I’d Rather Leave Than Suffer This

At year end there is much taking stock of what music we’ve listened to in 2007. There is a lot I have enjoyed; Radiohead‘s In Rainbows was a treat, too bad it’s content was overshadowed by the marketing ploy. The Fiery Furnaces’ Widow City is a prog rock compendium of hooks and harmonies – nothing this side of 9/8-time has been so satisfying since 2112. For pure pop adrenaline you can’t beat Fountains of Wayne’s Traffic and Weather. Lyle Lovett came back with a strong set on It’s not Big It’s Large (South Texas Girl is well worth the dollar on iTunes). And there were some oldies I discovered for the first time; Gillian Welch’s Time: The Revelator is a wonderful collection of rock and folk and blues. The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet is a masterpiece everyone was aware of but me.

But I’d like to focus on The Foo Fighters’ Echoes Silence Patience and Grace. The Foos will always be David Grohl’s band; the former grunge drummer who took up the guitar and sang himself hoarse for the last ten years with the same raw energy he provided along side bassist Krist Novoselic for the band Nirvana. I can’t think of a more striking transition in Rock as Grohl’s transformation from rhythm attendant to frantic front man. For the first two Foo Fighters albums Grohl practically played all the instruments, never finding a drummer to match his own drive and stamina until Taylor Hawkins joined the Foos in 1997.

Though not my favorite album of the year, Echoes is a welcome return of a band that had seemed to have lost its crunch of late (and Hawkins sounds so HARD on this record, finally making his own statement). The opening 5 song run from The Pretender to Come Alive is so powerful and satisfying that it almost compensates for some faltering on the rest of the set (Long Road to Ruin is the this generation’s Born to Run – A Born in the USA anthem no doubt blasting from Humvees across Baghdad).

What happens next is hard to understand. Dave! Promise not to stop when we say “when”? The next 5 songs lack focus and are so disjointed… what’s Grohl striving to achieve? There’s nothing wrong with stretching. And the instrumental Ballad of The Beaconsfield Miners does take us to new territory, if a little on the movie soundtrack side of things. one wonders if Grohl was envious of Eddie Vedder’s collaboration with Sean Penn, or Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood. If Grohl wants to write for film, he should pen power tunes for this Summer’s Iron Man or Hell Boy sequel. Stick with what you know.

Statues is so very, very awful. I’ll let the lyrics do the talking:

You and I were two old and tortured souls
Repaired by a love of broken things

It gets worse:

We’re just ordinary people, you and me
Time will turn us into statues, eventually

DAVE, WHERE IS THY STING? It’s hard to figure what the band is up to with Statues. It may be fun for them to ape 70s pop schmaltz, but where’s the pleasure for us? If I want a self-deprecating turn on Air Supply I’ll listen to… what? I don’t know… REO Speedwaggon? This seems to be an issue with the Foos. The video for Road to Ruin is a return to their mock-MTV beginnings, a tongue-in-cheek play on a soap / rock star’s rise and fall from fame. To undercut the power of one of their best songs in years is cheap and unworthy of their talent, and they shouldn’t try to have it both ways. Dave: you wrote a Springsteen power ballad – live with it.

Where stretching and reference eventually pay off are on the final two cuts. But, Honestly starts with such a pleasing, breezy Ventura Highway guitar, and Dave’s vocals sound sincere and controlled. By the time you reach the scorching end, I dare you to avoid pumping your fist in the air. On the final cut, Home, Dave channels his inner Neil Young performing mostly solo with acoustic piano on a song that is simple, honest and thankfully without irony:

People I’ve loved I have no regrets
Some I remember Some I forget
Some of them living Some of them dead
All I want is to be home

Mr. Grohl should be excused from suggestions he is singing about a former fellow band mate, just as he should forgive us for thinking he wrote it for Kurt Cobain.

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All of this had me thinking back to a Foos album from ten years ago, The Colour and The Shape. Many consider this their finest achievement. I will go further. Just re-released for a 10th anniversary edition, Colour is one of the best rock albums of the last 40 years, and one of the finest expressions of separation and dissolution by any songwriter. The reasons are simple; with Colour, Grohl imprinted a complete statement of the breakdown and breakup of a relationship. All of it expressed with controlled coherence, and with a raw bang, not a whimper – and sans ironic distance. In fact the songs are so immediate, they capture what it’s like to be caught in an unsolvable and reductive puzzle, always coming back to the same inescapable point of reference. The ferocity of My Poor Brain and Enough Space is disturbing, but so very human. The transition from the savage Wind Up to the apologetic Up In Arms stark, jolting and unnerving. Have a gander at some lyrics, and tell me you don’t see an artist clawing to get out of his box:

I wish I never had taken this dare
I wasn’t quite prepared

Now that I’ve found my reward,
Throw it away long before,
I’d share a piece of mine with you.

sometimes I feel I’m getting stuck
between the handshake and the fuck

will I be happy on the back of the shelf
will you be happy when we’re sharing a cell

put her on the ceiling
try to maker he my own
people line up to see
but there never seems to be enough space

You ask for walls I’ll build them higher
we’ll lie in shadows of them all
I’d stand but they’re much too tall
and i fall

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in

I cannot be without you,
matter of fact
I’m on your back

I’ll never tell you the secrets I’m holding
I love this leash that holds me
when I try to run away

and finally, Monkey Wrench’s gutcheck scream; what may be the definitive last word on relationships:

one last thing before I quit
I never wanted any more than I could fit into my head
I still remember every single word you said
and all the shit that somehow came along with it
still there’s one thing that comforts me
since I was always caged and now I’m free

I don’t know that anyone has better expressed how it feels to finally stamp something into the ground, and to oblivion.

From the opening invitation, Doll, this is a stripped down, balls-out juggernaut to its redemptive climax, New Way Home. A definite sleeper of the last decade.

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