Depending on how you look at it, But Here We Are, the title of Foo Fighters’ 11th album, could be seen either as somewhat defeatist or as a statement of resilience. The band – or, more specifically, Dave Grohl – has been here before, after all. Their drummer and “brother” Taylor Hawkins died last year, at the age of 50, the second time one of Grohl’s bandmates died prematurely – Foo Fighters were, of course, formed as a solo project by the one-time Nirvana drummer following Kurt Cobain’s death.
In the wake of this recent bereavement, Grohl and his bandmates decided to persevere. Josh Freese (who has played with Devo, Guns N’ Roses and Weezer) has been installed as their touring drummer, although he doesn’t appear on the album; Grohl recorded all drum parts himself. The death of his mother, Virginia, last August, only compounded Grohl’s grief. This record, it seemed, was shaping up to be a solemn affair.
Grohl has never been a songwriter to hide his feelings behind oblique metaphors, but this isn’t necessarily a downbeat album. Yes, there is poignance in abundance, and Hawkins’s shadow looms large over songs such as Under You (“Someone said I’ll never see your face again/ Part of me just can’t believe it’s true”) and The Glass (“I had a person I loved and just like that/ I was left to live without him”), while others like Beyond Me is a hesitant acceptance of grief and loss (“Everything we love must grow old, so I’m told/ You must release what you hold dear, so I fear”).
That said, the most impactful songs here are a little less conspicuous. The dreamy Show Me How, a duet with Grohl’s teenage daughter, Violet, softens the album’s barbed edges. The Teacher, a 10-minute prog-tinged epic, is a touching, ambitious tribute to Grohl’s mother that ends in a fuzzy squall of sound and a primal “goodbye”; the closing track, Rest, muses on life, love and death with delicacy before jolting into a fuzzy, shoegazey wig-out.
Elsewhere, there are enough bolshie rock choruses, strident riffs and soloing to keep long-term fans happy, with Under You and Nothing at All in particular harking back to the quirky, pop-led rock of albums such as The Colour and the Shape.
Despite the heartrending subject matter, But Here We Are is unlikely to win over musos who have already dismissed Foo Fighters as hacks. Still, while they are an unabashed commercial rock band, albums such as this continue to mark them out as probably the best of their kind.