Album Review: Foo Fighters, ‘But Here We Are’

    But Here We Are was never going to be an easy listen. In the wake of two devastating losses – first, the untimely death of Foo Fighters’ beloved drummer Taylor Hawkins in March 2022, and the passing, months later, of Dave Grohl’s mother, Virginia – the band could certainly have taken their time to come back with a new record, and it could have gone a number of different ways. It could have been a challenging, forlorn experience that mirrored the amorphous fog of grief; it could have been a bombastic, by-the-numbers arena rock record that only made vague references to the losses that inspired it. Given just how public part of the grieving process was, with the band organizing two epic, all-star tribute concerts in London and Los Angeles, I can’t imagine there being any significant backlash if the Foos decided to put an end to this enterprise altogether and never make another album – even if it would go against the spirit of resilience that has been its driving force since the very beginning, when it was formed as a solo project in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

    Foo Fighters’ 11th LP, which follows 2021’s Medicine at Midnight, is billed partly as a return to the “naiveté” of their self-titled debut, which Grohl wrote and recorded mostly by himself. The refreshing thing about But Here We Are is that this promotional angle is actually an accurate reflection of what the album has to offer rather than something it hazily aspires toward. The part of the pitch that worried me most, though, was the claim that the songwriting was simultaneously “informed by decades of maturity and depth” – in those decades the Foo Fighters have also become a rock institution, and guarding whatever that means is enough reason to shield away emotional vulnerability. But the songs on But Here We Are are personal in a way that’s genuinely, disarmingly direct: “It came in a flash/ It came out of nowhere/ It happened so fast/ And then it was over,” Grohl sings on the opening track and lead single, ‘Rescued’. The content is so heavy and explicit it could justify them easing into the rest of the record, hitting another point of catharsis, and ending it there. As remarkably driven as it sounds, however, there’s no attempt to structure or conceptualize its way out of grief. A relentless, searching desperation carries over from track to track, and it uniformly gives the record a lot of unexpected weight.

    What’s most impressive is just how much it animates the music, too. Even as the lyrics constantly seek direction, the music is just as purposeful and ferocious in shining the way through. “Waning, fading innocence,” Grohl sings on the title track, but that’s exactly when the song soars with a chorus worthy of the greatest outpouring of love: “I gave you my heart, but here we are.” There are moments in Grohl’s writing that are unusually vivid and down-to-earth in their specificity as he attempts to immortalize his friend’s memory – “Pictures of us sharing songs and cigarettes/ This is how I’ll always picture you” – but it’s really the soulful depths he reaches for that render it so moving, as in ‘The Glass’: “I had a person I love/ And just like that I was left to live without him.” The struggle charges the most vital, explosive, and reinvigorated music the band has made in years, injecting their go-to anthemic formula with a renewed sense of purpose without sacrificing its broad populist appeal. Everything from Grohl’s howling vocals to his impassioned drumming feels like an expression of raw anguish, channeled into something unifying through the only means possible.

    That’s not to say But Here We Are entirely strays from more somber territory. The shoegazey ‘Show Me How’ is affectingly understated, with guest vocals from Grohl’s daughter Violet that keep the song’s gentle affirmations from feeling lonely and implausible. Its titular plea returns on the penultimate 10-minute epic ‘The Teacher’, which finds Grohl singing, “Show me how to grieve, man/ Show me how to say goodbye.” Foregoing a traditional rock structure, the track is by turns pensive and noisy and guttural, doing everything in its power to find release in actually saying the word. It leaves you awe-struck and overwhelmed, but that’s not where things end. The album closes with its second most outstanding song, ‘Rest’, which is more content to sit in the uneasy quiet. Even as the band does eventually ramp up the distortion, it inevitably, heartbreakingly returns to its demo-like form, as Grohl dreams of a reunion “in the warm Virginia sun.” Ater all the sweat and tears have dried, that feeling of temporary resolve suddenly feels like the only possible vision of eternity.

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    But Here We Are was never going to be an easy listen. In the wake of two devastating losses – first, the untimely death of Foo Fighters' beloved drummer Taylor Hawkins in March 2022, and the passing, months later, of Dave Grohl's mother, Virginia...Album Review: Foo Fighters, 'But Here We Are'