It’s a cliché, but Dave Grohl really is rock’s nicest man. This writer has met him only once, at a festival, for a total of 73 seconds, but the rest of our weekend was that much brighter for the experience. Which is what makes reviewing a new Foo Fighters album so difficult. Tarnishing Grohl’s good name is like setting about a sack of kittens with a hammer or urinating on an old lady from a great height: it just feels wrong. Which is fine when the Foos are at their muscular, crowd-pleasing, stadia-filling best, but rather frustrating when Grohl’s pearly whites bite off more than even he can chew, like on 2005’s half-electric, half-acoustic double album ‘In Your Honor’ – a record grandiose in concept, mammoth in undertaking, and underwhelming in end result.
Musically, ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’, the Foo Fighters’ sixth studio album, is what that album should have been: half as long and a near-seamless amalgam of the Foos’ musical yin and yang – the tender moments of glorious, Wonder Years-esque melody and the stereo-buggering, equine-frightening RAWK. But, discounting the fact that we wish he was our dad, is it actually any good?
Fuckin’ A, it is. ‘The Pretender’ opens proceedings with the kind of gnarled and gutsy rock’n’roll bravado we’ve come to expect from lead Foo Fighters singles (‘All My Life’, ‘The Best Of You’ et al). After you get past its deceptively slinky acoustic prologue, it sounds like a slab of pulsating raw meat torn from the still-twitching body of a freshly-slaughtered ox. This is as bloody and primal as major-label stadium rock is allowed to get, and it’s brilliant.
‘Let It Die’ is even better. Almost a perfect 50/50, acoustic-electric, angelic-vitriolic split, it’s a microcosm of what ‘In Your Honor’ tried to be. “A simple man and his blushing bride/Intravenous, intertwined” coos Dave over a rambling, folksy riff before unleashing his distortion pedal and giving it some proper accusatory, throat-shredding, serial killer welly. It’ll atomise you.
Balance is the watchword; between Grohl’s inner beast and unabashed romantic, between the piston-armed skin-beater who fuelled the best Queens Of The Stone Age album and the gosh-darn dad who played his unborn baby Beatles records in the womb. Case in point: the near-emo histrionic howling on ‘Erase, Replace’ sits so comfortably next to the chiming, dust-worn 70s’ rock workout ‘Long Road To Ruin’ that it defies logic.
There’s a genuinely heartwarming story about the genesis of ‘The Ballad Of The Beaconsfield Miners’, too – a gentle, spiraling instrumental acoustic interlude that crops up unexpectedly and apropos of nothing towards the end of the album. It goes something like this: following the tragic collapse of the Beaconsfield mine in Tasmania last May, one of the trapped miners requested an iPod fully stocked with Foos tunes to be lowered down to him to get him through the whole harrowing experience. When he heard of the miner’s request, Grohl, being the doyen of decency that he is, sent the two men a note that read, “Though I’m halfway around the world right now, my heart is with you both, and I want you to know that when you come home, there’s two tickets to any Foos show, anywhere, and two cold beers waiting for you.” Some rock stars probably would’ve fobbed them off with an autograph. Via fax.
Of the quieter moments, there are two clear standouts: ‘Statues’ sounds very much like Grohl’s paean to his newfound domestic bliss (“We’re just ordinary people, you and me/Time will turn us into statues/Eventually”). It’s built around cascading piano chords and soaring, country-esque guitar licks that are so gorgeous, they made us weep like a little girl when we drunkenly heard it for the first time. Oh, alright, we weren’t drunk. Meanwhile, the hymn-like ‘Home’ – the album’s closer – begins just as sparsely, only Dave, a solitary piano and his ruminations on wanting to get off the road and back home, before turning into a full-blown, clenched-fist, lighters-aloft anthem. It’s simple stuff, but done incredibly well.
There are take-it-or-leave-it moments, of course; ‘Stranger Things Have Happened’ sounds like a bluesy acoustic afterthought and should’ve been saved for a B-side, while the plodding, aimless stadium-rock-by-numbers of ‘Summer’s End’ is almost as dull and uninspiring as its title. But by and large this is as consistent a record as the Foo Fighters have ever made. Neither as instantaneously radio-friendly as ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’ nor as self-absorbed as ‘In Your Honor’, it’s the record the Foo Fighters have always threatened to make. Foo Fighters albums are like a box of Quality Street; everyone has a favourite. This one is ours.