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Have Foo Fighters released one of 2023's best rock albums - as well as their most vital in decades?

David Grohl, lead singer of Foo Fighters - Is their eleventh album one of their greatest?
David Grohl, lead singer of Foo Fighters - Is their eleventh album one of their greatest? Copyright Getty Images
Copyright Getty Images
By David Mouriquand
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After a few days listening to the new Foo Fighters album, ‘But Here We Are’, it’s plain to hear that tackling immeasurable loss has led the band to create their most vital output since their 90s beginnings. It may also be one of the year's best.

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I had completely skipped the fact that Foo Fighters were releasing a new album this year. That’s how much the band had dropped off my radar.

Up until very recently, all I did was maintain fond memories of the band – mostly through listening to their first three albums (which are pretty flawless, especially 1997’s 'The Colour and the Shape') and catching them live once every few years, if only to hear a handful of songs I continue to treasure. But I’m the first to admit that in the wake of their 2011 album 'Wasting Light', I had started to grow weary of the band’s brand of stadium rock, one which my esteemed colleague would no doubt (and aptly) describe as “your dad’s sixth favourite band”.

'Wasting Light' was the last time I fully enjoyed a Foo album, and the likes of 'Sonic Highways' (2014), 'Concrete and Gold' (2017) and 'Medicine At Midnight' (2021) sounded to me like a steady downhill trajectory on the slope of diminishing returns for one of rock’s most treasured outfits that I not-so-charitably came to refer to as “dependable”.

Put simply, while I continued to hold frontman Dave Grohl in high regard as the Nicest Man in Rock, he’d become a figure I’d kill to have some drinks with rather than one synonymous with me rushing to pre-reserve a copy of his band’s latest release.

But that all changed with 'But Here We Are', the band’s eleventh album and their first since the sudden death of longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died at the age of 50 in March 2022, just hours before the band were due to perform live.

The band had released a statement last December that they would continue, but that they were going to be “a different band going forward”. 

Fair enough, but that didn't prepare me for my change of heart. Nothing did, least of all the album cover – an unremarkable all-white image with faint streaks of washed out blue, purple and yellow on the horizon. 

But never judge a record by its cover... 

Roswell - RCA
Foo Fighters - But Here We Are album coverRoswell - RCA

Not so easy to make the cover out, is it?

Regardless of vaguely monochromic artwork, ‘But Here We Are’ is a hard-hitting, emotional and really quite brilliant encapsulation of what made Foo Fighters so great in the first place; it’s their best since ‘The Colour And The Shape’ and shows that I shouldn’t have ruled them out so hastily.

Dedicated to his comrade Hawkins and Grohl’s mother Virginia, who died several months after the drummer, ‘But Here We Are’ sounds like a tribute and a celebration of the leading man’s two constant life pillars.

The band have crafted an impassioned line-up of ten melodic gems that sound like friends powering through their grief together. They channel a similar urgency heard on their 90s records, as well as the back-to-basics ‘Wasting Light’; it’s polished, dynamic and heartfelt, as if they wanted to create a testimonial worthy of their mourning.

Not that the album is all misery, doom and gloom. The muscular tracks - which have Grohl on vocals, guitars and back behind the drumkit - are as anthemic as they’ve ever been, with the opening triple-tap of ‘Rescued’, ‘Under You’ and ‘Hearing Voices’ leading the charge.

The opening lines on ‘Rescued’ - “It came in a flash, it came outta nowhere / It happened so fast, and then it was over” - thrum with raw urgency before heading for stadium-ready, with “We’re all free to some degree to dance under the lights / I’m just waitin’ to be rescued / Bring me back to life.” This defiance can be felt throughout a lot of ‘But Here We Are’’s bruised ballads. ‘Under You’ follows, a thrashing 90s throwback that manages to weave powerful emotion (“ Pictures of us sharing songs and cigarettes / This is how I’ll always picture you ”) within killer riffs. The third chapter of the opening act is a more dreamy, less radio-friendly affair: ‘Hearing Voices’, which repeats the lyrics “ I’ve been hearing voices / None of them are you ” as a chant to exorcise a heavy presence paradoxically characterised by an even heavier absence.

The frequently prosaic lyrics often don’t dodge cliché, especially in the title track (“ I gave you my heart / But here we are / Saved you my heart / But here we are ”) and ‘The Glass’ (“ I had a person I loved / And just like that / I was left to live without him ”) but the intensity that seeps through Grohl's depictions of haunting absences and the loss of past solace have an immediacy to them that truly make the songs soar.

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Other highlights include ‘Show Me How’, a touching song which sees Violet Grohl join her father on vocals to perforate some of the darkness, reminding that there are reassuring bonds that can overcome any paralyzing emotion, as well as the penultimate track, ‘The Teacher’, a ten-minute tribute to Grohl’s mother. It’s an epic, shapeshifting number that manages to go through the five stages of mourning in bombastic way that culminates with Grohl screaming “goodbye”, as if trying to megaphone his farewell to the heavens, followed by a sudden calm. It’s this silence that hits hard after one of the most ambitious tracks the Foos have ever recorded.

Then there’s the final track, the tearful conclusion of ‘Rest’. 

It starts like a gentle, stripped back Nirvana demo that recalls ‘Something in the Way’, before taking a whiplash-inducing rock crescendo at the halfway mark. It then slips back into an acoustic ending note that works as a beautiful glimmering ember of positivity: once you’ve come to terms with loss, all that’s left is the calming realisation that no matter how painful the hurt, connections don’t die. They vibrate, flicker and shimmer, depending on the day, but never burn out.

From sorrow to rage, all the way to acceptance that grief is both a burden and a process, the album concludes in a way that genuinely makes me begrudge Foo Fighters for not including a packet of tissues with every copy of the album. But after several listens of 'But Here We Are', the absence of complementary Kleenex became less surprising; the album reminded me how, initially, Foo Fighters was a band born out of grief. The former Nirvana drummer recorded Foo Fighters’ debut album in 1994 to fill the void following Kurt Cobain’s death – an album born in the aftermath of tragedy.

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Now, almost 30 years later, 'But Here We Are' shows that Foo Fighters are at their best amidst the worst, and that exploring anguish has led them once again to greatness. It’s a statement devoid of flippancy and in no way intended to reduce devastating loss to a revitalised creative burst; simply one which suggests that the shadow cast by death and heartbreak doesn’t darken the band’s horizon.

In fact, ‘But Here We Are’ (much like ‘Foo Fighters’ and ‘The Colour And the Shape’ – their second album written during a time of both personal and professional strife for Grohl) shows that out of raw emotion and mourning comes catharsis, even comfort. That on top of a focused and vibrant musical output that shouldn’t be overlooked when appreciating the emotional context of the record’s inception. It may not be the sound of a “different band”, but it’s certainly that of a band “going forward”, imbued with a fresh sense of purpose and a horizon unclouded.

That seemingly uninspiring album cover makes a lot more sense now.

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