Dave Grohl has often said he regrets the mad moment when he called his band Foo Fighters. It was a spur of the moment reference to UFO investigators.
Some 16 years and six Grammy awards later, a new album by the Foos (on Roswell Records) is a major event in the rock milieu, silly name or no. “Wasting Light,” out today, has Grohl seeking to channel the power of Nirvana, the short-lived grunge trio he was part of but that always outgunned his own efforts. Kurt Cobain’s raw songs drove Nirvana’s 50 million unit sales, led by “Nevermind.”
This time, Grohl, 42, rounded up Nirvana’s producer (Butch Vig), bassist (Krist Novoselic) and touring guitarist (Pat Smear). The Foos retreated to Grohl’s two-car garage, which he declared “a ballad-free zone,” and recorded to analogue tape in Nirvana-style jam sessions.
This one-gear plod has little of the studio perfectionism and diversity on its excellent predecessor “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.” The single “Rope” chugs along and “White Limo” is punky, yet the group has only lifted itself above average with hummable melodies and catchy riffs.
Grohl was named a “Godlike Genius” by U.K. magazine NME. Nothing on the new album, though, has the hair-raising power of the late Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“I Should Have Known” is an elegy for Grohl’s friend Jimmy Swanson, who died in 2008. The lyrics again invoke the ghost of Cobain: “I should have known that it would end this way.” Rating: ***.
If roaring rock is not what you need, try chilling with a very different album, out today in the U.S., from the ever-articulate Paul Simon.
“So Beautiful or So What,” shot through with bluegrass and world music, is intelligent and quietly likeable. Simon, 69, looks forward to arriving at the Pearly Gates on “The Afterlife.” This time, he isn’t counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike so much as standing in line and listening to half-hearted excuses.
The opener, “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” also takes on mortality, with Simon singing about a soldier in Iraq, put together with samples from a 1941 sermon.
The collection is a step up from 2006’s over-produced “Surprise,” with sharper songs that recall “The Rhythm of the Saints” from 1990. It’s not as good as “Graceland” from 1986 or 1972’s “Paul Simon” though a few songs, such as the African-flavored title track, come close.
I don’t know if Simon will be rewarded with a permanent path to heaven thanks to this literate, 38-minute collection. He certainly finds beauty. Rating: ****.
“Songs for Japan” is a two-CD compilation from stars such as John Lennon, U2 and Bob Dylan. Rock fans will know many of these 37 songs by heart, though not from some of the live and extended versions here: The Lady Gaga track is a 6 minute 45 second remix of “Born This Way.” The speed of its release in an industrywide initiative, and the worthiness of the cause, justify a rating of *****.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
The Foo Fighters CD is on RCA/Roswell, Simon is on Concord/Hear Music and “Songs for Japan” on Legacy in the U.S. priced from $10.00. The Foo and Japan CDs are 8.99 pounds in the U.K., with the Paul Simon to be released on June 13. Download fees vary across services.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)