Review Summary: Surprising one-man debut combines punk, rock & melodic pop interestingly. Raw, impressive musically & packed with potential via scattered ideas, not everything comes together & the memorability factor is inconsistent.
You can almost mentally picture the scenario… Ideas are being pitched around by a rock band during recording sessions. The drummer keeps chiming in with some suggestions. “Hey, why don’t we make that track poppier?” “That song would sound better by making the vocals more melodic over the heavy music”. No verbal reply is given… The drummer just gets ignored and more attention is paid to passing roadies. So what does the drummer do? He begins to jot down his own notes and write his own songs, as one day he will front a side project. Meet Dave Grohl, former drummer of the worldwide critically acclaimed band Nirvana.
Following the death of Kurt Cobain, Grohl fronted the Foo Fighters. Check that… He was the Foo Fighters. Not only does the former drummer perform all vocals on this album, but he practically plays every musical instrument as well. The band’s other members were only brought in after this LP’s release to tour the album. For all intents and purposes, this album is made by Dave Grohl: Solo Artist. It’s almost as if this is a demo in many ways. There are ideas scattered here, there and everywhere. The sound and production are raw. I am unsure if even Grohl realized how successful the album would turn out!
One of the main reasons for this debut’s success is Grohl’s ability to combine what is basically modified punk rock music with intriguing pop sensibilities and harmonies. This is apparent in the first 2 singles (and opening 2 tracks) ‘This Is a Call’ and ‘I’ll Stick Around’. On first listen, they surprise you and actually have you questioning what type of music you are listening to. On reflection, the uneasy mix on paper has a sense of being the best of many worlds in reality. It’s not hardcore punk, but it’s not mainstream rock either. Meanwhile, Grohl’s vocals range from smoothly melodic to intense and on the verge of screaming.
While hooks are also apparent in the 2 openers, lyrics may not be Grohl’s strong point. ‘This Is a Call’ contains lines such as “Fingernails are pretty, fingernails are good”. While ‘I’ll Stick Around’ (along with a few other songs on this album) includes a sparsely worded repetitive chorus. Although it is difficult not to think that the “I don’t owe you anything… I’ll Stick Around” punchline isn’t at least a little Nirvana related.
If those first 2 songs don’t have you listening intently, then track 3 ‘Big Me’ definitely will. An absolute revelation, this 4th single is a sweet and charming 2 minute ballad which can actually be compared to, of all bands, The Beatles. Whether this is what the masses want to hear from Grohl or not, this song is admittedly impressive from a vocal standpoint.
Elsewhere, the album almost seems run of the mill compared to the first 3 tracks and there is nothing too memorable, but it is all still pretty good when judged in isolation. The mid-section has a number of solid rockers that are either nicely driven by guitar riffs (‘Alone + Easy Target’, the melodic ‘Oh George’ and the raucous 2 minute punk rocker ‘Wattershed') or impressive drum-work (‘Good Grief').
There are some misses amongst the hits unfortunately. ‘Floaty’ begins acoustically and hints at something different, but ends up rather mundane. Ditto for ‘X-Static’. The distorted vocals of ‘Weenie Beenie’ pretty much ruin that track. While the moody 5 minute closer ‘Exhausted’ is decent, if unmemorable. Thankfully, in amongst the latter half of the album is 3rd single ‘For All The Cows’, which could be the bravest song here. Don’t ask me about the lyrics, but the combination of sweet melodies in the verses and a rocking chorus work well and ends up a hint of the slow/fast structure that would later become synonymous with the band. For that reason, this could very well be the most important track in Foo Fighters history!
So at the end of the day, what can be made of this debut album? Well, it really does depend on the ear of the individual listener. The raw production doesn’t exactly help maximize some of the songs appeal, yet assists in adding personality to others. Meanwhile, some tracks include some neat ideas but don’t totally capitalize on the potential to make them great. However, this is an impressive album in many ways, as the guitar-work is surprisingly top-notch at times, while the mixture of punk, rock and melodic pop is at the very least interesting, if not consistently memorable.
Recommended Tracks: Big Me, This Is a Call & For All The Cows.