God, how Dave Grohl must have grown to loathe that query over the last year. At least now he's finally come up with an answer, and a good one at that. With his new band's eponymous debut release, Nirvana's former drummer has stepped decidedly out of Kurt Cobain's shadow to stake out his own place in the sun.
The Foo Fighters first surfaced earlier this year on a DIY van tour with Mike Watt's latest project Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. Audience members at the band's obscure club dates claimed Grohl was fronting a foursome that crammed the feral energy of grunge into a smiley-faced pop framework.
Judging by this album, those reports were bull's-eye. The air of Foo Fighters is heavy with the smell of sweat-drenched flannel, but you'll also hear Ringo in the back, calling for another beer. "I'll Stick Around" and "Alone + Easy Target" could have been excellent Nirvana songs, especially with the latter track's refrain, "Get out, get out, get out."
"Big Me," however, is an airy love song, bright and simple. "For All the Cows" stays true to its lighthearted title, resembling nothing if not a lounge act's last-call theme song. Be wary, though--"Cows" packs a mean sucker punch as Grohl signals a warp-speed shift of mood and tempo with one quick stomp on his distortion pedal.
Yes, you read that right. Grohl has traded in his sticks for a six-string. Handling drums for Foo Fighters is Will Goldsmith, formerly of Sunny Day Real Estate. Fighters bass player Nate Mendel also hails from that recently deceased Sub Pop stable band, which broke up when one of its members was born again.
Surprisingly, Grohl's playing is superb. He and co-guitarist Pat Smear (of Germs notoriety) wield their axes with considerable power and, more important, tight control. They're at their best on "X-Static," smoothly layering their sound in an opening riff that lasts just longer than you think it will before breaking into song, building the tension until the release is glorious.
All 12 tracks on Foo Fighters were written by Grohl. According to a band bio, he penned tunes on the road with Nirvana and recorded demo versions in the basement of his Seattle home between tours. A few months after Cobain's suicide, he booked time in a Seattle studio, laid down 15 of his best tracks and simply gave away 100 dupes of the tape.
"That fucking tape spread like the Ebola virus," Grohl said in a recent press release. " . . . leaving me with an answering machine full of record-company jive."
You mean a bunch of suits wanted to cut you a recording deal, Dave? Man, that's rough.
Big-time industry interest in a Grohl effort was a foregone conclusion. With the mark of "N" on his forehead, the guy could put out a recording of crappy campfire songs and probably move half a million units. Thankfully, Foo Fighters stands on its own as one of the finest major releases so far this year.
"Foo," incidentally, is French slang for "feu," meaning fire. Foo fighters were ghostly lights that several Allied pilots in WW II claimed chased their planes over Alsace-Lorraine. The aerial phenomena would burn brightly for a while, they said, then vanish.
Here's hoping that's not the case for Grohl and company.--David Holthouse
I Should Co Co
Most of this entertaining album sounds like it should be the soundtrack for a Saturday-morning cartoon. It's not hard to envision these English heartthrobs as animated teens who play in a rock band.
Along with its ridiculous title, Co Co boasts a trilogy of silly songs about "the Strangeones," whoever the hell they are. It's not explained on the advance cassette we worked from.
The opening track muses, "I'd like to know where all the Strangeones go" while another informs you, "They look down from the clouds and smile on everyone down below." The final song on the subject, "We're Not Supposed To," warns against becoming friends or making love to those dirty Strangeones.
Like Oasis, Supergrass has learned to assimilate rock's past for present gain. Yet its sources are more loopy. A guitar lead can be as sloppy as Johnny Thunder's in one measure, as matronly as Queen's Brian May in the next. Witness "Alright," which sounds like Supertramp playing a cover from the Grease soundtrack. Punk is one major source, but Supergrass seems more akin to the Boomtown Rats than the Buzzcocks. The track that indicates that similarity best is also the finest summer single we're likely to get this year. "Caught by the Fuzz" brilliantly describes how innocence ends for a 15-year-old with one swift slam of the holding-cell door. It contains dialogue between the traumatized juvenile delinquent and menacing lawmen ("Who sold you the blow?" "Well, it was no one I know!"), and, as any good, old-fashioned rock rebellion song should, a hysterical mum screaming, "You've blackened our name, you should be ashamed! I never should have let you out tonight!"
Co-Co's eclecticism is a mixed blessing. Take "Sofa of My Lethargy," a fat ol' lazy art-rock number reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Meddle period--the kind of music punk set out to eradicate in the first place. Supergrass wants it both ways, which makes this frivolous bit of pop alchemy fascinating.
Plus, you've gotta like a closing track that says, "Thanks to everyone for everything you've done, we've had some fun, but now it's time to go." If Carol Burnett still had her variety show, she would pull her right ear off to sing that song before credits rolled.--Serene Dominic
Music by Ry Cooder
"Ry Cooder" sounds like a guy you'd find pumping gas in Deliverance. In fact, Cooder's no stranger to the big screen, having written the music for more than a dozen films--most notably Wim Wenders' desolate Paris, Texas. That film's title track is the first song on this compilation, a two-CD set documenting 15 years of toil and twang. Cooder's creepy, disembodied guitar on this song and a couple of other spare western numbers reverberates and extends forever like a two-lane highway down the middle of nowhere. It's worth getting lost on.
Most of the compositions on Music by are in no hurry to get where they're going. "Theme From Southern Comfort" mixes Cooder's guitar with piano, percussion and accordion, yet lacks the density such instrumentation suggests. Instead, it floats along like a countrified version of an ambient Brian Eno creation ("Music for Airports in Nashville," anyone?).
Cooder's music typically explores the landscape of hidden America: back roads and bayous, border towns and Big Sky country. Once in a while, though, the songwriter ventures into urban terrain, as on "King of the Street," a punch in the face from the 1992 action flick Trespass that loops Ice-T's dialogue. Such verbalization is rare, however. Cooder is obviously most comfortable when his tremolo's preaching the Gospel of Duane Eddy on Quaaludes.--Matt Golosinski
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Chalk up Funkdoobiest as the latest crew from L.A.'s hip-hop breeding ground to earn a spot on the national scene. Mellow jazz samples, disciplined lyrics and polished mike flows are the current craze in the City of Angels, and this trio's new release takes that formula to lofty heights. Brothas Doobie is a tighter, refined follow-up to Funkdoobiest's 1993 debut, Bow, Wow, Wow.
Much of the credit for the quality of this recording should go to consummate dial-twirler DJ Muggs (of Cypress Hill fame), who handled production. Whether he's unleashing secret R&B samples or recycling beats from contemporary rap artists like Ice Cube, Muggs puts out music guaranteed to induce head-nodding--and not of the falling-asleep variety. Opener "Rock On" sets the smooth tone of the album and is a prime example of jazz beats put to good use.
Funkdoobiest is one of the few West Coast hip-hop groups to explore the power of rhyme without relying on the all-too-familiar stories of growing up in the 'hood. Hailing with pride from Puerto Rico, the three MCs--DJ Ralph M, Sondoobie and Tomahawk Funk--mesh fine verbal flows to music that's groovy. Overall, Brothas Doobie is an excellent alternative to the pseudo-hard-core style that dominates today's hip-hop market.--Danielle Hollomon