Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Foo Fighters Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

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Foo Fighters (1995, Roswell/Capitol)

A –  

Following the premature split of Nirvana in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death, Dave Grohl initially was offered the chance to become the new full-time drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (after sitting in with the band for their ’94 appearance on SNL to promote Wildflowers) and very nearly accepted the invitation, too, which forever might have altered the course of modern-rock history. But Grohl – who had yet to actually put together a band and consequently plays all the instruments here, with the sole exception of a guest spot on guitar on “X-Static” by the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, making this record a bit of an anomaly in the Foo Fighters catalog – had already spent the prior month crafting these solo sides and distributing cassette copies to friends and fans for feedback with the idea of releasing these to the public under the moniker “Foo Fighters” to mask his identity, and Petty, upon hearing of the project, encouraged Grohl to go the solo route. Grohl’s really not much of a singer at this point (it wouldn’t be until There Is Nothing Left to Lose that Grohl truly came into his own and sounded fully at ease as a vocalist), but these one-man-band experiments exude with charm, while the songwriting is jaw-droppingly impressive and confident for a musician whose sole wholly-self-penned contribution to his prior band had been the “Heart-Shaped Box” B-side “Marigold.” The album’s definitely not perfect – it very much sags in its middle third, though it quickly bounces back with “For All the Cows” and “X-Static” – but, like the similarly one-man-band-styled solo debut from Paul McCartney, even the throwaway cuts have a bit of charm to them, and the album gets off to a real monster of a start with the opening quartet of “This Is a Call,” “I’ll Stick Around,” the effortlessly melodic “Big Me” (unquestionably the catchiest tune here), and “Alone + Easy Target.”

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The Colour and the Shape (1997, Roswell/Capitol)

A +

A sophomore affair with a bit of a messy history to it, The Colour and the Shape was actually recorded twice, first with William Goldsmith (formerly of Sunny Day Real Estate) as the band’s drummer and then again with Grohl stepping back behind the kit. Foo Fighters is now a proper band at this point; while Grohl is still pulling double duty as vocalist/guitarist and drummer, Pat Smear (formerly a sideman with Nirvana) has since joined on guitar and Nate Mendel (also formerly of Sunny Day Real Estate) takes over bass duties. (Taylor Hawkins would become the new drummer shortly before the album’s release.) For fans of the band’s softer side and more melodic fare, the album is likely to be a bit jarring at first since there’s nothing here quite as immediate or as poppy as “Big Me,” and the songs are both much louder and more complex. But Grohl’s skill as a vocalist has grown by leaps and bounds since the last record, and this is also where the band’s now-distinctive sound first truly comes into being, and with a bit of patience, the album’s brilliance will gradually reveal itself, as will the slightly subtler hooks, until you find yourself singing along to such cuts as the tightly-wound “Wind Up,” the acoustic swing of “See You,” the manic “Monkey Wrench” or, best of all, the passionate crunch of the modern-rock classics “My Hero” and what is perhaps the band’s most beloved song of all, “Everlong.” If the album has any major flaw, it’s that the ballads aren’t nearly as impressive as the rockers – although “Walking After You” is quite good and the chorus to “Hey Johnny Park” sports some lovely harmonies – but they’re still fairly strong, and the album as a whole is much more cohesive and sports less filler than the debut disc, making it a true classic. It’s debatable whether or not this is truly the band’s best album – they’d arguably top themselves the next time out – but this is, at the very least, certainly one of the two finest records they’ve made to date and is an essential purchase.

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There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999, RCA)

A +

Purist fans of the band may swear by the more lo-fi, one-man-band alt-rock of the debut or the twisted experimentation of The Colour and the Shape, but the band crafted not merely its most easily approachable album yet but an undeniable late-‘90s modern-rock masterpiece its third time around in There Is Nothing Left to Lose, which weds the band’s penchant for hard-rock to pop craftsmanship with an almost staggering level of skill. Nearly every last track on this classic-rock-styled affair has a hook that won’t quit (with the sole possible exception of “Live-In Skin”), and the disc is broad enough stylistically to be alluring to more than just the band’s more hard-rock-oriented fans, throwing in little sonic touches that hearken back to all the greats of ‘70s classic-rock, be it Budokan-era Cheap Trick (on “Learn to Fly” and “Breakout”), Peter Frampton (on the talkbox-laden “Generator”), Foreigner and Paul Rodgers (the “Feels Like the First Time”-meets-“Bad Company”-and-“All Right Now” crunchy-yet-surprisingly-melodic boogie of “Gimme Stitches”), The Police (the tightly-wound wiry groove of “Headwires”), ELO (the “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”-recalling “Next Year”), Boston (on the mellow-yet-passionate soaring pop of “Aurora”), or Apple-era Beatles (the airy, wistful ballad “Ain’t It the Life”). Lest you think the band’s gone too soft, they kick the disc off with what might be their fiercest rocker yet in the appealingly grungy “Stacked Actors,” which sports what could arguably be the band’s most instantly memorable guitar riff. Simply, you will not find a more deliciously filler-free and hook-heavy Foo Fighters platter than this one, even if “Learn to Fly” is the only tune here that still gets much radio exposure these days.  

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One By One (2002, RCA)

B –

A considerable disappointment when compared to its filler-free predecessor, One by One does actually sport some phenomenal songs, but the record ultimately suffers from two major flaws. For starters, the mix is just way too bass-heavy (particularly on “Low”), and if you have an equalizer on your stereo, it’s highly recommended that you adjust your settings before putting this album on. Much more problematically, however, though the best songs are very good, the remainder of the material is sorely lacking in hooks and ends up being wholly forgettable, and the disc is also front-loaded, so there’s really not much here worth listening to after the fourth track. But it gets off to an utterly brilliant start with the manic rocker “All My Life” (just try not finding something therapeutic about screaming along with Grohl when he reaches for his utmost register to repeatedly yell “Done! Done! On to the next one!”) and the ominous “Low” and the more melodic modern-rock of “Times Like These” are nearly every bit as good. It gets spotty after that, although there are a few minor gems – particularly the infectious “Overdrive” or, even better, the lovely and breezy mid-tempo rock of “Halo” (which would have fit in quite well on the last album) – buried near the end of the disc if you’re willing to look for them.