A Foo Fighter: A World War II term used to refer to mysterious aerial phenomena.
Here's what usually happens when a band's leader dies. The other members go on TV and talk about their fallen partner - what a tragedy - a misunderstood soul - a loss for the world. They may even write a book about the experience. If they're lucky and talented, they might land regular session work. The surviving members rarely do anything significant. Almost never do they become the leader of their own highly successful group.
Following Kurt Cobain's death and the demise of Nirvana, drummer David Grohl looked like a perfect candidate for the session route since bassist Krist Novoselic was handling the remembrances. Grohl, a multi-talent musician had other ideas. Locking himself away he recorded the entire Foo Fighters' debut except for one guitar track contributed by Afghan Wig Greg Dulli (great trivia question: What was the song? Answer: "X-Static"). That's about as close as you can get to a solo project. But Grohl wanted a group, especially for touring. Bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith joined. Guitarist Pat Smear who toured with Nirvana also got the call. This edition hit the road as "This Is A Call" blasted across the airwaves along with the retro-sounding "Big Me."
A group effort, "The Colour & The Shape" followed with wall of sound guitars, blistering drums and "just about to break" vocals. During "The Colour & The Shape" sessions, tracks were tossed and re-recorded. Goldsmith decided to move on. Rumors claimed he was ousted or not happy that his work was scrapped or not up for the coming tour. Take your pick. Grohl ended up playing drums on the CD with Taylor Hawkins taking over on the road.
Smear decided to leave and was briefly replaced by Grohl's former pre-Nirvana band mate, Franz Stahl. He was around for one tour and a song on the "Godzilla" soundtrack ("A320").
'99 saw the release of "There's Nothing Left To Lose," which was recorded in the basement studio of Grohl's Virginia home. At this point Grohl took some time off to play drums on Queens Of The Stone Age album "Songs For The Deaf." That experience led to his touring with the group. Grohl also unleashed the Death Metal "Probot" CD.
Once these side projects were out of his system Grohl and the Foo Fighters recorded "One By One." The album earned three Grammy nominations with "All My Life" winning for Best Hard Rock Performance. Three years later, '05, the group released the double CD "In Your Honor." One disc was Rock and the other acoustic. That was followed by an acoustic tour in '06. The end result was the November release "Skin & Bones" the group's first live CD. It featured "A" material, "My Hero" and "Big Me," as well as lesser know tracks, such as the Nirvana B-side "Marigold." Recorded over three nights at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, the group got additional help from Smear and former Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffe. A two-disc DVD followed a few weeks later.
With producer Gil Norton (who was also in the booth for "The Colour & The Shape"), the Foo Fighters stretched a bit yet maintained their core sound on "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace." "The album… sounds like a Foo Fighters album, but it's definitely moving in a few different directions," said Grohl. "It's cool man, I love it." Following the sessions, the Foo Fighters participated in Live Aid (the London edition). Also, Smear signed up for the band's summer tour.
During the '07 MTV Video Music Awards the Foo Fighters were holed up in a Vegas hotel suite with System Of A Down's Serj Tankian; Josh Homme and Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens Of The Stone Age; and Mastodon. During cut-aways in the Vegas originated program, the Foos and Tankian performed a cover of Dead Kennedys' "Holiday In Cambodia" and played the first single from "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace," "The Pretender." That same month (September), the album was released as "The Pretender" rolled out an incredible 18-week run at #1 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.
"Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace" also resonated with Grammy voters. The album won the Rock Album award at the '08 ceremony while "The Pretender" earned the Hard Rock Performance award.
In a presidential campaign where Republican nominee John McCain had already been roundly criticized by Heart, John Mellencamp, Van Halen and Jackson Browne for unauthorized use of their songs, the Foo Fighters took issue with the candidate's use of their '98 hit "My Hero" during his '08 campaign without the band's permission. "It's frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property," said a Foo Fighters' statement. "We hope that the McCain campaign will do the right thing and stop using our song."
On a more pleasant note, the Warren, OH, city council passed a resolution to change the city's Market Alley to David Grohl Alley, in honor of the locally grown Foo Fighters frontman. Grohl and company then vaulted to the White House lawn where they headlined an '09 Independence Day barbecue in front of a crowd that included President Obama, wounded military personnel and their families. "It's an honor to be playing here for you people," said Grohl.
The Foo Fighters next project was a greatest hits album that featured a pair of new tracks produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana), "Word Forward" and "Wheels." Simply titled "Greatest Hits," the set contained "Everlong," "Monkey Wrench," "Learn To Fly" and "Best Of You."
Communication is probably just as important to a band's success as creativity. And four or five people who record and tour together tend to form a strong bond. But despite that, there are still some awkward moments.
As work began on the Foo Fighter's seventh studio album, "Wasting Light," Smear, who left in '97, was reinstalled as an official member - after being part of the touring line-up since '06. Of course, no one bothered to notify Smear's eventual replacement, Chris Shifflett. He initially found the situation "difficult." But it got resolved quickly.
The return of Smear was not the only resurrection of the past. Vig was recruited to produce the Foo Fighter's seventh album. But the process got off to an unexpected start.
"He opened up his garage door and went, 'I want to record the record in here'," Vig said of Grohl. "And I said, 'Uh, OK ... "
"I want the record to sound rawer and somewhat imperfect," Grohl told Vig. "As good as we play, that's how good the record will sound." Grohl also insisted that the group record without computers.
It was like "old home week" when Noveselic contributed bass lines to "I Should Have Known." "Dave and I were sipping on some wine, and Krist started drinking some bootleg whiskey, and it was great . . . One story would lead to another story, and it was an amazing experience, just to be there, to open up all these things you may have forgotten about," said Vig.
A month before "Wasting Light" came out the Foo Fighters played two shows that raised over $1 million for victims of the Australian floods and New Zealand earthquakes. The show at the Auckland Town Hall was followed five days later by a performance at the Riverstage in central Brisbane. "The Foo Fighters were determined to help New Zealand and Australia in the aftermath of these terrible disasters," commented charity show organizer Michael Gudinski.
Also prior to the album's release, the band played a surprise sold-out show at Velvet Jones, a small club in Santa Barbara, that Grohl promoted via Twitter. The concert, which featured new material, included "Rope," the album's lead single.
"Wasting Light" went to #1 on the U.K.'s Album Chart. The album ended Soul star Adele's eleven week hold on the top spot. It was the Foo Fighters third U.K. chart topper. The other two were '02's "One By One" and '07's "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace."
"Wasting Light" was also nominated for Album of the Year for the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. In addition, the band was up for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance ("White Limo"), Best Rock Performance ("Walk"), Best Rock Album ("Wasting Light"), Best Rock Song ("Walk") and Best Long Form Video (Foo Fighters: Back and Forth).
Grohl, known for his sense of humor, found a semi-musical project to follow "Wasting Light." He served as the executive producer for a half-hour comedy series starring comedian Dana Gould. The premise was a Rock band on the verge of stardom that goes into therapy to keep from breaking up. Unfortunately, the band ends up with a misanthropic couples' therapist on the brink of divorce.
1995 Foo Fighters
1997 The Colour & The Shape
1999 There Is Nothing Left to Lose
2002 One By One
2005 In Your Honor
2007 Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
2011 Wasting Light
"In Your Honor" has the Foo Fighters roaring out of the gate with chord driven songs. The title track and "No Way Back" ("No way back from here but I don't care") are the kind of dense, blistering Rock that is the Foo Fighters' stock and trade. "D.O.A." roars beneath ragged vocals while "The Last Song" is both bitter and fierce as Ghorl belts out "the last song I will dedicate to you." "End Over End" is a lean, economical Rocker with a great hook. Surprisingly, "The Deepest Blues Are Black," a ballad turned Grunge, is a captivating "tribute" to Grohl's former band. A second disc features acoustic songs. It's nice but hardly necessary.
David Grohl has gone a long way to be remembered for more than just being Nirvana's drummer. The virtual solo debut "Foo Fighters" ranges from the Hard Rockin' "This Is A Call" to the acoustic flavored Rock of "Big Me."
"The Colour & The Shape" has "Monkey Wrench," which made the first dent, but the opening track "Doll," "Everlong" and "My Poor Brain" also hit the mark. "My Hero," is obviously the best track.
"There's Nothing Left To Lose" doesn't have the intensity of the previous efforts. The dreamy "M.I.A." and the wistful "Ain't It The Life" are the most memorable tracks. Overall, it's still a strong CD but not up to the first album's level. "One By One" returns the Foo Fighters to their Hard Rock core and they are far better for it. "Times Like These (One-Way Motorway)," "All My Life" and "Have It All" are among the gems.
Skin & Bones: There are a few valid reasons for recording a live acoustic album:
a) Nirvana's unplugged session (of which Grohl was a major part) was a huge success and burnished the group's reputation.
b) Increase the group's fan base. People that normally wouldn't listen to the group get drawn in (and separated from a few bucks - and who knows, they may become fans)
c) Desperate need for a "pop hit."
d) Fans can grasp the lyrics (this can be a double-edged sword).
e) Trying to preserve what's left of a musician's hearing while still earning a living.
f) Getting too old to Rock.
It's probably safe to assume that "a" and a little bit of "d" are the reason for "Skin & Bones." The Foo Fighters have had pop hits (and survived), their fan base is enormous, and Grohl is not that old (or deaf).
For "Skin & Bones," the Foos not only render their songs acoustic but slow them down as well. "My Hero" is well served (and yes, the lyrics are clear and do matter) but the arrangement of "Over And Out" makes it sound like "self-pity turned into a song." "Big Me" which was acoustic to begin with becomes a ballad but still retains its appeal. The Folk sounding "Next To You," the dreamy "February Stars" and "Everlong" score. On "Best Of You," Grohl shouts out the lyrics nearly channeling Roger Daltrey. But the set's highpoint is "Cold Day In The Sun." The tune has more energy than any other track and that's a big plus. With the accordion and acoustic instruments it sounds like a John Mellencamp track back when he was in his roots-Americana phase.
While "Skin & Bones," and for that matter, the second "In Your Honor" disc are pleasant, these acoustic diversions are just that - pseudo side projects. Time to get back to the core sound. Unfortunately, their next album, "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace," though solid, isn't quite there.
By the time a group has released a half-dozen albums there is a tendency to repackage past glories or deliver an album based on a once successful template. The Foo Fighters' lean toward the former on "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace."
They've done blistering post-Grunge (which Grohl comes by honestly), power-pop, acoustic based Rock and even going unplugged. This album has it all.
With help from former member Pat Smear and the Wallflowers' Rami Jaffe, Grohl and company are intense and hard-charging on "The Pretender," the post-Grunge "Erase/Replace" and the Glam-Metal "Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)." As a counter-balance, there are the ballads, "Come Alive" and "Home." And taking things all they way down Gohl does a solo acoustic turn on "Stranger Things Have Happened." The Foos cover the middle ground with the mainstream tracks, "Long Road To Ruin" and the Folk-influenced "Summer's End." Talk about touching all the bases. Of course, there are some bases nobody asked to be covered. "Statues" takes a cut at a Billy Joel ballad. It's not bad for what it is, but it is what it is.
Seven albums in and it's business as usual. And business is great. There's no B.S., no fuss, no pretentiousness or arty statements on "Wasting Light." Tuneful melodies, lethal hooks, a propulsive rhythm section and unrestrained guitars dominate. Punk ("White Limo") and touches of Rush ("These Days") and The Who ("The Rope") show up but otherwise it's classic Foo Fighters. The only complaint is "I Shown Have Known." Two-thirds of Nirvana are in the room and all they can come up with is a ballad? Small point - 10 brilliant songs out of 11 ain't bad.