Dave Grohl sounds in command on "All My Life," the lead-off track and runaway hit single from the Foo Fighters' latest album, One By One. And well he should. Recall his activities of late touring and playing drums with lauded rock outfit Queens of the Stone Age, getting a previously unreleased Nirvana song out into the world, and guesting on the new Cat Power album, You Are Free. So when Grohl shouts, "Done/ I'm done/ On to the next one," you can't help but wonder what new challenge he'll take on.
Regardless, One By One is a solid album, turgid and at times stormy. Musically, melody remains Grohl and Co.'s forte; thematically, this album is probably the band's most focused, with Grohl exploring the dark side in many of the lyrics.
It's no wonder that "All My Life" was well received. The song's haunting, still opening transmogrifies into a full-on rock 'n' roll assault, with pummeling guitars and highly rhythmic drumming as Grohl rails against the frustration manifested in his feral growl. He sputters the chorus with fierce velocity. "Don't let it go to waste/ I love it but I hate the taste/ Weight keep pinning me down."
While the album favors darker themes mostly the transitory nature of some relationships, both romantic and platonic the guitar-driven music favors melodic, pop-like hooks, balancing the album's harder rock sound. On "Low" the music parallels the downward spiral of the lyrics, descending to cavernous depths. Grohl sings, "Hey you/ Are you in there?/ I'm stuck outside you."
"Have It All" feels somewhat lighter, with its buoyant melody girded by an elastic guitar chord. Yet the song explores serious themes of possessiveness and identity formation. As Grohl sings, "You're everything I'm not/ But I'm anything/ I'm anyone you want," his chameleon-like status is reflected in the song's bouncy quality.
Lyrically literary, songs such as "Times Like These" get carried away with reductive metaphors. For example: "I am a one-way motorway/ I'm a road that drives away and follows you back home." Fortunately, the band's musical prowess masks the occasional lapses in the writing, and the song possesses an indelible chorus, largely to its benefit. Listen as Grohl sings, "It's times like these you learn to live again" and then try to shake the line from your head. It's a glorious, liberating moment, and just one of the high points that make this album feel so strong.
Grohl embraces his poetic side on the brooding "Tired of You," its background guitar lick ticking ominously, like the countdown of a time bomb. "I can be your bearer of bad news/ Sick and uninspired by the diamonds in your fire" begins this rumination on moribund love. Grohl moans, "I won't go getting tired of you," but he sounds dishonest with himself. The internal struggle that plays out becomes one of the album's boldest, most dramatic moments.
As an album, One By One feels cohesive, united by melodic rock hooks and bold, honest songwriting. And while Grohl might be an enterprising fellow and good for him One By One is evidence of just how good his day job remains.