Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Foo Fighters But Here We Are


Foo Fighters were never, ever going to break up. Dave Grohl is a rock ‘n’ roll lifer and a perpetual motion machine; it is virtually impossible to imagine him ending the band he started as a solo project in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide nearly three decades ago, even after the death of another bandmate, one who had become crucial to the essence of Foo Fighters. When Taylor Hawkins passed away suddenly last year, his fellow Foos mourned him in epic fashion, bringing together all-star lineups in London and Los Angeles to honor the late, legendary drummer. Clearly, those tributes would not mark the end of the group that has become one of the last world-conquering rock bands standing, the one that stuck together through decades of music industry changes, the one that led the charge back into live music once COVID restrictions were lifted. Obviously there would be a new album, and obviously it would reckon with Hawkins’ death. The only question was whether it would be any good.

It is. Take it from somebody who hasn’t been invested in new Foo Fighters music in a very long time. I fell in love with the band upon seeing the “I’ll Stick Around” video in 1995 (it rocks so hard and is still maybe their best song), took 1997’s The Colour And The Shape like a comically oversized slap to the face (in the best way), and found a lot to like about 1999’s Nothing Left To Lose. As I descended into indie-rock snobbery in the new millennium, those old records held up, but aside from a handful of crackling hits like “Best Of You” and “All My Life,” latter day Foo Fighters struck me as a bit boilerplate. I’ve logged time with the group’s last few albums but haven’t felt much of anything, and I was afraid that I would respond to Grohl’s heartfelt outpouring here with a similar indifference. Fortunately, no awkward “meh” is necessary. But Here We Are is Foo Fighters’ most vital, least obligatory-sounding record in years. Taylor Hawkins would be proud.

Despite the return of producer-to-the-stars Greg Kurstin, Grohl’s Hanukkah concert buddy, Foo Fighters are promoting the new LP as a return to the sonic “naiveté” of their self-titled debut — which Grohl wrote and recorded by himself (save for one Greg Dulli guitar part that Dulli doesn’t remember recording) — while acknowledging that this material is “informed by decades of maturity and depth.” Listening to these songs, that marketing jargon makes some kind of sense. While never quite getting back to that initial purity of vision, the raw and personal feeling that imbued his earliest Foo Fighters tracks, But Here We Are is the closest Grohl has come. It sounds very much like the Foo Fighters of today — a firmly entrenched institution comprising veteran rock ‘n’ roll pros — catching a wave of inspiration similar to the one that possessed Grohl back in the mid ’90s.

The circumstances are certainly parallel. Then, like now, Grohl was reeling from the death of a bandmate. The difference is But Here We Are addresses that loss head-on, stopping just short of identifying Hawkins by name. Most or all of its 10 songs deal directly with the grieving process. Even “Nothing At All,” which at first struck me as strictly about a chaotic romance (“Wouldn’t it be dangerous/ If nothing was restraining us?”), frames the relationship as both a confounding factor and a redemptive force that “pulled me off the ledge.”

Most of the other songs are a lot more explicitly about the aftermath of abruptly losing your close friend. Grohl begins the opening track and lead single “Rescued” by announcing, “It came in a flash/ It came out of nowhere/ It happened so fast/ And then it was over.” On subsequent single “Under You” he laments, “Someone said I’ll never see your face again/ Part of me just can’t believe it’s true.” Similar sentiments keep piling up: “I’ve been hearing voices/ None of them are you”; “I had a vision of you/ And just like that/ I was left to live without it”; “Where are you now? Who will show me how?” Some of these moments are deeply moving, like when Grohl assures Hawkins, “I’ll take care of everything,” on “Show Me How,” infusing one of the album’s least engaging musical offerings with a jolt of sharp emotion. (Guest vocals from Grohl’s daughter Violet also punch up the track a bit.)

Throughout the album, the soundtrack for these reflections is the kind of straightforward, crowd-pleasing arena rock Foo Fighters have always specialized in, largely devoid of left turns but reinvigorated nonetheless. It’s what happens when loud, catchy, radio-friendly rock music is buoyed by tangible passion, when what could have been rote instead plays out as pleasingly familiar. The singles have been strong — “Rescued” a proper anthem, “Under You” a Jawbreaker-esque power-pop gem — and the rest of the record mostly maintains that quality. Foo Fighters’ sadness comes through, but the album is too fleet-footed to be maudlin or morose. It doesn’t blow me away like those first two LPs, but it targets those same pleasure centers with an impressive hit rate.

Often Grohl seems to be channeling old favorites from the classic rock canon, filtering them through the sparkling, bombastic Foo Fighters template. The aforementioned “Nothing At All” matches spunky new wave verses a la Elvis Costello or the Knack with a gargantuan post-grunge chorus straight from Grohl’s wheelhouse. “Hearing Voices” conjures a midtempo minor-key vibe that reminds me of the Cure. “Beyond Me” is a vintage FM-radio power ballad with a guitar solo in the mold of Brian May. “The Glass” boasts a melody worthy of Grohl’s friend and hero Paul McCartney, and maybe Alex Chilton too. Along the way, he strikes a signature balance between agile beauty and searing screams, reminding us that Foo Fighters wouldn’t have scaled such heights if he wasn’t such a capable vocalist.

But Here We Are ends with a pair of epics. The linear 10-minute odyssey “The Teacher” holds down the penultimate slot, sending us through waves of pensive quiet and thunderous clatter in lieu of a standard verse-chorus-verse. It builds toward Grohl’s resolution to “Try and make good with the air that’s left/ Counting every minute/ Living breath by breath” and climaxes in a guttural “Goodbye!” set to some of the most tumultuous drumming on the album. (Grohl has implied, but not confirmed, that it’s him behind the kit rather than new Foos drummer Josh Freese.) Then comes “Rest,” the grand finale, which begins with Grohl in solo acoustic lullaby mode before exploding into sort of a slowcore/doom metal hymn. “Rest/ You can rest now,” he howls. “Rest/ You can be safe now.”

None of these maneuvers seem forced or inauthentic, but there is a sense in which they feel preordained, as if Grohl and friends are following a script for rock ‘n’ roll mourners. That’s not so surprising coming from a band that has long since embraced the concept of ritual. Sometime in the 21st century Foo Fighters emerged as the platonic ideal of a 20th century rock band, true believers keeping alive the flame for a version of rock stardom that doesn’t really exist anymore. In 2023, you’re coming to these guys for rock’s familiar thrills, for the time-honored traditions of the genre. But Here We Are applies those same comforts to the universal experience of grief, lending fresh purpose and vigor to tropes that otherwise might feel stale. A lot of people are going to find catharsis singing along to these songs, and they’ll wonder if anything could ever be this real forever. The sober truth is that it cannot, but as long as they’re able, Foo Fighters will not stop trying to make you feel that good again.

But Here We Are is out 6/2 on Roswell/RCA.

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