Foo Fighters’ But Here We Are: A Clean and Sobering Review

First Thoughts

I’m not a big Foo Fighters fan, and yet But Here We Are is bringing tears to my eyes. It’s hard to listen to it and not feel the hurt of my friends, patients, and their families, both living and deceased, affected by drug misuse and addiction. It’s been a tough experience for me, especially after coming off a tough week when two of my clients went through some serious stuff of their own.

I received the news with detached ambivalence when Taylor Hawkins died last year. He was a Rock Star. I didn’t know him, barely knew his music. I’ve been personally involved with SO many people who have died, regular people struggling at times with incomprehensible hardships, ranging from poverty to trauma and deliberate racism. It’s hard to muster empathy when someone who “has it all” succumbs to a deadly result that affects so many. So fucking many…

My reaction to this album is relatively easy. Writing about it in any way that makes sense is a little more tricky. I have (relatively) unflattering things to write about the band general, and Dave Grohl in particular. I like him a lot, and I respect his role as everyone’s favorite Rock & Roll Uncle. He represents Rock quite well, and he’s worked hard for his success. He seems like a righteous dude.

Aside from covering Dear Rosemary and Walk while playing bass in a cover/wedding band, I’ve never had a desire to listen to them beyond hearing them on the radio. Feel good songs you can dance to just aren’t high on my list of priorities. 15 Grammies doesn’t do much for me, either.

But man, he kicked serious ass on Songs for the Deaf

Rescued

Opener Rescued is typical Foo Fighters fare on the surface. The impeccable song craft is first and foremost, and the slick production is basically their trademark. Credit where credit is due: the dude can WRITE a fucking chorus! It sticks in your head like the finest earworms ever written. Like clockwork…

But one line did stick out to me, felt like went beyond the usual saccharine wordsmithing of trite easiness:

Kings and queens and in-betweens, we all deserve the right.

Under You

The second song didn’t do much for me, either. More upbeat, certainly. But nothing about it differentiates it from the rest of the Foo Fighters catalog. I will admit Nate Mandel has a wonderfully wooly bass tone of pure Darkglass bliss. This band is beyond tight, locked in on a level rivaled by Country session players. Other than that…meh.

HEARING VOICES

This one is a nice change of pace. It has that touch of melancholy I was expecting. And while the obligatory chorus is there, it feels older, like a reference to the Seattle sound Dave helped usher in. The guitar is a bit harsher, and the arpeggios are tasty. Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett are bringing their A-game on this one.

At 3:24 into the song, it happens. As the song fades out, we hear Dave singing without being over-produced. By that I mean, there’s no layering of the vocals, no effects that give him at times an inhuman and lifeless, but perfect, quality. He’s accompanied by piano and acoustic guitar. It’s a singular moment that got my attention, let me know that now it’s time for something completely different.

Maybe I was preparing myself for an emotional journey and overreacted. Maybe it was planned all along. But for the first time, I was choked up. It’s such a beautifully simple way to and the song. For the rest of the album, the constant nie-nie-nie chatter of my critic brain shut the fuck up.

But Here We Are

I think I listened to the last few seconds of Hearing Voices at least five times before I moved on to the title track. I should have taken a few more seconds before I did that.

But Here We Are hits with the same immediacy and urgency that the 90’s musical movements and culture shifts are known for. Grunge itself may be a bit of a joke, but there’s no denying that some seriously good music came out back then, from Nirvana and beyond. On this song, Foo Fighters seem stripped and naked, vulnerable and accessible, while performing truly elevated Rock that’s uncompromising and unflinching in the face of such needless tragedy.

What’s really striking is the perspective this album, and this song, takes. It’s from the point-of-view of the survivor. There’s a ton of material out there devoted to the plight of the struggliing drug addict/user. The families and loved ones of those so afflicted? Not so much. For one of the few times I’m aware of, I’m immersed in that point of view, from the one left alive and alone.

I have a hard time thinking of even one album, one song, that addresses overdose and drug misuse from that point of view. And if there is, I doubt it can exceed the effectiveness of what But Here We Are accomplishes. Even now, I can barely make it through a minute of this song without choking up.

Considering their history and experience, this is what I always expected from Foo Fighters music. I realize now how bullshit that is, the idea that an artist needs to “comply” with what I want out of them, but we all have our tastes. The writing at this point remains Foo Fighters to the core, but the pain and savage acknowledgement of rage towards the brutalities of life is undeniable with David Grohl’s hoarse and emotionally charged vocal delivery.

I can’t help but feel and believe that he’s expressing the grief of generations of people who’ve found themselves in the same space. The competing realities of the senseless and tragic suffering of those affected by death, contrasted by the essential truth that we still need to carry on, is presented with clarity and. focus. Sure, you can revel in the expert performances and maybe shout the chorus with thousands of your closest friends at a concert. But the deeper message behind it….that’s some heavy stuff.

I gave you my heart
But here we are
Saved you my heart
But here we are
Oh-oh, oh-oh
But here we arŠµ

I suspect that this gives voice to hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, who in that moment most dark open their mouths and shout in silent desperation and agony, so overcome by rage and confusion they can’t breath, can’t scream, and can’t comprehend how someone so loved could be…gone.

But here we are.

THE GLASS

We’re just getting started. The Glass is an excellent ballad worthy of a few thousand screenshots of lighters on iPhones, waiving in the air. Wonderfully produced, with lyrics that continue the narrative, every line coming across as a heart laid bare. Give it a bit more dirt and grit, and one can imagine Chris Cornell belting this one out.

NOTHING AT ALL

One of the more direct homages to his prior life shaping the future of music with a little band from Seattle, the dirt he’s allowing to permeate his voice is nothing less than human. This one can be taken a variety of ways, not so much coming across as being directed at Taylor, but more of an expression the pain of being human.

Show Me How

Show Me How is another emotional song, performed along with his daughter, Violet. Here’s the resilience part of the album, a needed respite from the darkness and loss. It’s like he’s defiantly letting us know he’s not giving up, but becoming more resolute in his vulnerability. At this point I can’t help but notice some similarities to Steven Wilson, himself no stranger to soulful pop songs and infinitely heavier forms. The parallels between the two are worthy of another blog post, if not a book. But for now, it’s the construction and execution of impeccable song-craft. It’s a perfect gem, perfectly placed.

BEYOND ME

Throughout But Here We Are, I’m caught by how much Foo Fighters are putting into this, how they’re applying everything they’ve ever heard and learned in aid of their effort. The opening is classic McCartney/Beatles in a lot of ways, and then a swelling pre-chorus and chorus that smacks of other 70’s and 80’s influences.

Good stuff.

The Teacher

There are moments in heavy music that can eclipse other moments in significant ways. The same goes for Prog. I expect neither from Foo Fighters, which makes the impact that much more powerful.

Again, Foo Fighters haven’t strayed too far from their essential and defining sensibilities. A mediocre review in The Guardian agrees, but in a negative sense, claiming the album relies on the usual stadium-hooks and that The Teacher plods.

I respectfully disagree, and I think that perspective misses the point. This is, indeed, stadium-filling music. The fact that the lyrics have such depth makes it more poignant, at least to me. As a surviver of addiction and a wounded healer, it’s that exact combination that makes it so much more real, so much more effective and important. At the same time, they unleash a certain Prog ascetic in The Teacher that again, due to it being so unlike their previous work, makes it anything but plodding. I guess you could say the Foo Fighters are having it both ways: commercial and artistic excellence.

REST

If I had to choose just one song as part of this review, Rest would be it. It affected me in extreme ways, and as it faded away to its conclusion, I heard a high-pitched noise coming from outside my headphones. At first I thought it was part of the song, so I took my headphones off.

It was me.

Just like the forlorn family member I referenced earlier, I had a wailing deep inside me that was too much to bear into being. As Newbie Doomer asked me if I was ok, I shook my head and walked out to the porch, and just let the tears flow without resistance. The long parade of faces and names, those I knew and are now gone, those I lost contact of, and those I had to inform as part of my work flashed with every beat of the song. The understanding that now they can rest and be safe…it was a cathartic moment to hear it from Foo Fighters, and a moment I’ll never forget.

I’m not aware of ever hearing music quite like this. Most of it is radio-friendly, even danceable in some spots. At the same time, it’s a personal exploration of a serious topic with no overt preachiness or clear call to action. There’s no agenda other than to share the experience. The only real lesson I get from it is that we’re all in this together. In todays cultural climate, that’s unusual.

Foo Fighters of Doom?

When I listen to Stygian Bough or Aerial Ruin, I know what I’m getting into well before I hear it. When I put on Mirror Reaper by Bell Witch, there is no doubt whatsoever as to what that experience is going to be like.

I am not implying that Foo Fighters have made a Doom album, but it is at least Doom-adjacent. The subject matter is one often explored in the Heavy Underground. Not exclusively and not all the time, but I know plenty of people who seek solace and release in the (much) darker realms of slower, more extreme Heavy Metal.

But Here We Are isn’t as overt as what Blood Lemon put out last year. But I think it’s no mistake or coincidence that Foo Fighters chose to make heavier riffs and Prog arrangements a part of their sound pallette. These forms have always been used to convey messages of great weight or significance.

But Here We Are is good as anything I’ve ever heard, a re-defining moment that hopefully raises expectations across mainstream music. It’s the most effective way I can think of to influence cultural change and awareness, the most universal way to express those things. I think it’s also one of the best ways to cope with it all.

While I’m awed at what Foo Fighters have done here, I also hope they can return to the “feel good” music of their catalogue. Millions of people have made their music a part of their lives for so long. They’ve been able to reach people’s hearts in many ways, and have a become a part of the fabric in American life in a manner few bands have done. They have an unparalleled crossover appeal, with very few people overtly hating it. They’re extremely good at not making you chose sides. Rare these days.

This might be the best thing David Grohl ever worked on. I bet he wishes he never had to write it. I wish he didn’t, either.

But here we are.

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