Guitars and drums, loud and fast. In the great textbook of rock and roll, it's the first lesson and Dave Grohl learned it well. Just to get it out of the way early, yes, Grohl cut his teeth in some other big famous Seattle band before the Foo Fighters. Unfortunately, Grohl's celebrated lineage has always seemed to detract from his talents rather than advance them. With the first Foos' album, the world was waiting to see how many Kurt Cobain references they could find in his songs (regardless of the fact that much of the album was written pre-suicide). With the second, The Colour and the Shape, there was a general suspicion as to whether Grohl could make a successful album that didn't feed off of post-Nirvana hype. With his third and latest, There is Nothing Left to Lose, the hype is gone and the only question is whether Grohl can make good music. All Grohl manages to deliver is one of the best rock albums of the year.
Foo Fighter albums have always been something of a schizophrenic affair. Within Grohl's songs there lurks a love for pop music that bubbles up in the middle of the usual hardcore barrage. The tension reached critical mass on The Colour and the Shape, which alternated between ripping throats and jerking tears. The break-neck changes in style between songs gave the album a brilliantly fractured feel but beat up the listener in the process. The divisiveness of the album only foreshadowed the real-life breakups just over the horizon. After losing two guitarists, a drummer and a record label in the past two years, there truly is nothing left for the Foos to lose. The changes seem to have done Grohl some good. The Foo Fighters are finally shaking free of whatever expectations their pasts have heaped upon them and just concentrating on making beautiful and devastatingly catchy music they can finally call their own.
While these are clearly not the Foo Fighters of old, the faithful will not be disappointed. You can hear the veins popping out on Grohl's neck in "Breakout" while "Next Year" floats along with the same sweetness the Foos' softer moments have always pulled off with a child-like sincerity. However, on There is Nothing Left to Lose, Grohl and company succeed in filling in the chasm between the two wildly separate styles they had previously mined for hits.
"Stacked Actors" opens the album with the familiar boiling and grinding of a band reeling back to strike. The surprise comes at the moment of explosion when the song suddenly drops into a swishy jazz hum while Grohl croons what sound like sweet nothings--but filled with spite and malice. The chorus smashes back in with reckless abandon and closes in a pile up of distortion and sludge but under it all there are new subtle touches. In "Aurora," what could have degenerated into forgettable mid-tempo filler is saved by spirals of guitar work that slip away as a single chiming guitar builds to a lush conclusion. While it doesn't rock with the fury of Grohl's standard fare, the newfound restraint only adds to its emotional impact. "Learn to Fly," the first single off the album, sneaks sparse, soaring pop into the typical rock scuffle to a stunning effect. It's enough to make even the most cynical believe that verse-chorus-verse may have been pronounced dead a little too soon.
No matter how triumphant, depressing or confused the past ten years have been for Grohl, There is Nothing Left to Lose announces that he made it through it all and is ready for more. In "Gimme Stitches," Grohl puts his detractors on notice that if they choose to "take another stab at me, I promise in time I'll heal." When a band finds a style they can call their own and moves away from the extremes of their past work, they get often get fted as "more mature." But to make this claim about the Foo Fighters wouldn't do justice to the infectious energy and defiant triumph of There is Nothing Left to Lose. The Foo Fighters haven't matured, they've just gotten better.
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