October 4, 2007

Record Review: Foo Fighters (3/3)

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Formed from the ashes of Nirvana, named after a quirky WWII term for “mysterious aerial phenomenon,” and sporting one of the most recognizable frontmen in recent rock history (Dave Grohl), the Foo Fighters have all the makings of rock legends. It is just a shame that their generic nature will always be holding them back.
Despite having forged a solid portfolio of singles throughout the years in addition to creating an electric stage persona, it has been difficult for them to shed their well-deserved mundane studio stigma. As their mediocre albums One by One and In Your Honor have proven, ennui and complacency are fast becoming defining characteristics of the Foo Fighters.
Hoping to break out of this rut, the Foo Fighters enlisted the help of British rock producer Gil Norton (most noted for his work with alternative rock darlings the Pixies). Having already produced the Fighter’s stellar second album The Colour and the Shape, the Fighters hoped that his guidance could help their sixth studio album, Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace, sparking a hopeful return to their fundamental post-grunge roots.
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace commences strongly and aggressively with the lead single “The Pretender.” After a slowly arpeggiated introduction of minor chords coupled with Dave Grohl’s mournful muted vocals, the song dissolves into a full-fledged riff-heavy rocker . Grohl’s anthemic anti-charlatan chorus holds the song together, as he inquisitively bellows, “What if I say I’m not like the others? / What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?”
“The Pretender” stands out on this front loaded album, as it is one of the few times that the Foo Fighters do not seem to be restraining themselves in terms of scope or grandeur on Echoes.
The next couple of songs follow the classic Foo formula, as “Let It Die” and “Erase/Replace” both feature Taylor Hawkins’ (and additional musician Drew Hester’s) explosive drumming on top of standard reverb drenched rock music. The Foo Fighters do decide to branch out a little from their comfort zone with the bittersweet sounding country pop of “Summer’s End.”
The “Ballad of Beaconsfield Miners” is another interesting sonic experiment, owing a lot of its magic to some deftly fingerpicked bluegrass guitar work, providing a fitting tribute to some of the Foo’s biggest fans down under on the Australian island of Tasmania. However, not everything on Echoes is so interesting, and many of the songs tend to blur into each other. Then there are the songs that seem to have just gone completely awry.
“Statues” is the Foos’ foray into classic rock that ends up being a piano centered catastrophe. Though Grohl’s distinct vocals shine, his songwriting proves to be too disastrous to ignore. On top of a melody that would not be out of place on a School House Rock! educational short, “Statues” is filled with unimaginative banal imagery of “flying on broken wings” in a situation that is “both heaven and hell.” The result is a song that is a flash-bang of clichés leaving the listener dazed, disoriented and disgusted.
Thankfully, they manage to redeem themselves for their poor Zeppelin simulacrum on the next song, the more sincere “But, Honestly.” The song’s humble acoustic guitar chords and pristine production help to provide a smooth close for the end of the album. Grohl shares vocal duties for the second time in the Foo Fighters’ history (the other previous instance being a duet with Norah Jones on In Your Honor’s “Virginia Moon”) as drummer Taylor Hawkins chimes in on the earnest chorus. Hawkins’ contributions really help the song shine as it descends into a furiously paced pentatonic freak-out, with the intricate guitar work providing a satisfying coda.
It is unfair, of course, to have to even exist underneath Nirvana’s imposing shadow; but it should be expected that that the Foo Fighters could avoid some awkwardly paced, terribly contrived and mind-numbingly-generic rock songs, and inject some passion back into their sound. They will certainly need to do something to stop themselves from careening dangerously towards Nickelback-levels of predictability, lest they leave fans longing for the days of “Everlong.”