When Dave Grohl first stepped into Shoreline’s Robert Lang Studios in October 1994, still reeling from the death of his Nirvana band mate Kurt Cobain some six months earlier, he surely couldn’t of even dreamt of what the future had in store for his music career.
Even now on the 25th anniversary of the release of Foo Fighters‘ self-titled debut album, he’s probably still trying to figure it all out. Namely how, after causing a pop culture cyclone with the grunge heroes, he’s somehow managed to outstrip the massive success of Nirvana with his subsequent band (commercially speaking, at least).
To mark that special milestone, here’s NME‘s ranking of the Foo Fighters’ nine albums to date in order of greatness.
9‘One By One’ (2002)
This was disappointing, coming as it did mere weeks after Dave and his merry men rose to the challenge of their inaugural Reading/Leeds headline slots in frighteningly fine style. Yeah, that scratchy intro to ‘All My Life’ can still send shivers down the spine, but after a handful of decent singles, this one rapidly runs out of steam halfway through. A record borne out of lengthy, troubled writing and recording sessions, Dave has since claimed that “four of the songs were good, and the other seven I never played again in my life”. Oh well: done, done and onto the next one…
8‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’ (2007)
It may be the record that elevated them to two sold-out nights at Wembley Stadium, but ‘ESP&G’ is a rather over-polished affair that sees the Foos cruising on autopilot. Dave sounds tired on ‘Let It Die’ and almost ready to doze off on ‘Stranger Things Have Happened’ – the latter an utterly forgettable acoustic number – and ‘Cheer Up Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running)’ isn’t half as unique as its title. Singles ‘The Pretender’ and ‘Long Road To Ruin’ manage to impress, but in general it feels like the Foos are running out of ideas, having attempted to mesh their louder and mellower sides and fallen awkwardly in between.
7‘In Your Honour’ (2005)
Here we see Foo Fighters fall into the classic double-album trap; namely, of not having enough genuinely great songs to go the distance. By this point in the band’s career, most would agree that the Foos are better when rocking out than when Dave gets all cosy with an acoustic guitar, so listening to the ‘rock’ and ‘acoustic’ CDs back to back is rather like following an exhilarating water-skiing session with a lengthy poetry reading from your instructor. ‘No Way Back’ and ‘The Sign’ still rank amongst the band’s best efforts, and overall there’s a good album in here somewhere… but you’ll have to search for it.
6‘Sonic Highways’ (2014)
‘Sonic Highways’ initially seemed like the perfect proposition: eight songs recorded in eight different US cities, each influenced by the rich musical history of its location, from Nashville to Seattle. Handily for the Foos, it also made for a great TV show — but, as for the album itself, the fact that it had been recorded in eight different cities didn’t really seem to affect the songs at all other than in their lyrics. So as a guidebook to America’s musical history, it’s not much good — but that’s not to say it’s a complete disappointment. There’s plenty of Grohl-powered, stadium-rattling rock, and on final track ‘I Am A River’, recorded in New York, things turn misty-eyed and widescreen for a genuinely gratifying finish.
5‘Concrete and Gold’ (2017)
Having remained determinedly apolitical throughout their career, here was the closest thing possible to Foo Fighters sticking it to the main man on Capitol Hill. Arriving less than a year after Donald Trump’s shock election, it is, by Grohl’s own admission, an album borne out of “hope and desperation”. The lyrics might remain as subtle as ever, but there’s a palpable anger as they deliver some of the most furious tracks of their career. ‘Run’ sees Grohl and co. trading safe arena rock for a thunderous stomper, while ‘The Line’ explores the importance of hope in Trump’s America: “we fight for our lives ’cause everything’s on the line,” Grohl doggedly growls. It’s a subtle proclamation, but one that saw the Foos showing off a new and unexpectedly relevant voice as they headed into a new era.
4‘Wasting Light’ (2011)
There’s a sense of déjà-vu to this record; partly due to the slightly rawer sound (Dave insisted on using analogue recording equipment), but also due to former guitarist Pat Smear’s return to the ranks. Whatever it is, it worked: ‘Wasting Light’ saw the Foos sounding hungrier and more fired-up than they have in over a decade, with Dave turning in his most deranged scream since ‘Enough Space’ on ‘White Limo’. Elsewhere, the stop-start riff of ‘Rope’ and the chugging, melodic power-pop of ‘Arlandria’ rank among the highlights of a record made by a veteran band who seemingly rediscovered the simple joys of setting up, plugging in and rocking out like bastards. Here’s hoping they don’t lose that fire again.
3‘There is Nothing Left To Lose’ (1999)
This is no great departure from ‘The Colour And The Shape’, but that’s no great problem when you consider that Dave and co’s songwriting Midas touch is still mightily effective. The (allegedly) Courtney Love-baiting ‘Stacked Actors’ seems custom-built for huge crowds of people bouncing up and down at festivals, ‘Generator’ is punchy, melodic pop-rock par excellence, and they serve up what is arguably their best ballad to date in ‘Next Year’. As an added bonus, the band further indulge their penchant for amusing videos in the ‘Learn To Fly’ promo (in which Dave plays six different people, Foo fact fans!).
2‘Foo Fighters’ (1995)
It’s 1995, and whilst Britpop reigns supreme in the UK, US airwaves are awash with third-rate grunge copyists, all inviting us to share in their PAIN. (Anyone remember Canadian rockers Moist? No? Lucky you.) But what’s this? It’s former Nirvana sticksman Dave Grohl, flying out from behind the drumkit in his Superman suit, armed with some seriously addictive tunes. Essentially a one-man band at this stage, ‘Foo Fighters’’ strength lies in how damn vital and adrenalised it sounds; Dave’s been sitting on these songs for some time, y’see, and it must feel good to finally let them loose. Certainly, the jangly ‘Big Me’ is the antithesis of anything on ‘In Utero’. Rough around the edges for sure, but an impressive first salvo.
1‘The Colour and The Shape’ (1997)
Many would argue that if you’ve never swooned along to ‘Everlong’, pogoed yourself silly to ‘Enough Space’ or nearly lost your voice whilst trying to out-scream Dave on the “OnelastthingbeforeIquit…” bridge of the all-conquering ‘Monkey Wrench’, then you’re not a true Foos fan. They’re probably right. Foos’ first full band effort was a more polished affair than the debut, but really ‘TCATS’ is all about the songs — many of which are arguably now hardwired into the DNA of rock fans of a certain age. If we’re being pedantic, ‘See You’ and the sentimental ‘Walking After You’ are hardly essential Foos fare, but it speaks volumes that ‘TCATS’ was their first album to receive the 10-year anniversary reissue treatment. 23 years later, they’ve yet to better it.