For all 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. The former Nirvana drummer recorded Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut album in autumn 1994 to fill the sudden, haunting quiet in the months after his bandmate Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide. His 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 from behind the kit to center stage, and over the next three decades, his easy charisma and workhorse drive have helped the Foos survive long past the ’90s alt-rock boom and into a present where they are one of the genre’s last true mainstream powerhouses. At this point, Foo Fighters haven’t just outlasted Nirvana — Grohl has been making Foo Fighters records for longer than Cobain was alive.
Grohl eventually expanded the Foos into a proper band, bringing on a core roster that included the explosive, ecstatic drummer Taylor Hawkins. After Hawkins’s untimely death last March at 50, many paid tribute by noting how excellent a drummer must be to play in a band with Grohl and not make listeners wish Grohl himself were drumming. But Hawkins was that good, and the palpably deep bond the two shared was one of the surest energy sources that kept the band humming all these years.
The group is carrying on, but its first album since Hawkins’s death, “But Here We Are,” 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,” a lone Grohl sings on “Under You,” the melodic, thrashing second track. (He also handled drums on the recordings.) On the cathartic, stadium-ready “Rescued,” he howls into the red, “Is this happening now?”
“But Here We Are” has a back-to-basics immediacy and intensity that was missing from the last few Foo Fighters albums. Though not terribly surprising for a group nearing its 30th year, they have sometimes seemed in the past decade to be grasping for gimmicks and overarching concepts to differentiate one record from the next: “Medicine at Midnight,” from 2021, was a forgettable foray into ’80s-inspired dance rock and funk grooves. (As a companion piece, they also released a cheeky collection of Bee Gees covers.) The songwriting on “Sonic Highways,” from 2014, was a bit stronger, but that album still felt yoked a little too tightly to its concept — recording each song in a different city and paying tribute to its musical history, as explored on the Grohl-directed documentary series of the same name.
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. “You must release what you hold dear, or so I fear, but it’s beyond me,” he sings on “Beyond Me,” a track that transcends its initial piano-driven mawkishness as it builds toward a stirring, distortion-kissed chorus. The towering title track layers intricate guitar work atop skittering percussion before a chorus comes along and sweeps everything into a tidal wave of sound. “I gave you my heart,” Grohl screams, as if gnashing his teeth at fate. “But here we are.”
As a lyricist, Grohl 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. Though it features lovely backing vocals from his 17-year-old daughter, Violet, the hazy “Show Me How” succumbs to predictability as Grohl wonders flatly, “Where are you now? Who’ll show me how?”
“But Here We Are” is at its most vivid on the gut-wrenching closer “Rest.” In a hushed murmur, atop a muted acoustic guitar, Grohl confronts the sight of his friend at a wake, “laying in your favorite clothes,” and has to thwart an impulse to try to make him laugh. Grohl sounds downcast, diminished. Then, all at once, 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.
“But Here We Are”