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Foo Fighters' 'But Here We Are' is heavy, in every sense of the word

Foo Fighters perform in Gilford, N.H. on May 24. The band's 11th studio album, <em>But Here We Are</em>, is out now.
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Foo Fighters perform in Gilford, N.H. on May 24. The band's 11th studio album, But Here We Are, is out now.

Foo Fighters formed in the aftermath of tragedy, as Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide left Dave Grohl reeling and in search of a voice. The band's self-titled 1995 debut found the drummer and newly minted frontman reinvigorated by grief, while 1997's The Colour and the Shape doubled as a rousingly hooky therapy session in the aftermath of his divorce. Taken together, the two records document Grohl's search for catharsis and balance amid painful destabilization, and they set the tone for a fruitful career that culminated in Foo Fighters' 2021 induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Now, 28 years after Foo Fighters' debut, the band has released its 11th album, But Here We Are — and once again found itself in mourning. Drummer Taylor Hawkins died unexpectedly in March 2022, leaving the band's future momentarily uncertain; then, in August of the same year, Grohl lost his mother, Virginia. The lyrics to Grohl's new songs suggest that she's an even greater presence — or, more to the point, absence — on the album than Hawkins. Grohl's words on But Here We Are ache with loss, even as they explode in full-bore rock mayhem, and that loss extends beyond the deaths of loved ones: They're songs about the loss of memory, the loss of comfort, the loss of the past, the loss of home. Once again, plumbing the depths of anguish has led to some of the most vital music of his career.

It's worth stopping here to push back against the pernicious myth of art stemming only from great misery, and to contemplate how much of Grohl's best work is also an extension of the deep community that's formed around him — which has, in recent years, extended to the occasional vocal contribution from his daughter Violet. But it's hard to miss, and it would be malpractice not to point out, the consistent ferocity and focus on display in But Here We Are. Grohl clearly understands that we honor departed loved ones by building new joys we wish they were around to share.

In that way, But Here We Are genuinely shines as a tribute to Hawkins. Though Foo Fighters' drummer will be replaced on tour by Josh Freese, Grohl returns to the kit throughout the new record, and he brings raw, instantly identifiable intensity to its 10 tracks. "Rescued" and "Under You" open But Here We Are with singles that seem to have emerged directly from an alternate-universe greatest-hits package — they're hard-driving career highlights that sound both timeless and utterly of the present — while "Nothing At All" and the title track ramp up those songs' aggression with choruses that kick up some of the finest frenzies of Foo Fighters' career.

Of course, for this band, riffs and reflection aren't mutually exclusive. For all its hard-driving abandon, "Under You" taps into a deep well of sentiment — "Someone said I'll never see your face again / Part of me just can't believe it's true / Pictures of us share sharing songs and cigarettes / This is how I'll always picture you" — as it contemplates grief as both a great weight and a process. Elsewhere, absences abound from every angle: "I been hearing voices / None of them are you," Grohl sings in "Hearing Voices," while the 10-minute epic "The Teacher" finds him pleading, "Show me how to grieve, man / Show me how to say goodbye." "Rest" closes But Here We Are on a true tearjerker, as he pledges a reunion "in the warm Virginia sun" — a reference to both his place of origin and the woman who raised him. And "The Glass" makes clear the stakes of his sorrow, as Grohl sings, "I had a version of home, and just like that, I was left to live without it."

Still, all the talk of death that pervades But Here We Are shouldn't overshadow what a truly formidable rock record it is — so catchy and vibrant, so brimming with wild-eyed wonder. It's heavy, in every sense of the word, but make no mistake: It'll still get stuck in your head for days.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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