On October 17, 1994, Dave Grohl headed to a Seattle studio with the intent of recording just another demo tape.
This was something he had been in the habit of doing for the past 4 years as a way to kill time when he was on break from his “other” band, NIRVANA. The only difference was, this time for Grohl, the break was permanent.
NIRVANA’s magical reign on top of the rock and music world had abruptly ended with the death of Kurt Cobain, the band’s frontman, earlier that year. For months, Grohl had been devastated, unable to bring himself to think about music again.
But now, here he was. With his old friend and long time personal producer Barrett Jones by his side, he returned to Robert Lang’s Studios, where NIRVANA’s final recording session had taken place that January. For the next 6 days, Grohl and Jones, with (a little) help from Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs, recorded approximately 15 songs that Grohl had been working on while he had been a member of NIRVANA. A demo tape of this work then was circulated amongst Grohl’s friends and peers within the industry.
The buzz was off-the-charts.
Everyone that heard the tape begged Grohl for more, and were shocked to find out he had been doing this for years on his own. Suddenly, the guy who had been “lucky enough to not be the next drummer replaced by Kurt” had people yelling at him to start his own band.
After some time, Grohl obliged, and to appease the hype, decided that by January of 1995, he would release twelve songs off the demo tape as the self-titled release of his not-yet-existent-band, the Foo Fighters, and then rushed off to recruit bandmates before that. But that is another story. The album/demotape itself?
Hands-down, this is the best Foo Fighters album ever released.
While some may argue it lacks the emotion and personal feel of the band’s sophomore release, I respond that this release was spurred on by death (as opposed to separation/divorce in the other album’s case) and consequentially has more raw feeling to it than anything that would ever follow. It was also the result of four years of tinkering, refining, and creative development by one person, which makes it much more focused (as opposed to two years of work and 3-4 other people in the 2nd album’s case, making it much less focused).
This is a very cryptic, lyrically abstract album, a popular trend by the standards of 1994 but a dying technique in today’s mainstream music as the average music listener is sadly becoming dumber and dumber. As a result artists need to dumb their lyrical content down to connect with their audience. Fortunately, Grohl has penned a guide to his songs’ lyrical content, and that was of great assistance in this review. However, it is quite obvious in the guide that he is purposely silent on some songs because for years, this album has been rightfully been rumored to be about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
The album starts off with a soft melody, that quickly jumps into a fast-paced, feel-good NIRVANA-esque song entitled “This Is A Call.” Grohl pounds the drums with joy, but pounds the guitar and bass with equal aggression. According to Dave, this song is a “shout-out” to everyone he ever knew, and is somewhat of a “thank you.” The only issue I have is towards the end, where a melody appears that bears an inverted resemblance to the main riff of NIRVANA’s “Radio-Friendly Unit Shifter.”
With only a millisecond of recovery time after the first song ends, we immediately are hit with a furious attack of drums, and a “very negative song about violation/deprivation,” also known as “I’ll Stick Around,” kicks off, which ends on a very climactic, repetitive, yet strongly effective note. We are introduced to Grohl’s anger for the first time, and to this day it is rumored that this song was written about Courtney Love, whom he felt had abused his friend Kurt when he was alive and even now when he was dead, and also about how he would prove himself to be better than her in the end. Oh, how right he was…
The aggression tones down with “Big Me,” arguably the most popular song off this album. It’s a sweet, sappy love song about trying to work out issues in a relationship, and most people will remember it for the Mentos allusion in the video. The guitar work is what it needs to be, and Dave’s multi-layered vocals are excellent, but his drumming on this track tends to sound too strong and out of place. Love songs like these tend to sound more suitable with William Goldsmith and later Taylor Hawkins on the drums.
“Alone + Easy Target” is a song that Grohl had actually practiced instrumentally with NIRVANA in 1991 during soundchecks before shows, and the NIRVANA-esque feel is there again. This could be a song written about constantly having to prove himself to Cobain but then watching him do the same with his wife. This theme seems to continue in “Good Grief,” which talks about “the thought of being ousted,” a probable reference to Cobain’s reportedly maddening control-freak nature.
“Floaty” is the only song Grohl claims has ever had effects used on his voice, due to his “amazing insecurity about it,” but it really makes the song shine. The title, lyrics, and the feel of the song all seem to scream out “spacy.” It is absolutely unclear what the song could be about. In my opinion, this is the most “relaxing shoutfest” I’ve ever heard, particularly during the chorus.
“Weenie Beenie” may be the most pointless song on the album, but we have to keep in mind that this was a demo tape, and Grohl was a former member of NIRVANA, a Sonic-Youth-inspired band with a penchant for experimentation. On this track, Grohl uses an interesting technique of muffling his voice nearly-completely so that the lyrics are unintelligible (fans have since deciphered the words to this song) and putting a very, VERY grungy riff for the verse and the chorus. The song is really funny to listen to the first time, but its repeat value is very low.
Grohl claims that “Oh, George” is also pointless. Perhaps he feels so because of its sound being something like a cross between “Big Me” and “Exhausted,” another song on the album, but it’s a very reflective song which is my favorite vocal performance by Dave on the entire album. The lyrics seem to about leaving the music world on “the train” and then coming back after having “waited for his turn.”
This is followed by “For All The Cows,” yet another triumphant bash to Courtney Love and other “cash cows.” It makes a mockery out of their desire to advance in society and become “upper class,” when at the same time they cannot forfeit their despicable habits more synonymous with less “rich” people. It follows the soft-loud formula of “This Is A Call,” but also features some longer playful strumming in the verse by Grohl, while the chorus goes all-out in aggression, and we finally get an excellent solo that rocks up the verse melody.
Greg Dulli drops by for “X-Static,” and we are treated to a grungy, brooding session of melancholy by Grohl, who says songs like this are “the only way he can express grief or happiness.” The meaning of the apparently defeatist lyrics is strongly unclear. A depressing musical landscape is painted by Grohl. Although this song does not have a fast drumming part, Grohl seems to relish the relief provided by Dulli and bangs the drums with intense fervor for a slower song such as this.
Dave then turns his attention to record industry politics with “Wattershed,” and attacks how labels trap idealistic punk bands with their clauses and tricks in contracts, which essentially leads to the bands selling their souls. The song is as aggressive as “I’ll Stick Around,” which shows how passionate Grohl is about his love for punk and how it is painful to see it in this state.
The album concludes with “Exhausted,” a song that is very sad and is primarily instrumental, but features another excellent vocal performance by Grohl. The meaning of the lyrics are unclear. There is a long feedback section of the song, which features intermittent drumming by Grohl at the same time, and creates a similar feel to the “relaxing rockfest” vibe that “Floaty” gave off, except in this case it’s much more depressing.
Is this album perfect? Of course not. It’s very raw, unpolished, and sounds like…well, a demo tape. But despite all of its flaws, it is 99% a compendium of one man’s years of private work, and it is sometimes soft, sometimes loud, sometimes angry, sometimes happy, and sometimes depressing. The best part is that thanks to the abstract lyrics, the listener can make the album be about basically whatever he or she wants it to be and thanks to the emotional range, is suitable for any sort of mood. Although some of the lyrics may be more obvious than others, this is the true gift of the record and why even today, it towers over anything else Grohl has done since. Do yourself a favor and pick this up.