Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters
The sound and the fury of the most successful drummer-turned-frontman since Phil Collins
Given Foo Fighters 'quick — and unmysterious — ascendance to the alt-rock throne, it's easy to forget all the intrigue and bootstrapping written into the first chapter of Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana band. For starters, there was no band to speak of: Grohl played every instrument on Foo Fighters '1995 self-titled debut, save for a lone guitar part on "X-Static" by the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli. The album's 12 tracks were culled from Grohl's considerable stash of basement tapes and re-cut in a professional studio; he'd already issued the solo 1992 Pocketwatch cassette under the name Late! via über-indie D.C. label Simple Machines. It's tempting to speculate whether Grohl would've stepped out from behind Nirvana's drummer chair had Kurt Cobain not shot himself, and it's downright catty to note that Foo Fighters ultimately lost the 1996 Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance to Nirvana's Unplugged album. All of this is to point out that Foo Fighters is not the commercial enterprise of ready-made summer-shed action figures but rather the personal domain of Dave Grohl, a songwriter who'd honed his skills in Cobain's long shadow. Of course, once his work went public, Grohl just happened to become the most successful drummer-turned-frontman since Phil Collins.
Foo Fighters begins with "This Is A Call," "I'll Stick Around" and "Big Me." Has there been a more successful album-opening trifecta in the modern-rock era? (Well, besides Nevermind.) "Big Me" is the most interesting of the debut's big three, mainly because it veers farthest from the buzzsaw-guitar template and manages the kind of forlorn sweetness that made the Lemonheads' brand of slacker pop so appealing. Closing track "Exhausted" is another extraordinary move — one that was surely studied by Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme. The song pairs come-hither vocals with hypnotic guitar grind that fades after four minutes under the blacklight, then boomerangs back for an extended coda. But perhaps the ballsiest thing about Foo Fighters is that it doesn't do any gymnastics to distance itself from Nirvana's signature sound; one of the album's best tracks, "Good Grief," hears Grohl mimicking Cobain's scratchy sneer on a refrain of the words "I hate it," so mumbled that it sounds like "Hey, dad." Foo Fighters went on to become a rock-radio franchise and a proper band with the addition of guitarist Pat Smear and the rhythm section from Sunny Day Real Estate, achieving complete post-grunge supremacy on sophomore album The Colour And The Shape. In the beginning, however, there was the sound and the fury of one man who waited in the wings, imagining punk anthems that are built on an arena-sized scale.