Thursday, November 5, 2009

Foo Fighters - Greatest Hits [music review]

* Released November 3rd
Greatest Hits marks the "end of an era" according to frontman Dave Grohl, who plans an extended hiatus for the band that evolved from a Grohl home recording project into one of the few rock groups seemingly capable of one day achieving "legacy" status and being able to sell out stadiums 30 years after their start. Grohl's career trajectory stands as one of the more interesting current ones in music: moving from the powerhouse drummer for the now canonized Nirvana on to the aforementioned home demos (for which he played virtually every note) that became the debut Foo Fighters album and their subsequent success (and with him moving to lead vocals and guitar), as well as the impressive 2004 Probot side project that allowed him the opportunity to pay tribute to his metal influences. His next endeavour is with Them Crooked Vultures, a highly anticipated new band also comprising Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age, the latter being another band Grohl has recorded and toured with. Add to all this his numerous guest appearances as a highly sought after musician on albums by Garbage, Killing Joke, Tony Iommi, Nine Inch Nails, and David Bowie, to name just a few.
Most best-of or greatest hits compilations are sure to inspire debate as to what was included and/or left off, and this one is no exception. The obvious essentials are here: "My Hero", "Monkey Wrench", "Learn To Fly", "All My Life", "Best Of You", "The Pretender", and "Everlong". Actually, "Everlong" appears twice, with both the regular studio version and an acoustic version. The band has been playing the stripped down version live for years and never recorded a proper studio version until now...I only wish it was the other acoustic version of the song they've performed in the past, which is played at a much slower tempo and completely reinvents the song as a waltzing shuffle, as opposed to the more faithful and less interesting version presented here.
Some of the song picks remain head scratchers, while others are noticeably absent. I suppose they had to include the irritating "Big Me", which achieved significant crossover success. "Breakout" always struck me as filler and 1999's There Is Nothing Left To Lose album deserves better representation, perhaps with "Stacked Actors" and/or "Next Year" (which was also used as the theme song to NBC's Ed). Can't argue with the two tracks each from 2002's One By One or 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, including their respective first singles "All My Life" and "The Pretender". They stack up as the band's finest work...unfortunately, most of the rest of these albums turned out to be a huge disappointment. 2005's In Your Honor is glaringly conspicuous in its lone track selection ("The Best Of You"), considering it was a double album. The group ambitiously sought to please the fans of both their heavier and more acoustic-based work, releasing one disc of each style. The results were predictable, though far from an artistic failure...pare the bloated 20 song release down to a single 10-12 song album and it would have ranked up there probably just below their high water mark of 1997's The Colour And The Shape. Again, I can think of much stronger material from In Your Honor to include, like "D.O.A.", "No Way Back", or "Resolve".
Naturally, the compilation comes with the requisite new material. The band brought in producing legend Butch Vig for "Wheels" and "Word Forward", two worthy additions to the band's catalog that don't deviate too far from the Foo's well established "quiet-loud" dynamic formula. "Wheels" has roots in 70's classic rock, while "Word Forward" builds from an acoustic intro into a catchy chorus laced with some well-placed expletives from Grohl and a clever play on words ("word for word") that explain the cryptic song title.
Greatest Hits is a pretty good summation of the Foo Fighters' first 15 years, with a few quibbles here and there. It's a testament to Dave Grohl's vast talent and tireless work ethic that a decade and a half long retrospective from his full time band still really only captures about half of everything he's accomplished in his career.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆