Rob Watches Movies

Reviews of every film I watch. The Good, The Bad and The Mothman Prophecies.

Foo Fighters – A Retrospective (Part 1)

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Foo Fighters 7.5/10
From the ashes of Nirvana came the first Foo Fighters album. Recorded exclusively by Grohl himself (save for a guitar part on ‘X-Static’ provided by Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli) and only six months following the death of Kurt Cobain. Foo Fighters is a focused and upbeat effort which strives for catharsis about Kurt’s tragic suicide by focusing on the music itself rather than reflection. The lyrics throughout this album are pretty meaningless (‘fingernails are pretty, fingernails are good’ Grohl proclaims on opening track ‘This is a Call’) but the songs themselves are well crafted and passionately performed. Despite Grohl playing every instrument on the album, the sparse and raw production somehow makes the Foo’s eponymous debut feel like a band playing live for which Grohl and fellow producer Barrett Jones deserve infinite credit.

The opening three tracks are a statement of intent for Grohl being as they were the three singles released from this album. This is a Call sounds exactly as you would expect a song with that title to sound, I’ll Stick Around comes raring out of the tracks and is the closest we get to Grohl’s previous band and also to the Seattle grunge scene in general. Big Me is the biggest nod to the more melodic, softer band that Foo Fighters would become and is also an album highlight with its Lemonheads jingly jangly guitar. The rest of the album is very solid if a little too similar in style. Good Grief has a brilliantly catchy riff running through it and Oh, George is the most underrated Foo’s song on this album and possibly overall but Foo Fighters runs out of steam a bit towards the end with more nonsense lyrics (For All The Cows) and two forgettable if spirited efforts as album closers (Wattershed, Exhausted). Whilst being a phenomenal debut given the circumstances it is difficult to see how the Foo Fighters became one of the biggest bands on the world on the strength of this record.

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The Colour and the Shape – 9/10
The beauty of any art form is subjectivity. If we all agreed on everything the great pub debates would be a thing of the past. The great thing about subjectivity is sometimes you can find yourself with an opinion that absolutely nobody seems to share. It is with this in mind that I continue my Foo’s retrospective with the admission that The Colour and the Shape contains my favourite Foo Fighters song and it is not My Hero, Monkeywrench or even Everlong.
The pounding drum intro, the earworm of a riff and for me the moment that Grohl took his second most famous band from grunge offshoot to full blown rock & roll band destined for arenas and world domination.

Hey Johnny Park really is a breathtaking and atmospheric moment and in an era when the charts were dominated by boybands and britpop a timely reminder that there will always be a place for rock music. The fact that it wasn’t even a single (Grohl preferred the aforementioned tracks plus the pretty but far inferior Walking After You) shows how strong an album Foo Fighters sophomore record really was.

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Beginning the album with a taste of things to come and indication of quality is the blink and you’ll miss it Doll followed by massive single Monkey Wrench and Hey Johnny Park. It is a struggle to think of an album leading with three stronger songs. Then comes the only stinker on the record My Poor Brain which is so Foo’s by numbers that it could be filler on any of their other albums. From there though it is all killer with the twin epics Everlong and February Stars, the Paul McCartney inspired jaunt See You, the killer bassline running through Enough Space, the brilliantly catchy Up In Arms, the list goes on.
The Colour and the Shape also marks the moment that the Foo Fighters became an actual band with the recruitment of Sunny Day Real Estate’s Nate Mendal on bass and occasional Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear. This, plus Pixies producer Gil Norton, help to flesh out Foo Fighters second outing and along with Grohl actually singing about things happening in his life rather than cows result in a vintage rock & roll album.
When people talk about classic albums of the nineties The Colour and the Shape absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Automatic for the People, Definitely Maybe and yes even Nevermind. Foo Fighters would never better it and if you only listen to one Foo’s album, make it this one.

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There is Nothing Left to Lose 7/10
Foo Fighters third marks the moment where Grohl & co pretty much stopped experimenting. They had found a winning formulae that would stay as the Foo’s blueprint thereafter. That is not to say There is Nothing Left to Lose is a band resting on their laurels, far from it. Lead single Learn to Fly seems to polarize Foo’s fans due to it veering uncomfortably close to U2 territory but as a thirteen year old who had just been blown away by hearing Nirvana, Learn to Fly was the song that introduced me to the Foo Fighters and I still love it to this day. My personal favourite song from There is Nothing Left to Lose however is furiously heavy opener Stacked Actors (apparently written as an angry response to Courtney Love well… just doing what Courtney Love does) but Learn to Fly runs it close as does other massive singles Breakout and Next Year.

Pat Smear leaving citing exhaustion is significant but even worse is the loss of Grohl on drums. While Taylor Hawkins is a brilliant drummer who definitely enhanced the Foo’s as a live band, pretty much anyone would be a step down from Grohl in the studio.

Producer Adam Kasper brings a mechanical, soulless element to both this and its successor One by One which leads to a polished but heartless sound especially on songs such as Gimme Stitches and Generator. Away from the massive singles though there are some hidden gems on this album. Ain’t it the Life is a song that can only be described as lovely stuff and M.I.A closes the album with nearly as much quality as opener Stacked Actors.

There isn’t really a bad song on There is Nothing Left to Lose but there is also nothing to match the best moments of The Colour and The Shape or the first album. This third record helped to propel Foo Fighters into the heavyweight division of rock music but it should be nobody’s favourite album.

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One by One 5/10
When listening to any artists volume of work back to back there is always one album that you struggle to get through. One by One was that album for me. Despite containing two of Foo’s biggest hits in All My Life and the hugely overrated radio friendly unit shifter Times Like These there is little to get excited about on the Foo’s fourth LP. Grohl himself would later comment ‘four of the songs were good, and the other seven I never played again in my life’.
Alarm bells were ringing when the first version of One by One was scrapped completely after Grohl said the recording sessions ‘sucked the life out of the songs’ and this feels like a record for the sake of it with not much focus or passion at any stage. Disenchanted Lullaby is one of the bands most boring and meandering songs and even the haunting Tired of You outstays it’s welcome running at over five minutes. The fact that I had to listen to closing four tracks Lonely As You, Overdrive, Burn Away and Come Back three times before giving up on finding anything interesting to write about is an indication of the lack of ideas inherent throughout One by One.

This was the moment where loads of people, including myself, stopped caring about Foo Fighters for a while.

Read part 2 here.

2 Comments

  1. Very interesting, this has made me realise there are SO many Foos songs I’ve never even heard of. I look forward to part 2!

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