Foo Fighters, "But Here We Are" (RCA)

For all of Dave Grohl's grinning joviality, it's easy to forget that his long-running rock group Foo Fighters was, initially, a solo project born of grief over the suicide of his Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain in 1994. On the Foo Fighters' self-titled debut, the former Nirvana drummer's songs were pummeling but tuneful, and his sense of melody seemed just as innate as his command of rhythm.

Grohl made a uniquely graceful transition to center stage, and over the next three decades, his easy charisma and workhorse drive have helped the Foos, expanded to a proper band, survive long past the '90s alt-rock boom and into a present where they are one of the genre's last true mainstream powerhouses.

The group is carrying on, but its first album since drummer Taylor Hawkins' death is haunted by his absence and its impact on his bandmates. "There are times that I need someone, there are times I feel like no one," Grohl sings on "Under You," the melodic, thrashing second track. (He handled drums on the recordings.)

"But Here We Are" has a back-to-basics immediacy and intensity that was missing from the last few Foo Fighters albums. They have sometimes seemed in the past decade to be grasping for gimmicks and overarching concepts: "Medicine at Midnight," from 2021, was a forgettable foray into '80s-inspired dance rock and funk grooves and "Sonic Highways," from 2014, felt yoked a little too tightly to its concept — recording each song in a different city and paying tribute to its musical history.

The undercurrent holding all of "But Here We Are" together is not an idea so much as raw emotion. Grohl's melodies are as soaring and anthemic as they've sounded in years; his vocals are freshly impassioned and heartfelt. As a lyricist, he is not immune to cliché or predictable rhyme patterns, and that tendency threatens to sink a few of the album's quieter, more down-tempo numbers.

The album is at its most vivid on the gut-wrenching closer "Rest." In a hushed murmur, Grohl confronts the sight of his friend at a wake, and has to thwart an impulse to try to make him laugh. Grohl sounds downcast and then he stomps on the distortion pedal and the song blooms with bone-shaking noise — the most fitting eulogy for a musician who made as raucous a racket as Hawkins.


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