Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Hell hath no fury like a Foo scorned: When taking on the snake-pit task of finding and nurturing true love, Dave Grohl hasn’t lost all hope, but the hardest-workin’ man in rock has certainly lost most of his patience. “All my life I’ve been searching for something/Something never comes/Never leads to nothing,” the alpha Foo Fighter laments at the start of his band’s fourth album, One by One. This initial shrink rap, from first single “All My Life,” quickly erupts into a relentless jackhammer rage, with Grohl growling, “Done, done/And I’m on to the next one” between self-inflicted gunshots of guitar.
Grohl is feeling mighty lady-low at a time when the Fairfax, Va.-born alien tussler should be flying high. Besides getting kudos for his part-time gig drumming for those hairy-knuckled Queens of the Stone Age, the 33-year-old is currently turning his boyhood crush on speed metal into a star-studded side project. In even better news, he’s also finished legal-wrasslin’ with Courtney Love over the Cobain songbook just in time for the release of a Nirvana hits collection—which includes the buzzed-about (but kinda dull) “new” track, “You Know You’re Right.”
Although he played a part in that band’s quick-strike rise to infamy, Grohl, in an equally short amount of time, has already produced a bevy of best-of tracks with a just-as-good group he can call his own. That’s right: As far as I’m concerned, the Foos’ “This Is a Call,” “I’ll Stick Around,” “Monkey Wrench,” and “Stacked Actors”—not to mention “All My Life” and a handful of other cuts on the brave, blistering new disc—deserve to have a longer shelf life than Nirvana’s overadored “Come As You Are,” “All Apologies,” “Lithium,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
But no matter these recent highlights: Grohl feels like shit, and when his wounded heart weeps, it doesn’t sound all synthy and lush like those oft-dumped Britpop boys in Travis and Coldplay—no, this tortured ticker wails like a power-chording cat in heat. One by One’s second song, “Low,” continues the album’s woeful theme: Against a menacing riff similar to the one propelling Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” Grohl sings, “You’ll be my passer-by/I’ll be your new one to pass through.” And so on and on: One by One is the Foos’ bleakest message to date, an album loaded with head-pounding fury but relatively void of those feel-goody moments candy-coating such past chart-toppers as “Big Me,” “My Hero,” and “Everlong.”
Of course, Grohl has been fed up and feisty in the past, and damned if this vocal surliness didn’t wind up winning him a Grammy. 1999’s near-perfect There Is Nothing Left to Lose, the most inventive rock album of that year, kicked off as a hate letter to his makeshift and honesty-empty Hollywood home. Opening songs “Stacked Actors,” “Breakout,” and “Learn to Fly” hollered for salvation and “a sign of life”—but the closing tunes, rootsy, acoustic strums “Ain’t It the Life” and “M.I.A.” revealed that Grohl had indeed found sweet peace by bolting La La Land for the homier confines of the Old Dominion State. It was nothing short of inspired—and proved that Grohl, for all the shouting, was still a softy at heart.
There is scant uplift on One by One, however. Apparently, love stinks no matter which coast you find it on. On the second half here, Grohl again provides a string of rumbling ballads, but the jangly, eruptive “Disenchanted Lullaby” and the droning, hypnotic “Tired of You” tell you everything with their titles.
At least Grohl’s bad ‘tude hasn’t hampered his style. For a guy who cut his teeth with myriad punk outfits and the fuzzed-out grunge of Nirvana, Grohl has proved to be sonically spotless as a Foo—the music is loud but clean, explosive but tight—and his harmonized vocals can often reach a Beach Boys level of purity. Gonzo drummer Taylor Hawkins, meanwhile, keeps the beats frenetic, flammable, and way friggin’ high in the mix—overt and appropriate accompaniment to his boss’s pissin’-and-moanin’ message.
“Have It All” has a syringistic guitar line and a thunderous foundation, but the chorus, with its “She drains me when I’m empty” sentiment, is lush self-deception from a man who knows better than to swoon for a dangerous woman…but can’t help himself. “I’m the one that drives away/Then follows you back home,” Grohl admits on “Times Like These,” a classic rocket-boosted Foos number that continues the guy-can’t-help-it dilemma, complete with Hawkins’ defibrillations and Grohl’s black-licorice vox. And the slow-build “Halo,” about a leggy devil-in-disguise, has shifting hooks aplenty—not to mention an up-with-anger chorus that’ll have ’em throat-shredding in the MCI Center.
One by One completes its trip into the emotional Porta Potti with “Come Back,” a near-eight-minute admission that Grohl will give Her another chance, if only because he can’t stomach starting over with someone new. “I will come back for you,” he screams as the guitars reach stadium heights. Then a gauzy should-be coda stretches and whispers to a sweet close—until Grohl, worried that maybe she wasn’t listening the first time, starts screaming again: “I will come back for you!”
Grohl has been mum on the person(s) maneuvering the wrecking ball into his big, beating heart. Rumor has it, though, that Christina Aguilera has recently been seen skanking it up on Grohl’s arm—which means that we should be getting more of the same good stuff in the future. ‘Cause lord knows that nekkid little genie sure looks like she could mess with a fragile Foo’s mind. CP