Dave Grohl and the Art of Over-Saturation

I’ll start this post by stating that I am a Foo Fighters fan.

From that first, tentative album – when it was Grohl doing everything by himself – I’ve liked Foo Fighters. What was not to like? Cool songs, funny videos, impeccable pedigree. Grohl was a truly nice guy who crawled from the wreckage of Nirvana and started over from scratch, and succeeded. He built a band around his ideas that became a juggernaut, both in the studio and live. Their love for their fans is the stuff of legend, what with concerts in fans’ garages, surprise shows, and other acts of rock good-guy-ness. Rock attitude. Social conscience. Reverence for those who came before them. Grohl guested with some of the coolest bands in the world (his ‘Probot’ project, Queens Of The Stone Age, played with Beatle Paul at MSG), was approached to play drums on a permanent basis by Tom Petty. And I was happy for them every step of the way.

They’ve been the Real Deal for about as long as they’ve been in existence, and for a while you couldn’t turn on a radio anywhere in the world and not hear a Foo Fighters song within ten minutes. They’ve become The Biggest Rock Band In The World.

But one of the inexorable laws of Show Business is that at one point or another, even a favorite act begins to wear out their welcome. And I think Grohl has taken Foo Fighters right up to that line, if not taken a step or two over it. When the history of the Foo Fighters is written, the moment that they began to slide will be identified as Sonic Highways.

Yeah, Sonic Highways, the extension of the widely acclaimed Sound City documentary. Someone (Grohl himself? His management? HBO?) decided that it would be a great idea for the band to truck all over the country, writing and recording new songs in each city they visit in order to ‘catch the vibe’ of that city’s music scene, with HBO crews dutifully filming every bit of it. I can almost hear the pitch to the network as I sit here. Foo Fighters! Music Meccas! Cross-promotion!!!

It looks like it worked. The band went all-in on promoting the album/series. They did a week of musical guest appearances on Letterman, bringing along some of their favorite musicians to join in. ‘Something From Nothing’ is playing on the radio as I type this. Once again, you can’t escape the media force that is Foo Fighters.

In the past, I never really wanted to escape – I always liked when they came back with a new album, because I knew they’d be good for at least a couple of good-to-great tunes. But the music seems forced this time. Stiff. A little…undercooked, if you will. There is an entire section of ‘Something From Nothing’ that really never should have made the song – a stilted ripoff of the riff from ‘Holy Diver’ by Dio, with a non-melody over what sound like placeholder lyrics.

The lead single from each new Foo Fighters album was always an exciting event, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Look at this list:

“This Is a Call” (Foo Fighters)
“Monkey Wrench” (The Colour & The Shape)
“Learn to Fly” (There Is Nothing Left To Lose)
“All My Life” (One By One)
“Best of You” (In Your Honor)
“The Pretender” (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace)
“Rope” (Wasting Light)

That is a hell of a run of good (in a couple of cases, great) singles, and ‘Something From Nothing’ doesn’t measure up to that collection of singles. It just doesn’t. It sounds like a song that they rushed to finish, maybe because the shooting schedule for the series demanded it.

Look, every band that achieves any amount of success is bound to make a misstep. Bloat sets in. The quest to top yourself comes into play. Foo Fighters have taken on the mantle of Biggest Band In The World, and the desire to get even bigger probably played a huge part in the decision to do the HBO thing.

I can’t really hold it against them, I guess. Maybe the whole thing sounded like a really good idea in the pitch meeting. A lot of people I know think the series is brilliant (I haven’t watched, simply because we don’t subscribe to HBO), but some people (like this guy) have clearly had enough. But if you read the comments below that piece, you’ll see that there are still many, many people who haven’t had enough. So that train might just keep a-rollin’.

Me? I’m looking forward to the next Foo Fighters album, where they announce that they’re ‘stripping things down’ and ‘returning to their roots’ and deliver a simple, kickass rock album. But if the next album comes with an announcement of an accompanying major film release, I’m out.

UPDATE: Lorraine Ali at the LA Times seems to agree with me.

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