A couple of days ago, I posted a fairly scathing review of the Foo Fighters’ new album, Sonic Highways, saying that it didn’t live up to the band’s past work. This got me thinking about the general arc of the Foo Fighters’ career, and I thought I’d take a look back at their output.
As I said in my review, the Foos haven’t broken many boundaries, but they’re a solid rock band. At least in my mind, Dave Grohl is capable of writing better singles than almost all of his contemporaries. And throughout the Foos’ lifespan – from back when it was Grohl recording a debut LP on his own right up to now – the Foo Fighters have always been one of the better radio rock acts. Here’s a look back at the highs and lows of their nearly 20-year career via my personal ranking of all their studio albums.
1. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007)
Echoes tends to fly under the radar within the Foos catalogue, but it my mind, it contains some of the prettiest songwriting Dave Grohl has ever done. “Stranger Things Have Happened” has a yearning quality that is all too rare from the Foos, as well as a delicate vocal performance from Grohl. “Summer’s End”, meanwhile, is pop-rock at its finest, offering both a hooky rock riff the earnest romanticism that Grohl tends to sprinkle in at the most unlikely of moments. Elsewhere, you’ve got the solid singles “Long Road to Ruin” and “The Pretender”, the pleading “But, Honestly”, and the poignant instrumental “Ballad Of the Beaconsfield Miners”. Anyone who thinks the band is too one-note should check this one out.
2. There is Nothing Left to Lose (1999)
I’ve always thought that There is Nothing Left to Lose was severely underrated. To me, it does a great job of showcasing everything the band can do. From the snarling album opener “Stacked Actors” to the lightweight (but very enjoyable) hit “Learn to Fly” to the power-pop perfection of deep cut “Headwires”, Grohl seems to be at the top of his musical game. There is Nothing Left to Lose is the perfect transition between the band’s shaggy ‘90s beginnings to their more polished post-2000 offerings, offering the best of both worlds.
3. The Color and the Shape (1997)
Ah, yes. The big album. And it certainly contains several of the band’s career highlights. There’s no point denying that “Everlong” is the band’s de facto “moment”, but “February Stars” and “My Hero” are arguably just as vital. And the band feels fresh and energized throughout the album, which hasn’t always been the case on later releases. However, I think the Foos are best when they’re concise, and a few of the album’s 14 tracks could easily have been trimmed off to make a much stronger collection.
4. In Your Honor (2005)
This might be the band’s most maligned album to date, but I happen to love it, despite its flaws. (Let’s not talk about “Virginia Moon”.) Not only was it the album that got me into the Foos, but they pull off the potentially cheesy double album gimmick (one disc electric, one disc acoustic) quite successfully. The stripped-down aesthetic of the second disc works adds a wonderful vulnerability to songs like “Over and Out” and “Another Round”. Meanwhile on the electric side, the blistering “Best of You” might be my favourite Foo Fighters single, and “The Deepest Blues Are Black” plays squarely to the cheap seats and somehow makes it work.
5. Foo Fighters (1995)
It feels odd to rank it so low, but this album never did much for me. “Big Me” is a scrappy, tossed-off little pop gem and “This is Call” effectively sets the blueprint for what was come from the Foos, but about half of the album’s other tracks just aren’t compelling to me. A lot of people love this album, but to me, it shows what Dave Grohl was capable of but had not yet managed to actualize in a solo project.
6. Wasting Light (2011)
Wasting Light is a tight if somewhat uninspired collection of songs. “Rope” is a loping, catchy single that ranks among the band’s best and “Arlandria” showcases the sweeter parts of Grohl’s voice that we don’t often hear, as well as his signature howl. This is a solid rock album, but the workmanlike feeling of the sound keeps the listener at a distance.
7. One By One (2002)
This has always been the album that I couldn’t get into. There are songs that I like, such as the melodic “Times Like These”. But on the whole, I find the album much harsher than their others, and not to successful effect. Hard rock is not the band’s strength, and the interesting parts of their music are the shades of grey – the unique tone that sometimes comes out in Grohl’s voice, the turns of phrase, the tightly woven guitars. Here, it feels like they skipped over some of the finer details. “Disenchanted Lullaby” kicks ass, though.
8. Sonic Highways (2014)
If the concept of In Your Honor worked, the “eight cities” concept is unfortunately not as successful here. Grohl starts to live up to the “stodgy old school rock fogey” accusations that are being lobbed his way, which is never a good thing. It has a few bright moments, but Sonic Highways feels like watered-down Foo Fighters, which is problematic when the band was already pretty accessible to begin with.