Foo Fighters Scratch the Surface of Loss on 'But Here We Are'
Published May 30, 2023Foo Fighters are an institution, and institutions never die. This is everything you really need to know about the 11th full-length from the alt-rock juggernauts. Originally conceived by Dave Grohl as a "prog-rock" album, the seeds of But Here We Are mutated after the 2022 passing of longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins. The rock-god artifice that defined the quintet's past few releases was promptly dropped, as their new material became immediately more vulnerable and infinitely more real.
In pure Foos fashion, the resulting 10 tracks seem to be wholly about Taylor Hawkins and simultaneously have nothing to do with Taylor Hawkins. Anyone who's kept up with Dave Grohl knows that he wears his heart on his sleeve in public but buries it behind layers of metaphor on record. Although the listener requires degrees of lyrical unpacking to equate many of these songs about universal life struggles to Hawkins' death, many fans will latch onto a more superficial aspect of But Here We Are: Grohl is back behind the drum kit for the first time in a hell of a long time.
If this 48-minute LP was to be a return to the raw energy of their earliest material, lead-off singles "Rescued" and "Under You" work overtime to fulfill this prophecy. Teaming up for the third consecutive time with Greg Kurstin (Adele, Maren Morris, Paul McCartney) clearly grants Grohl a sense of professionalism and security in the studio, and it's not out of order to label the first third of But Here We Are as safe. But these songs are also purposefully recorded and arranged to deliver hardcore fans everything they want from a Foo Fighters album. "Hearing Voices" is a thumping mid-tempo number that accentuates all of Grohl's emotions flawlessly, while "But Here We Are" has guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear expertly building off this mood to get to a monster chorus.
While highlight "The Glass" is an undisputedly heartbreaking acoustic-tinged ditty about living the rest of your life in someone's absence, the mid-LP tracks unfortunately do little more than fill obligatory spots on the Foo Fighters spectrum. This includes the groovy screamer "Nothing at All," the stickily sweet "Show Me How" (a duet with Grohl's daughter Violet), and the whispery piano ballad "Beyond Me."
The final third of the album is taken up by just two tracks. The strings-meet-distortion clasher "The Teacher" is lyrically an emotional rollercoaster, but musically never becomes adventurous enough to justify its 10-minute runtime. In contrast, "Rest" is a magnificent, gentle guitar-and-vocal extension of the preceding track that explodes into a masterful, crashing finale that seemingly closes the chapter on Hawkins' departure.
On the surface, But Here We Are may not be the tragic and mournful epitaph fans were hoping for. But then again, Foo Fighters never carried themselves as a memorial to Nirvana either. Dave Grohl will always operate on his own terms, and the rock world will always revel in it — some things never change. (Roswell/RCA)