Review Summary: You must release what you hold dear.
For almost an entire decade now, things have been awfully... hit-or-miss for the often-reliable Foo Fighters. Sonic Highways
was a remarkably ambitious experiment, with each song starring a different guest and being recorded in a different location, and that's not even getting into the fact that they made an entire HBO documentary series
about the making of Sonic Highways
. It was a shocking and nigh-unprecedented amount of effort and ambition for an album that wound up being incredibly... 'okay'. But at least Sonic Highways
had a hook behind it; Concrete and Gold
and the weirdly brief Medicine at Midnight
were equally disappointing and unspectacular follow-ups that captured neither the gritty, noisy punk energy of 90's Foo Fighters or the slick, expertly-manufactured radio rock of their 2000's era. Couple that in with a baffling disco side project
from the Fighters in 2021 unironically called Hail Satin
and a fun but ultimately pointless comedy-horror movie in 2022, it felt like Grohl and co. had entered into an aimless, meandering slump.
But then, Taylor Hawkins died suddenly last year, to the surprise, shock, and sadness of basically everyone. To many, this seemed like the death knell of the Foo Fighters; Hawkins was a fan favorite and had been with the band from almost the very beginning. He was - and is - integral to the Foo Fighters' identity and presence as a legitimate rock band, because he was just that good
of a drummer. But grief can be a powerful motivator, and Hawkins left behind an incredible legacy that his best friends doubtlessly felt the need to honor and fulfill. I fully expected a tribute album or song of sorts when I heard about the tragic news, and lo and behold, 2023's But Here We Are
came out of the woodworks. And I was actually excited: in spite of Hawkins' untimely, undeserved, and far-too-early death, I thought that maybe the heartache and sorrow that came from that tragedy could have made for a wonderful post-mortem tribute and return-to-form for the Foo Fighters.
Instead, we got an album that is
a lovely little tribute to Hawkins, and admittedly is
a step up from their previous two releases... but not by much. But Here We Are
is a merely 'alright' record that feels pretty cut-and-dry once you divorce it from the forlorn context of both Hawkins' passing and the apparent recent death of Grohl's mother (he's been through a lot). In the album's defense, it does
kick things off pretty effectively. "Rescued" feels like a cut straight out of In Your Honor
with its fuzzy, overblown guitars, fast-paced drum track, and Grohl's melodic, anthemic shouts from behind the drum kit. "Under You" is a fun, summery, radio-ready burst of drive and energy, the bombastic title track glides between a 7/4 time signature for the verses and the standard 4/4 for the chorus in a surprisingly smooth and natural way, "The Glass" is a simultaneously bittersweet and uplifting power ballad, and "Hearing Voices" is easily the best cut on the record, a somber, eerie brooder dominated by ghostly, chiming guitars and the juxtaposition of the haunting, minor-key verses & hook and a wistful, major-key refrain. The first five tracks are strong: not the strongest in the Foos' discography, but solid and catchy enough that it almost feels like a return to form.
The issue is that the album doesn't keep the flow of quality going after this point. The verses in "Nothing At All" chug along with these stop-and-go, reggae-esque staccato chords awfully reminiscent of The Police's "Roxanne" in places, but then completely abandons this sound for an unrelated, noisy chorus that has nothing to do with the vibe set before it. "Show Me How" is a hazy, meandering, and sluggish bit of post-grunge whose separate parts & passages sound indistinguishable from one another, album closer "Rest" has a jarring split-second transition from the quiet, downcast fist half into the overblown, distorted second half (it's such
a split-second transition that the track feels like more of a jumpscare than anything else), and while the ten-minute "The Teacher" holds the dubious honor of being the longest song the Foos have ever made, the first five minutes and the last five minutes of "The Teacher" are so radically and notably different from one another that you can't help but wonder why
it had to be an overlong song instead of two discrete five-minute cuts. A brief burst of quality comes in the form of the chiming, melodic, Ben Folds-meets-Beatles ballad "Beyond Me", but apart from this minor moment of redemption, it's clear as day that But Here We Are
is frontloaded as hell.
It's hard to properly judge this album on its own merits because it almost feels like we shouldn't. The sentiment behind this album is clear: this is an expression of grief, and the Foo Fighters definitely deserve some level of catharsis and release given everything that's happened. The execution does
leave a lot to be desired, however: in spite of the context surrounding this release, But Here We Are
sounds like the Foos simply going through the motions, hitting their marks like well-trained actors and producing a very... safe
-sounding album in spite of everything. While this is far from a terrible record, and likely their best work since 2011's Wasting Light
(especially on the lyrical side of things), this is far from an exceptional record. But Here We Are
could have benefitted from some more time in the oven, especially if they wanted this to be the emotional post-mortem tour-de-force tribute they doubtlessly wanted it to be... but maybe this album didn't need to be perfect. Maybe it just needed to exist, shortcomings and all, to prove to their dearly departed friends and family that they're still in the game and still moving forward, in spite of everything. Maybe with the release of this record, they can finally make peace and move on. And to some degree, But Here We Are
deserves all the credit in the world for that catharsis alone.