I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like the Foo Fighters. For over thirty five (!) years, the most dependable rock band on earth has been cranking out the hits, the albums, and the big stadium tours to satiate any major music fan. They’ve had their line-up changes, but apart from their first few years of constant flux, the line-up has been consistent for nearly two decades. Dave Grohl broke his leg during a concert and came back that same night to not only play the rest of the show, but also the rest of the tour they were on. That takes an almost stupid level of commitment, but anyone who has seen the Foo’s knows that they’re going to give you a show no matter what, and damn any broken limbs or busted amplifiers that might get in the way.
Grohl is self-aware enough to admit that he’s lapsed into “dad rock” territory, but don’t let that clever bit of self-awareness fool you. Listen to deep cuts like ‘White Limo’, or ‘Sean’, or ‘Weenie Beanie’ and you’ll hear the hardcore punk that’s in the very DNA of this “dad rock” band. Grohl’s first band Scream are hardcore D.C. legends, bassist Nate Mendel and original drummer William Goldsmith were the rhythm section for emo forefathers Sunny Day Real Estate, and guitarist Pat Smear was in the dirtiest, most self-destructive of all the original L.A. punk bands: The Germs.
Beyond punk, Grohl also carried on the songwriting spirit of his long-departed former bandmate Kurt Cobain: raw rock and roll energy paired with pop hooks. The only difference? While Cobain strived to keep the smallness of local clubs in their sound, Grohl embraced stadium rock and largeness as not only a concept, but a central feature of the Foo Fighters style. The one throughline in all the music put out by the group is the gigantic production. Every riff, every drum beat, and every screamed vocal line is meant to sound like it’s reverberating off of the steel beams that hold football fields together. Every album, no matter the producer or specific band configuration, sounds like this because it’s what Grohl knows he’s best at.
But what sometimes gets lost in the analysis of the band is this: they’ve quietly cultivated one of the most impressive oeuvres of any rock band from the past thirty years. Just look at the hits: ‘Everlong’, ‘My Hero’, ‘Best of You’, ‘All My Life’, ‘Times Like These’, ‘The Pretender’, ‘Learn to Fly’ and many more. They have enough songs to fill up an entire two-plus hour concert and then some, with some fascinating lesser known material to boot. As a disciple of classic rock’s golden age of concept albums, Grohl has made sure that each of his own albums have their unique ambitions without sacrificing the sonic qualities that stay consistent: cranked amps, dynamic shifts, and alternatingly melodic and abrasive vocals.
To celebrate the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, let’s take a hard look at the band’s discography. All ten of the Foos albums are well put together, but to the casual fan they probably all sound the same. I won’t dispute that assessment, but I will argue that there is a hierarchy in which certain albums get a higher placement than others. So that’s what’s going on here: a definitive ranking of every Foo Fighters album.
Every Foo Fighters album ranked from worst to best:
10. One by One (2006)
Produced by Foo Fighters, Adam Kasper, and Nick Raskulinecz.
The album that almost broke up the band. By 2002, line-up changes and Grohl’s heavy hand in regards to songwriting, musical style, and pretty much every band decision increased tensions, especially between him and drummer Taylor Hawkins. Hawkins’ drug abuse (which culminated in an overdose in London that same year) didn’t help matters, and studio time was often wasted as attempts at gelling with new guitarist Chris Shifflet proved more difficult than expected.
After a year and nearly a million dollars spent, the band scrapped almost the entire album and started over, coming out with a renewed dedication to themselves. That’s all well and good, but the resulting album still misses more than it hits. When it hits, like on ‘Times Like These’, ‘All My Life’, and ‘Halo’, it hits hard and big, but most of the songs remain overlong and forgettable. Grohl has admitted that most of the tracks were subpar, and as a result One by One works better as a band solidifier than it does as a musical experience.
9. Medicine at Midnight (2021)
Produced by Foo Fighters and Greg Kurstin.
The Foos have firmly entrenched themselves in their dad rock ethos by now. Nothing on a new Foo Fighters record is going to surprise anybody, no matter how hard they try. That’s not to say that they can’t still pump out solid hard rock tracks like ‘Making a Fire’ or ‘Waiting on a War’, but it does mean that any real surprises are pretty far removed from the band’s discography at this point.
Grohl-buddy and Concrete and Gold producer Greg Kurstin is back for another round of amicable rock and roll, but for a band that can at the very least be incredibly exciting, Medicine at Midnight shows just about everyone involved on autopilot.
8. Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace (2007)
Produced by Gil Norton.
With The Colour and The Shape producer Gil Norton returning to the fold, the Foo’s were set to combine their old gigantic production techniques with a newly expanded musical palate for the biggest, boldest Foo Fighters album ever. Unfortunately, they only managed to follow through on that for half the album. ESP&G would have made a tremendous EP, but off-songs like ‘Come Alive’ and ‘Statues’ are more confounding than they are confrontational, which was always the Foo’s bread and butter.
As a whole, the album remains the band’s softest and most blasé outing yet. While none of the songs reaches the lower depths of One by One, they do run together in a strangely boring manner. That shouldn’t take away from the anthemic power of ‘The Pretender’ or the amazingly almost bluegrass sound of ‘Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners’, which showed Grohl and Co. were still willing to experiment naturally before having to force it in their mid-life crisis existence.
7. Sonic Highways (2014)
Produced by Butch Vig.
Reuniting Grohl with Nevermind producer/svengali Butch Vig, Sonic Highways was the Foo Fighters at their most ambitious: eight different songs, recorded in eight different cities, attempting to distil the musical essence of each city’s unique musical footprint into one song. If it sounds like the band bit off more than they could chew, that would be an understatement. Still, it’s inspiring to see a band as big as the Foo Fighters fighting to find fresh angles on their well-trod formula.
At its best, it works in a truly moving way, mostly on Side B tracks like L.A.’s ‘Outside’ and NYC’s ‘I Am A River’. At its worst, it comes off like a half-hearted homework assignment that doesn’t come anywhere close to the group’s high standards, like on D.C.’s ‘The Feast and the Famine’ or Austin’s ‘What Did I Do/God As My Witness’. But there’s always something to be said for ambition, and the Foo’s never got more ambitious than they did on this album.
6. Concrete and Gold (2017)
Produced by Greg Kurstin.
The imperial phase of the Foo Fighters is hard to pinpoint. Some regard their first album as untouchable, while others prefer each subsequent album as being more sonically rich and challenging than the last (and even some others, like snarky internet posters, will claim that the band never had an imperial phase to begin with). But Dave Grohl always seemed convinced that the best Foo’s album was still to come, which was what probably motivated him to hire pop producer extraordinaire Greg Kurstin to helm Concrete and Gold.
With the addition of longtime keyboardist Rami Jaffee as an official member, C&G plays into the spacier and more progressive indulgences of noted Rush fan Grohl, but remains grounded in Kurstin’s unmatched ear for hooks and accessibility. Songs like ‘Run’, ‘The Sky Is a Neighborhood’, and ‘Sunday Rain’ show that there’s still a lot of creativity left in the band, but the danger of a warts-and-all album is soothed out to an all too smooth surface-level product.
5. In Your Honor (2005)
Produced by Foo Fighters and Nick Raskulinecz.
The origin of the Foo Fighters now-constant striving for pushing boundaries and getting out of their own comfort zone is on this double album. With a decade of tumultuous growing pains already behind him, Grohl for the first time had a stable band line-up and an unmatched standing as the leader of one of the most popular bands in the world. He escaped the Nirvana shadow, had settled down with his wife Jordyn, and could do whatever he wanted. In other words, he was comfortable. That wouldn’t do. So he reconvened the band to put out a half-hard rock and half-acoustic record that sprawled all over the place.
The acoustic half is far more interesting, not only because it’s a new sound for the band, but also because it contains some of Grohl’s most impressive songwriting, from ‘Friend of a Friend’ to ‘Razor’ and ‘Virginia Moon’. The rock half is more in line with an inconsistent late-period Foo’s album, and it would have been far better as a single album, but In Your Honor combines all of Grohl’s more ambitious tendencies with the unpredictability of a still young and hungry band.
4. Wasting Light (2011)
Produced by Butch Vig.
With Pat Smear returning to the fold, Grohl decided to strip away much of the artifice that coloured previously experimental albums In Your Honor and Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace. Recorded in Grohl’s garage, Wasting Light is the Foo’s heaviest and most consistently enjoyable album since the ’90s. The difference here is a boosted production from Vig and more fully formed songwriting from Grohl, who let his two decades of music stardom add emotional shades of grey to his otherwise impenetrable rock-god exterior.
‘Walk’ and ‘These Days’ take the touching simplicity of the band’s acoustic numbers and add the rock and roll power chords of their signature sound, with Grohl showing a vulnerability that wasn’t as obvious before or since. Pair that with killer tracks like opener ‘Bridge Burning’ and first single ‘Rope’ and you get an album that roars with a kind of excitement you wouldn’t normally expect from a band going on its second decade. Even the lesser cuts like ‘Dear Rosemary’ and ‘Back & Forth’ add more than they detract, and it stands as the most recent testament to the genius of Dave Grohl.
3. The Colour and The Shape (1997)
Produced by Gil Norton.
While One by One almost broke up the Foo Fighters, The Colour and The Shape really did break the band. Grohl was divorcing his first wife Jennifer Youngblood, the group was dealing with endless Nirvana-related comparisons, and the unexpected success of their debut put an increased amount of pressure on the follow-up.
Grohl, settling into his band leader/benevolent dictator persona, decided that William Goldsmith’s drum parts weren’t satisfactory and re-recorded over 90 per cent of the album’s drum tracks, leading to an offended and saddened Goldsmith to leave the band. As the album neared completion, Pat Smear also decided that he wanted to leave the band, unwilling to go on another mammoth tour (which he eventually did, before quitting at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards).
As strange as it is to think, The Colour and The Shape ended up being worth all the strife. The band’s most grunge-related outing, the album marries all the essential elements that make the Foo’s so great: intense power, a knack for pop earworms, and surprisingly meaningful lyrics. The hits speak for themselves (you can’t go to a Foo’s show without singing along to every word of ‘Everlong’, ‘Monkey Wrench’, and ‘My Hero’) but the lesser-known songs like ‘February Stars’, ‘My Poor Brain’, and ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’ give the album a back and forth quality that the band attempted again but never fully realised.
2. Foo Fighters (1995)
Produced by Barrett Jones and Dave Grohl.
Like any good musician’s output, there’s a significant amount of mythologised history that surrounds this album: the entire album was recorded by Grohl himself (minus a single guitar part in one song) only a few months after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Without any direction or expectations, Grohl recorded a rough and ready album filled with quirky tunes and genuine bangers that he had been cultivating over the years. It’s the weirdest that Grohl ever let himself be on a public scale, as I’m sure he didn’t think songs like ‘For All the Cows’ and ‘Floaty’ would be heard outside his group of friends in Seattle.
What’s fascinating is the sheer amount of great hard rock that Grohl had stored up, from ‘I’ll Stick Around’ and ‘This Is a Call’ to ‘Wattershed’ and ‘Alone + Easy Target’. Even better, his pop tendencies were intact early on with ‘Big Me’, a song that had more Beatles influence than anything Cobain had ever done. When major labels began clamouring to release it, Grohl formed the first lineup of the group and went about his conquering of the world, but it all started in a place that held onto his punk rock DIY aesthetics.
1. There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999)
Produced by Foo Fighters and Adam Kasper.
By 1999, the Foo Fighters had experienced every departure that they would end up having. Drummer William Goldsmith was ousted, as was guitarist Franz Stahl, who couldn’t find his place in the group when it came to songwriting. Left as just a trio of Grohl, Mendel and Hawkins, there was a strong sense of confusion that surrounded the band’s future as the new millennium neared. They responded by creating a fiercely defiant, uniquely melodic, and completely singular album.
There Is Nothing Left to Lose is the Foo Fighters album that spurns every expectation of the band: it starts with three loud stadium-ready hits in ‘Stacked Actors’, ‘Breakout’, and ‘Learn to Fly’, turns into a new wave album on ‘Gimme Stitches’, ‘Generator’, and ‘Headwires’, and then becomes the most unexpectedly heartfelt album from a hard rock band ever. This is the one album where the lesser-known songs are a.) better than the hits, and b.) responsible for a fully realised, amazingly sincere album that is more than the sum of its parts.
‘Aurora’, ‘Live-in Skin’, ‘Next Year’, ‘Ain’t it the Life’, and ‘M.I.A.’ are the only times where all of Dave Grohl’s fantastically conflicting musical ideas congeal into a final product that is bigger than himself. There Is Nothing Left to Lose combines light and dark, silliness and seriousness, pop and rock, and heavy and soft music together into an accomplished, astonishing piece of rock and roll history. It’s not the Foo’s most popular album. It doesn’t have the biggest hits, but it is their best, and as we get farther away from its initial release, it’s becoming likely that we’ll never see anything like it ever again.