City Paper is not for tourists
What if I were to start the argument that Dave Grohl was, by far, the most talented—musicwise, lyricwise, visionwise—member of Nirvana? That Kurt Cobain was a fucked-up control freak who kept Grohl behind the skin set for fear of relinquishing the monarchy? That no one ever remembers Chris Novoselic or Jason Everman or Chad Channing? That over the course of three albums, the Foo Fighters (Grohl + interchangeable parts = Foo Fighters) have taken day trips to more exotic, ear-opening locales than Courtney Love’s boy toy ever hallucinated about? Think I’d get a barrage of angry mail for such unholy thoughts? ‘Cause, you know, I really like mail—death threats and Dear John letters included.
OK, perhaps starting that argument would be a dumb move. Cobain was a sad, mixed-up little man, and who knows what he might have accomplished had he matured past constant pouts, ripped jeans, and multihued hair. Still, listening to the Foo Fighters’ third album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, makes me strive for exaggeration. Even to the point of warranting a handwritten bloody nose. It’s that good. The follow-up to 1995’s Foo Fighters and 1997’s The Colour and the Shape, this effort is near-flawless in achieving its grunge-pop mission statement, from the pissed-off opener, “Stacked Actors,” to the all-is-well rootsy bliss of closers “Ain’t It the Life” and “M.I.A.”
Grohl has always borrowed from the soft-then-hard style of play—”This Is a Call,” “I’ll Stick Around,” “Monkey Wrench”—but here the Chief Foo spends considerably more time nuzzling his softer side, and the fresh imbalance works beautifully. Grohl recently moved from L.A. back to his Virginia home (he’s from Fairfax), and the change of scenery has obviously taken the edge off in more ways than one.
There Is Nothing Left to Lose begins in Hollywood and starts hard: “Stacked Actors” (“Stacked dead actors/Stacked to the rafters/Clean up the bastards/All I want is the truth”) explodes into an angry tirade against West Coast bullshit-harvesting; “Breakout” (“I don’t want to look like that”) is a bass-heavy soundtrack for suitcase packing; and first single “Learn to Fly” (“I’m looking to the sky to save me/I’m looking for a sign of life….Make my way back home/When I learn to fly”) blends an uplifting chorus with drummer Taylor Hawkins’ determined pounding—and pretty much sums up the attitude of the entire disc: We gotta get out of this place. And get out they do.
The album’s second half is a gorgeous thank-you note to a truer sort of life. Grohl’s throat-scraping howls are stuffed in the utility shed, and rarely does his voice strain past midrange wistful (although there’s still plenty of late-night, whiskey ‘n’ cigarettes inflection to remind you where you are). “Aurora” is a complicated love song straight out of the early-’80s Genesis songbook, “Next Year” is next year’s suburban prom anthem, and “Ain’t It the Life” is a twangy summation of Grohl’s sudden Zenlike peace, anchored by the sighed line “See the actors run and hide.” If Grohl isn’t, by far, more talented that his long-dead former bandmate, then at least give him credit for being smarter: For the sake of state of mind, he ditched La-La Land for the Land of Lovers. The result? One of the best rock albums of the year—and that’s not an exaggeration.
Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale is a fine-looking fellow who should always wear leather pants—even when he’s asleep. There, that’s what I like about the guy. What I don’t like? His raspy speak ‘n’ sing vocals have always been too detached for the often lovely—or, at least, diverting—music that surrounds them. His vagueness-as-pain lyrics say nothing and quickly annoy. And the only thing of note Rossdale has done in the last few years is Gwen Stefani—and even that plot line’s getting tired. (Maybe Shirley Manson is free?)
The Science of Things, Bush’s first batch of original material in three years, is basically a Mad Libs take on the group’s mid-’90s chart-toppers Sixteen Stone and Razorblade Suitcase. But whereas hits such as “Everything Zen” and “Machinehead” contained enough catchy, quirky hooks to satisfy the average alternative-radio listener, the material on the new album is decidedly unhooked. And let’s face it, without the pop secret, Rossdale & Co. are nothing more than bored-looking DKNY models (except for that bald dude; he looks like a dentist).
All right, I guess there are a couple of guilty pleasures: “The Chemicals Between Us” (“I want you to remember/Everything you said/Every driven word/Like a hammer hell to my head”) benefits from both a slick electronica polish and a rare sense of urgency in Rossdale’s vocals, and “Prizefighter” (“Who will be there/Cover when you fall/We’re all chasing something/How come you never call”) is an unlikely breakup song that offers up a compelling reason to bang your head. For the most part, though, The Science of Things will make you do nothing more than skip to the next track (and skip and skip and…). Apparently, Bush forgot the key ingredient to its particular brand of fame: Making grunge-pop about nothing in particular is cool only if you can dance to the results. CP