Foo Fighters have been at their strongest tackling misery. 1997’s ‘Everlong’ was written at rock bottom, emerging from frontman Dave Grohl’s struggles both professionally and personally. On two of their most impactful tunes, 2011’s ‘These Days’ and 2002’s Times Like These’, they stare death in the face and fully acknowledge the weight of life. Even their recent Greg Kurstin-produced pop-leaning records have been flecked with uneasy doom; ‘Waiting On A War’, which features on most recent album ‘Medicine At Midnight’ (2020), documents a lifetime spent waiting for annihilation.
The reason those powerful anthems of loss and heartbreak are able to unite stadiums full of strangers, though, is because of the relentless positivity Grohl and the gang have always channelled. From the moment Grohl formed the band in 1994 following the death of his Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain, the Foos have constantly told people that things can, and will, get better.
But their new album ‘But Here We Are’ isn’t so sure. It emerges from the wreckage of two devastating losses. First, the band’s beloved drummer Taylor Hawkins, who passed away suddenly last March while the band were on tour; Grohl’s mother, Virginia, died in August. The record is dedicated to these two constant pillars in his life.
‘But Here We Are’ is the first Foos album where the lyrics came first and the band kept its creation a secret until lead single ‘Rescued’ dropped in April. Grohl plays drums across the album, Kurstin returned to co-produce alongside the band and the only feature is Dave’s 17-year-old daughter, Violet. From beginning to end, it’s a family affair.
Little surprise, then, that it feels like Grohl is singing directly to those he has lost, while other moments are made for addressing packed audiences, united in loss and grief. Through it all, there’s a sense the band aren’t just trying to make sense of this new chapter, but find a way forward. A recent global livestream saw them easing in new touring drummer Josh Freese ahead of a string of festival headline slots in the US this summer.
As you’d expect, there’s a whole lot of heartbreak across ‘But Here We Are’. Stuttering acoustic track ‘The Glass’ sees Grohl speak plainly: “I had a person I love / And just like that, I was left to live without him”. ‘Hearing Voices’ is a gothic, synth-pop number that nods to ‘Everlong’ (“late at night I tell myself nothing this good could last forever”) and gently fades out with Grohl pleading “speak to me, my love”.
It never feels totally miserable, though. The entire record channels the same urgency as 2011’s feral ‘Wasting Light’ with the band searching for noisy catharsis in every track. There are plenty of flamboyant guitar solos, arena-dominating hooks and giddy breakdowns along the way. Lead single ‘Rescued’ is an upbeat, communal rock anthem that feels like it was written with the live show in mind; the surf rock of ‘Under You’ is one of the most immediate songs they’ve ever released: “I think I’m getting over it, but there’s no getting over it,” sings Grohl.
The band aren’t scared of venturing into uncharted territory, either, with ‘Nothing At All’ tapping into a sleek pop groove and ‘Beyond Me’ pulling inspiration from Oasis’ more tender moments. Then there’s ‘Show Me How’, a haunted cut that focuses on the comforting piece of the past. It’s one of the few songs on the album that doesn’t end in a chaotic jam session, with Grohl instead questioning his own mortality. There’s not much in the way of hope but there’s a quiet resilience to the track, underlined by Violet’s warm vocals.
It precedes ‘The Teacher’, a ten-minute epic that shows the group at their most ambitious. An ethereal opening sees Grohl gently singing “I can feel what others do / Can’t stop this if I wanted to”, perhaps explaining his motivation for making this album, before entering familiar rock‘n’roll territory. A bombastic breakdown and lyrics wrestle with escapism, leading into a gorgeous final third that pulls heavy influence from The Cure to soundtrack a moment of clarity. “Try and make good with the air that’s left / Counting every minute, living breath by breath,” sings Grohl before an almighty noise jam that sounds like the end of the world, screams of “goodbye” and sudden calm.
Then we get ‘Rest’, a stripped back acoustic song that’s so raw, it feels more like a demo. With Grohl singing the tender words, instead of belting them out, the simple song couldn’t be more different than the stadium epics that have come before it. “Waking up, I had another dream of us / In the warm Virginia sun, there I will meet you,” he whispers, ending the album with a final flicker of resolute positivity.
‘But Here We Are’ is a beautiful, noisy celebration of brotherhood and a stark, painful exploration of loss. It is messy, gut-wrenching, ambitious and gorgeous, as the remaining members of Foo Fighters push themselves to their limits and beyond. Through it all, ‘But Here We Are’ is an undeniable reminder of the healing, unifying power of music.
- Release date: June 2, 2023
- Record label: Roswell Records