune for the Tasmanian miners who were trapped in a collapse in May 2006. One of the two surviving men had reportedly requested some of the Foo Fighters’ music, and Grohl sent a note to them before their eventual rescue offering concert tickets and drinks. One of the men apparently took him up on his offer, and Grohl wrote the song as a tribute. The recording features him and guitar heroine Kaki King blazing through this welcome, if unexpected, nugget of Americana.
Some of the album’s best tunes are those that don’t ?t into easy categories. “Summer’s End” employs the strong pop songwriting devices that have landed countless Foo Fighters songs on the radio, and yet it’s one of the twangiest songs the band has recorded. Both “Come Alive” and “But, Honestly” start as acoustic numbers and gradually build into some of the album’s more frantic rockers.
During the chorus of the “The Pretender,” Grohl asks, “What if I say I will never surrender?” in his signature Big Rock Voice. Well Dave, since you’re still able to crank out a solid rock album after ?rst capturing my 13-year-old ears more than a decade ago, I, for one, believe you.