Podcasts | Political Beats

Episode 26: Jay Caruso/Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut album. (Robert Lang Studios)

Jeff and Scot talk to Jay Caruso about Foo Fighters.

Introducing the Band

Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Jay Caruso, editorial writer & board member at the Dallas Morning News and co-host of the Fifth Estate podcast. Follow Jay on Twitter at @JayCaruso, check out the Fifth Estate here, and read his most recent work here.

Jay’s Musical Pick: Foo Fighters

This week the gang dusts up the ashes from Nirvana’s auto-combustion as they cover Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s wildly successful follow-up band. Jay talks about how he got into the Fighters Of Foo via ’90s radio play, initially skeptical when he heard “Big Me” as “the next big single from the drummer of Nirvana” and then SOLD SOLD SOLD once “Everlong” checked, he bought The Colour Of The Shape, and was in for the long run. Scot, as a DJ, was familiar with them from jump, but for once it’s Jeff who is coming to a band on Political Beats as a true tyro: to him, the Foos were merely a namechecked “ex-Nirvana” band until *literally* three weeks ago, at which point he dove into their discography and realized that he’d been a terrible, terrible fool. Everyone appreciates the fact that, while they take their music seriously, they don’t take themselves seriously — which anyone who’s seen any of their music videos already figured out.

From mere colour to real shape: Foo Fighters and The Colour and the Shape

The gang discusses how the band’s first album emerged from the wreckage of Nirvana, with Grohl recovering from depression after Kurt Cobain’s suicide to go in and record a demo tape of his favorite self-penned songs all by his lonesome: drums, bass, guitars, vocals, the whole shebang. That tape was so good that it became, after a mere remix, Foo Fighters (1995): a debut album for a band that wasn’t, at that point, actually even a band. But everyone loves this one and considers it among the Foos’ best, particularly Jeff, who considers it a My Bloody Valentine tribute record in all but name outside of “This Is A Call,” which is the most Nirvana-like song Nirvana never recorded.

The big hosannahs are reserved for 1997’s The Colour And The Shape, however. Suddenly the Foo Fighters are an actual band: Grohl recruited the rhythm section of the newly-defunct Sunny Day Real Estate and added ex-Nirvana (touring version) guitarist Pat Smear — but then subtracted the Sunny Day drummer to re-record his tracks himself! — and came up with one of the finest albums of the late ’90s, and one of the most long-lasting as well. We’ve collectively forgotten the vast majority of the alt-rock/hard-rock acts from that era, but Shape lives on, all the way from “Dolls” to “New Way Home.” Jeff adores the whiplash contrasts of “My Poor Brain” and the earned anthemicism of “My Hero,” while Scot and Jay both single out “Everlong.” Scot and Jeff strongly disagree about the merits of “Hey, Johnny Park!” (“in my notes, there’s a big equals-sign saying ‘Goo Goo Dolls'” — Jeff), but there is universal agreement about the utterly consistent greatness of the rest of Colour And The Shape, whether it’s “Monkey Wrench,” “Up In Arms,” or “Wind Up.”

Something Left to Lose

Opinions differ about the Foo Fighters’ 1999 follow-up (recorded as a drums/guitar/bass trio) There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Jeff thinks this is nearly as good as The Colour And The Shape, and labels the two-song sequence of “Generator” and “Aurora” as the backbone of the Foos’ entire career. Scot thinks this LP reminds him most of The Lemonheads, but strongly dislikes “Breakout.” Jay (a drummer himself) praises the addition of Taylor Hawkins on drums. And everyone loves “Learn To Fly” especially the ridiculously goofy music video (the final three seconds of which, freeze-frame and all, tell you everything you need to know about how down-to-earth the Foos are).

The band famously dislikes the follow-up album One By One (2002), though Jeff (the newbie listener) actually thinks it’s an unfair rap. The Foo Fighters re-expand back to a four-piece by adding Chris Shiflett on guitar, and come up with two radio-dominant singles in “All My Life” and “Times Like These” (you know it as “oh…I’m a new day rising” song). But while Scot, Jay and Jeff all agree that the back-end of this album is sludgy and unmemorable, Jeff really thinks “Tired Of You” and “Halo” are excellent songs.

Foo Fighters: In a Folk Mood

The header there is a reference to the infamous Pat Boone: In A Metal Mood record, which is how all three of the gang (including a hardcore Foos fan, a conversant listener, and a sympathetic neophyte) think about fully half of the unfortunate In Your Honor (2005). Honor makes the mistake of dividing itself into two discs (the Foos’ longest record to date), the first electrified and heavy, the second acoustic and poncy. Scot actually thinks disc 1 on In Your Honor is among the Foos’ best material, particularly the three-song run of “No Way Back,” “Best Of You,” and “D.O.A.” But they all agree that the second ‘acoustic’-ish disc is as close to embarrassing as the Foo Fighters ever got, almost entirely unrelieved by a single decent song.

Patience Rewarded

Jeff argues that Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007) is a massive upswing from the doldrums of In Your Honor, and Jay is on board too. Scot isn’t so sure — he prefers the “rock” half of In Your Honor — but what everyone agrees on is the monumental impressiveness of “The Pretender,” the album’s leadoff track. (“The Foo Fighters that I fell in love with are back'” — Jay.) Combining subtly-deployed strings with a truly compelling song-structure and at least three separate memorable hooks, “The Pretender” announced that Grohl was not done as a songwriter. Jeff also is a big fan of “Let It Die” and particularly the wonderfully goofy “Cheer Up Boys (Your Make Up Is Running),” a pure pop delight that should be ranked among their greatest hits.

There was some disagreement about the merits of Patience. But none of the gang disagrees about Wasting Light(2009), an album so shockingly great, so late in the Foo Fighters’ career, that both Jay and Jeff argue that buttresses any argument to be made about them as a truly great band. Back to basics, recording analog in Grohl’s garage with Butch Vig behind the board, Wasting Light is a brutally powerful tour of everything that made the Foos worth hearing up until this point: naggingly memorable hooks, overwhelming (yet still well-measured) sonic attack, and an appealing lack of bombast. “Rope” comes in for major praise by Scot and Jay; Jay and Jeff both salivate over the Bob Mould collaboration of “Dear Rosemary”; everyone loves “Arlandria”; and “I Should Have Known” is the song about Kurt that music journos had been accusing Dave Grohl of secretly writing for 14 years.

Sonic Highways to Concrete And Gold

The Foos’ two most recent albums get far more mixed reviews from the gang, but recency bias is partly in effect. Scot and Jeff don’t have much good to say about the odd conceptual music travelogue Sonic Highways (2014) — Scot does like “Something From Nothing” — but Jay argues that the album makes a heck of a lot more sense if you watch the 8-hour documentary upon which the recordings ultimately released on the record were based. Jeff is skeptical about having to invest that much time for a 42 minute record that seems otherwise unprepossessing. The same applies, at least in Jeff’s opinion, to the Foos’ very recent release, Concrete And Gold (2017): moderately interesting music that doesn’t repay too much attention. Jay notes the lead single “Run” is a seeming answer song to Wasting Light‘s, “Walk,” and contends that everything on it sounds far better live than on the record.


Jay, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs from Foo Fighters.

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