Foo Fighters Find Greatness in Grief on But Here We Are: Review

The post Foo Fighters Find Greatness in Grief on But Here We Are: Review appeared first on Consequence.

In one of Foo Fighters’ greatest creations, “Times Like These,” Dave Grohl wrote about the band’s jagged and uncertain future. At its core is a message of acceptance, that our darkest moments can somehow be paired with grace, and the bad things that happen to us can give our lives meaning.

On But Here We Are, Foo Fighters’ eleventh album and their first after the 2022 death of Taylor Hawkins, Grohl is actively wrestling with this idea. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we learn to live and love again in the face of consuming pain. Maybe none of it matters.

Not only has the band been very publicly mourning the death of Hawkins, Grohl has been quietly mourning the death of his mother, Virginia Grohl, and while there has been no official announcement, But Here We Are arrives with a heartfelt dedication to both his bandmate and his mom. Throughout the album, Grohl ruminates on grief and the messages we tell ourselves — the storm will pass, nothing good lasts forever, everything we love will grow old — but none of it seems to stick.

So Grohl turns toward his bandmates and his family. He doesn’t have any answers or even any quotable nuggets of wisdom. He’s frequently mired in the trauma of’ death and the aftermath. The band doesn’t overcompensate with synths or dance beats or a trio of bluesy backing vocalists. They huddle close together and play, they play loudly, with anger and passion and confusion and desperation. It’s the best Foo Fighters album since the turn of the millennium.

Before Hawkins’ death, Foo Fighters were not quite running out of steam, but their overall creativity was stretching thin. 2017’s Concrete and Gold and 2021’s Medicine At Midnight found the band stuck in the middle, expanding their sound only in ways that still felt comfortable and safe, never really challenging what a Foo Fighters song could be. It was the sound of a band who knew that their dedicated fanbase wouldn’t bat an eye. They’d still sell out arenas and garner radio play, their legacy cemented and unchallenged.

Obviously, they’re now a different band. The stakes have changed, the mission altered. But Here We Are is partly a eulogy for those they’ve lost, but it’s also a reminder of this group’s potential. Many of the songs hearken back to Foo Fighters’ second and third albums, 1997’s The Colour and Shape and 1999’s There Is Nothing Left To Lose with sour, grungy guitar chords, more atmosphere in the production, and a tension between Grohl sounding deflated and impassioned.

Lead single “Rescued” finds Grohl in “passion mode,” but he seems to hit his most manic state in the verses and pre-chorus, arriving at the climax as he shrieks “Is this happening now?!” He then rather unexpectedly shifts down a full octave for the chorus. Where Grohl would once design his melodies to escalate, like in “The Pretender” or “Something from Nothing,” he does the opposite on “Rescued,” creating a lopsided feeling that seems to echo Grohl’s emotional state.

Upon its release, “Rescued” seemed to suggest that Foo Fighters were going back to their rock and roll basics, but there are many moments on But Here We Are that take their now-established sound in a totally different direction. They embrace dream pop on the brilliant “Show Me How,” a highlight that features Grohl’s daughter, Violet, on vocals. In an album with such knotty emotions and devastating reflections, it feels jarring to hear a song so serene from Foo Fighters in 2023; it’s what they’d sound like in an alternate universe if they’d stuck to the understated malaise of The Colour and Shape and There Is Nothing Left To Lose instead of becoming the visceral, cards-on-the-table rock band we know them as today.

Including Violet Grohl on “Show Me How” also adds a beautiful layer of context. Dave seems to be reassuring both his family and himself as he sings “I’ll take care of everything,” a reference to the burden he’s carried, while Violet seems to be reassuring her father with her delicate, comforting harmonies. It’s presumably about the loss of Grohl’s mother, made all the more impactful with his daughter huddled close behind him, caught between clarity and confusion, internal war and peace.

And then there’s the penultimate 10-minute odyssey, “The Teacher,” which finds Foo Fighters sounding more threatening and uncertain than they have in 25 years. As the band finishes the first chorus, Grohl repeats, “Wake up” over and over, eventually building to a full-throated roar. His immediacy and pain is evident with each cry, taking us to his most challenging and traumatic moment.

Over the following 5 minutes, the song completely unravels, with Grohl remarking in the aftermath “You showed me how to breathe but never showed me how to say goodbye.” The band once again escalates, the guitars displaced within the time signature, Grohl’s drumming going almost completely off the rails. “Goodbye,” he bellows, before a bitcrushed ending surrounds the band in a consuming sea of white noise. It’s a thrilling, almost shocking song from Foo Fighters. It feels remarkable that after all of this time, this is what they’re capable of.

But Here We Are is littered with moments like these. Foo Fighters were never a band with that many sonic rules, but if they did exist, none of them matter anymore. With this album, Foo Fighters could have easily returned with a barnstorming, life-affirming record, or they could have done the opposite with an introverted, funeral-esque eulogy. But Here We Are is neither; or rather, it’s caught between both minds.

By this metric, But Here We Are certainly isn’t the most cohesive Foo Fighters album. “Under You” and “Nothing at All” are still down-the-middle Foo Fighters songs, and feel slightly out of place given the more experimental structures and challenging songwriting. But even so, the latter track features some illuminating lines about the all-or-nothing nature of healing and grief, and its full-throttle chorus melody is certainly catchy. The heartland rocker “The Glass” is a bit alien to the rest of the album, but directly references Grohl’s intertwined relationship with Hawkins, likening their friendship to a mirror. “The Glass” also hits at Grohl’s grand question: How can I still be here and you’re gone?

That existential quandary is also at the core of the album’s blistering title track. In its 7/4 time signature, it feels like Foo Fighters’ answer to “Times Like These.” “I gave you my heart/ But here we are/ Saved you my heart/ But here we are,” Grohl howls at the top of his range, bewildered with every phrase. This time, there’s an acknowledgment towards the need for acceptance, but a clear fixation on the futility of all. You can love with your whole heart or push people away to protect yourself, but it all ends the same way. You can spend 30 years of your career coming to terms with indescribable loss, and then it happens again.

And yet, Dave Grohl is still here. Foo Fighters are still here. Sometimes, existence is enough. It’s a bit of cruel irony that in the face of so much adversity, the band has somehow managed to helm their most creative and compelling album in over 20 years. It may be hard for the band to recognize it, but believe it or not, Foo Fighters are learning to live again.

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Foo Fighters Find Greatness in Grief on But Here We Are: Review
Paolo Ragusa

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