Foo Fighters is the most recognisable modern rock band. And few music fans have a problem with this. In fact, Dave Grohl’s and the band’s albums are ranked highly on an almost universal level.
Their growth, however, has been surprising. What started as a side-project from the drummer of Nirvana turned into a group capable of headlining arena concerts worldwide. Through it all, the band has remained rock’s ambassador to the mainstream.
I’ve always appreciated Dave Grohl’s work ethic and am thankful for his success. That’s why today I’m giving modern alt-rock its due, curbing my excitement for 2023’s “But Here We Are” and ranking Foo Fighters’ albums in order of brilliance, from worst to best.
10. “One by One” (2002)
Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters have rarely stuck an image as tortured artists. But you wouldn’t know it from hearing the hard-rock dramas of “One by One.”
Of course, taking on a more muscular tone would prove a masterstroke. The embrace of post-grunge and alt-metal soon allowed Foo Fighters to transition to playing larger venues. They’d be playing arenas soon enough.
The chugging riff to “All My Life,” one that could have just as well belonged to a Megadeth record, sets up the new direction well.
The energy doesn’t die down for the rest of the album. But things don’t stay quite as exciting. “Times Like These” is a highlight but doesn’t quite survive the test of repeated listens.
Regardless, “One by One” is a polished release, albeit not a hugely inspired affair. There aren’t many left turns here. It helped Foo Fighters earn even more goodwill from the public. Dave Grohl’s public comments reveal a similar ambivalence about the album.
9. “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” (2007)
“Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” finds Foo Fighters as the last modern rock band of their calibre to still be standing. They take advantage of that opportunity.
Foo Fighters may have been a vehicle for the famous Dave Grohl. But diligent hard work had undoubtedly played a role in the band’s success. With numerous successful tours and radio hits under their belts, by 2007, they were a mainstream-established group.
Album opened, and the first single, “The Pretender”, showed this. Foo Fighters were honoured at the Grammy Awards, performed the tune with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, and the song was inescapable from modern rock radio.
The rest of the album fishes for similarly anthemic numbers. Verses are pleasant, choruses are big and, overall, it sounds like a classic rock album. “Statues,” “Long Road to Ruin,” and “Let It Die” are some of the more accomplished tracks.
“Cheer Up, Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)” is the exception. It recalls the humour of Foo Fighters’ debut record.
Overall, “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” is a good modern rock album, with a typical Gil Norton production. However, most of the songs are typical as well. Those who aren’t massive Foo Fighters fans have fewer reasons to give this repeated listens.
8. “Foo Fighters” (1995)
“Foo Fighters” is, essentially, Dave Grohl’s solo power-pop record on his own Roswell Records label, an RCA subsidiary imprint. It was also a way to move past the disbandment of Nirvana following Kurt Cobain’s tragic death.
Grohl had few expectations for the first album besides getting back on the road.
However, the lack of ambition works in the album’s favour. The melodies of songs like “Big Me” or “This is a Call” are extremely fizzy and catchy. All the tracks, even the more vindictive “I’ll Stick Around,” are balanced by humour.
And just like Dave Grohl’s demeanour in Nirvana, there’s a light, relaxed vibe throughout “Foo Fighters,” a name given to WWII UFOs.
While it’s not a colossal success, the Foos’ debut proves thoroughly that Grohl is both a singer and a songwriter, not merely a top drummer.
7. “Sonic Highways” (2014)
Foo Fighters always appeared to be a tribute to the glory days of rock n’ roll, and “Sonic Highways,” their 6th album, is intended to cement that reputation.
The album is inspired by and also acts as an alternative soundtrack to Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl’s “Sound City” film.
“Sonic Highways” also allows Foo Fighters to record a concept record of sorts. Each song represents a city in the United States of America. And the tracks were used as the basis for a television mini-series.
There are some excellent songs like “Something from Noting,” “I Am a River”, or “Congregation.”
But while this isn’t a very surprising record, this seems to matter very little. Foo Fighters had become ambassadors for guitar rock, and most folks were just happy to have them around.
6. “Concrete and Gold” (2017)
Foo Fighters make a left turn for “Concrete Gold,” adding more complex musical arrangements. The results are interesting, albeit not always gripping.
It’s certainly a way for Dave Grohl to answer his very few critics. Grohl had earned the reputation as “the nicest man in entertainment.” However, some might sheepishly complain about Foo Fighters’ albums sounding a bit samey.
They’d shaken some of that reputation off with the short, direct EP titled “Saint Cecilia”, which appeared in 2015.
Foo Fighters, now a six-piece, possessed tremendous collective musical skill. That transforms the band’s post-grunge into an almost classic prog-rock sound for “Concrete and Gold.”
Album highlights include “The Sky is a Neighborhood” and “Sunday Rain.” The stacked backing vocals of “Dirty Water” provide a psychedelic gloss. And even the familiar Foo Fighter choruses used in “The Line” come equipped with plenty of studio trickery.
“Concrete Gold” has a lovely sound. More importantly, it’s got a lovely intention behind it. Foo Fighters are fighting to keep classic rock alive. And you just can’t root against that.
5. “Medicine at Midnight” (2021)
Foo Fighters let their hair hang down for “Medicine at Midnight”, and the results are more fun than someone familiar with their 2000s records might expect.
Grohl and Taylor Hawkins always made for good talk show guests. They were funny, charismatic, and self-evasive. Those were not qualities often found in Foo Fighters’ work, however.
“Medicine at Midnight” is billed as a fun-loving, modern disco record. It doesn’t veer quite in that direction. Guitar riffs are aplenty, Taylor Hawkins is willing to work within this format, and the rock band’s members are still anxious to prove their chops.
But it grooves more than previous RCA-released records. And it’s not a chore to go through it. “Making a Fire,” “Chasing Birds,” or “Shame Shame” are highlights of the record.
Something strange usually happens when bands accumulate enough hits to ensure they’ll always be able to play arenas. They usually give up trying. Not with Foo Fighters, however, proving that the role of rock saviours was always one with which they were comfortable.
And there’s no trace in sight of a Foo Fighters final music album just yet, despite the hardship of losing their talented drummer, Taylor Hawkins, in 2022.
4. “There Is Nothing Left to Lose” (1999)
Dave Grohl never seemed to mind sitting in the shadow of Kurt Cobain. However, “There Is Nothing Left to Lose” finally established him as a strong pop-rock craftsman in his own right.
Foo Fighters’ most outstanding quality is that they never seemed to force matters. By 1999, the band was a moderate alt-rock hit. Their songs, and especially quirky music videos, found their way into mainstream media. But publically, Grohl never appeared overly bothered by the success.
Still, “There Is Nothing Left to Lose,” whether by design or not, is constructed for maximum radio listener impact. “Next Year” recalls the sweet melodies of the first album. “Learn to Fly” and “Breakout” are strong power-pop singles.
And the album’s energy is not unlike that of pop-punk bands like blink-182, the ones dominating the rock charts. It could’ve easily worked out differently, but Foo Fighters’ music arrived at the right time, when alternative-rock was moving toward a more polished, mainstream direction.
Part of that power is provided by Foo Fighters, the band. Grohl answers his critics and allows Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins to bring a significant contribution to the record.
“There Is Nothing Left to Lose” was an impressive record that, I think, is one of the few late 90s rock albums to still stand the test of time.
4. “But Here We Are” (2023)
Dave Grohl’s been through one of the most challenging years of his life. But Grohl and the band use the troubled times to lend power to “But Here We Are,” not to look for pity.
First, the death of longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins is not addressed in obvious terms. That would be crass! No, the event influences the tone and sound of the lyrics and music on practically every track instead.
Secondly, Grohl started Foo Fighters as a therapeutic vehicle. The band’s grown into a symbol of the righteous power of rock music. “But Here We Are” is tailored in much the same manner.
The best thing one can do is return to work and do their best with new music. That’s Grohl’s philosophy. “Rescued” and “But Here We Are” are testament to Foos’ basic, but often great alt-rock sound.
Grohl’s excellent drumming shines through on the album. These parts, as well as Hawkins’ and William Goldsmith’s, will provide the legendary Josh Freese, the Foos’ new drummer, with an excellent opportunity to show off his musical chops. Comments from the fanbase have been generally positive.
But it’s when Grohl is forced to stretch out and try new things that the Foos do their best. The 10-minute-long “The Teacher” is a good experiment in prog-rock, and the acoustic-based “Hearing Voices” sounds ghostly and eerie.
“But Here We Are” is one of Foo Fighters’ best albums. This is not because it sounds remarkably different from the others. They’ve not allowed personal tragedy to move them away from their path. Not many bands could’ve done that!
3. “In Your Honor” (2005)
“In Your Honor” is the first album where Dave Grohl presents Foo Fighters as ambitious go-getters. The new strategy works well.
The success of this is due mostly to the quality of the songs. These have improved since “One by One.” There’s nothing revolutionary. However, Grohl is evidently a student of many styles of rock. It helps that he’s also a capable musician in each of these genres.
It also helps that his vocals have become more confident. The singing is no longer as resonant and pristine as it was on “Big Me.” Instead, Grohl takes a page from Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell or Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley, adding a gritty distortion to both the rockers and ballads.
In fact, the album is split between hard-rock numbers and semi-acoustic, slow tunes. “In Your Honor” is a double album and, largely, a satisfying affair.
The emotional “Best of You” was a hit for the band. Prince bizarrely but memorably covered it for his Super Bowl performance.
“DOA” and “Resolve” added to the canon of songs that the band could play to a live arena audience. And “Cold Day in the Sun” revealed a poppy post-grunge sound that would become the band’s trademark over the coming years.
2. “Wasting Light” (2011)
By 2011, Foo Fighters was a rock institution. Since risks could be taken safely, Dave Grohl opts to bring a hazy, hard-rocking vibe to “Wasting Light”, and it pays off.
For all of Grohl’s proclaimed love of music as far ranging as stoner rock, 70s disco, and hardcore punk, the Foo Fighters’ discography is quite conservative.
However, while “Wasting Light” is far from an avant-garde experiment, it is an album that has traces of psychedelia. Here, the heavy riffs create a strange, alluring vibe.
Foo Fighters had already released their “Greatest Hits” compilation in 2009. “Wasting Light” and the production of Butch Vig allow them to add a few more. “Rope,” “White Limo”, and “Walk” are among the band’s best singles.
Grohl’s good mood is also reflected in his choice of collaborators. Foo Fighters is now a six-piece that includes Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Schiflett and Pat Smear. Meanwhile, old alt-rockers Bob Mould and Krist Novoselic make guest appearances.
While a conservative rock record seemed to be on the cards, “Wasting Light” provides, instead, one of Foos’ most inspired works. Fan comments and media reactions were generally positive, and this helped the band enter a new tier of popularity.
1. “The Colour and the Shape” (1997)
“The Colour and the Shape” was a surprise home run from Dave Grohl and a solo project that was becoming a group.
Part of the appeal of “The Colour and the Shape” is that Grohl isn’t entirely running away from grunge. Nor is he attempting to turn his back on pop melodies. If anything, the Foos’ debut proved that he could do either quite well.
Instead, Grohl raises the stakes. Gil Norton is brought in as producer and provides the record with a sleek, radio-friendly lustre.
This is, essentially, still a solo Dave Grohl album; he’s building a band. This included Nate Mendel (ex-SunnyDay Real Estate) and Pat Smear (ex-Nirvana & The Germs), but not drummer William Goldsmith. He would be replaced mid-album by Grohl himself.
And while some of the songs have garage-rock intensity behind them, Grohl now wants the world to take him seriously as a songwriter.
“Walking After You,” “My Hero,” and especially “Everlong,” Foo Fighters’ signature song, reveal surprising depth and maturity. Time has not diminished their appeal.
Meanwhile, songs like “Monkey Wrench” are radio-friendly pop-punk.
Best of all, the record doesn’t sound contrived. It pulls from various eras of pop-rock but does everything well.