The Foo On The Hill

The Guardian 1999

Adam Sweeting meets Dave Grohl and pals - back with more joyful, muscley tunes

"Throw all that rock-star bullshit out of the window and you'll find something to believe in," argues Dave Grohl, Foo Fighter-in-chief. In his case, the process meant him turning his back on Hollywood where he'd been living for a year ("I despise the place"), and returning to his home state of Virginia. He built a studio in the basement of his house, which is about a mile from his old high school, holed up with the other Foos for four months, and created the band's third album, 'There is Nothing Left to Lose'. If it doesn't assault the nervous system quite as violently as its predecessor, The 'Colour and the Shape', it's still a persuasively rounded, power-packed bunch of songs.

"The way we recorded was so real and natural," Grohl says. "We didn't use any computers, anything digital or any of that auto-tuning shit. All you need are songs that deserve to be heard, a couple of friends, and a genuine direction."

There were other changes, apart from geographical ones. Guitarist Franz Stahl decided to quit the band just as they started rehearsing the new material, which was a bummer for Grohl since Stahl was one of his oldest pals. "I was in tears," he says. But there was work to be done, so he rolled his sleeves up and played all the guitar parts himself.

What could have caused even more ticklish problems was the Foos' decision to part company with their previous record label, Capitol. The group had a "key man" clause in their contract, which enabled them to jump ship in the event of the departure of president Gary Gersh, which duly occurred last year. The new album was recorded during the band's label-less period, but instead of causing panic, it gave them an agreeable sense of freedom. "We were left completely to our own devices," Grohl enthuses. "The record was purely our creation. It was complete and not open to outside tampering."

The disc doesn't sound like the work of men being ground into the dust under the weight of the world, though Grohl couldn't resist settling his score with Hollywood on the opening track, 'Stacked Actors'. And not just Hollywood, but some of the people in it, especially Courtney Love, widow of the deceased Kurt Cobain. "What do you do when you're dressed up like an ageing drag queen?" ponders Grohl acidly, as the band crank up an iron fist of a riff behind him. He describes the song as "a blast of feedback and then a tuned-down Sabbath-on-speed-type riff before blowing into this weird calypso-type thing with vocals that sound like Steve Miller," which seems a perfectly adequate summary.

As the disc unfolds, what becomes increasingly impressive is the way Grohl has learned to mould together the various strands of his songwriting. His penchant for a cauterising gust of raw metal is apparent in the likes of 'Live-In Skin' or the gathering storm of 'M.I.A'., but it's always modified by a sprinkling of melody or a shimmer of harmonies. On the other hand, when Grohl indulges his country-boy leanings with a dose of back-porch jangle like 'Ain't It the Life', there's an urgency and focus which prevent it from lapsing into mere retro-guff.

Curiously, Grohl claims that the single 'Learn to Fly' is "one of my least favourite songs on the record", though more dispassionate listeners may conclude that the piece is a classic specimen of the Foos' ability to blend creamy powerchord muscle with great surges of melody. True, it doesn't pose any real threat to Martine McCutcheon's stranglehold on the pop charts, but if anybody could persuade Grohl to pen a Eurovision entry he'd probably do a pretty good job. Songs like 'Gimme Stitches' or 'Generator' are certainly catchy enough (just add an orchestra and send for Sir Cliff).

Any complaints? Just one - there's nothing here to match the insane ferocity of 'Monkey Wrench' or 'My Poor Brain' from last time around. Don't spend too much time at home, Dave.

Words:Adam Sweeting

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