The Foo Fighters‘ career so far has read like a study in careful competency, generating heat without fire. Dave Grohl is indisputably a man who knows his way around a riff, but he’s always seemed too polite to kick out the jams with any real passion. But in the two-plus years it’s taken to write this album, the Foos have experienced a momentous reawakening: drummer Taylor Hawkins’ brush with mortality prompted the band to re-evaluate their priorities, and Grohl’s stint with Queens Of The Stone Age proved to be a cathartic/creative watershed, effectively hotwiring him back in touch with the primal urges that underpin lusty, purifying, vital rock’n’roll. Cue ‘One By One’.
Straight out of the gate, it’s clear there’s something genuinely exciting happening here: the agitated basslines and machine-gun guitar of opener ‘All My Life’ ring out insistently; ‘Have It All’ piles dirty, propulsive drums atop a hooky, pretty melody. This is the sound of a band railing against mediocrity, obsolescence and critical ambivalence. Everything they had, they still have – but now every note is ten times more focused and urgent. Even the quieter moments bristle – Grohl can go to his grave happy if only for ‘Tired Of You’, the most plaintive, haunting ballad he’s ever written. Over a stark guitar line, supplied by none other than Queen’s Brian May, Grohl ponders the nature of love (“Is this just desire, or the truth?”).
Admittedly, there’s one or two limpers along the way, ‘Lonely As You’ is as bit of a drag, while ‘Burn Away’ might be more incendiary if it were about two minutes shorter. Yet these come too late in an otherwise excellent album to be much of a liability. ‘One By One’ refutes every critic who attributed the Foos‘ success to Grohl’s iconic rock veteran status, and his rejuvenation should prove heartening to pessimists everywhere: OK really can get better. It’s never too late to step up to the plate and show ’em what you’re made of. As the man himself declares, with raw-throated affirmation in ‘Times Like These’, “It’s times like these you learn to live again… I’m a new day rising”. Spoken like a man who’s finally learned to fly.