In the steer manure show that has been 2023, some new music by genuine giants of their craft is more than welcome. June 2nd delivers in abundance, with Foo Fighters and Bob Dylan adding quality entries to their respective canons.
We start with Foo Fighters. “But Here We Are” first visually demands attention, its cover a gleaming white with only the palest of gray adornment and lettering separating it from purity. The effect is somewhere between a ghostly horizon and a funeral shroud, which is unsurprising given how band leader Dave Grohl and company recorded the album in the aftermath of longtime drummer Taylor Hawkins’ death in March 2022. It was a given going into the album that Grohl would pour his full emotional strength into covering the gamut of reactions to his musical partner and best friend Hawkins’ death. What is surprising is how the album is far more buoyant than brooding.
With Grohl handling the drumming duties, the album hearkens back to the Foo Fighters’ earliest days when Grohl played all the instruments on his debut album under the band name. Not that such is the case in this run-through, as the remaining band members handle their usual roles with aplomb, laying down the massive, melodic yet raw sound that is Foo Fighters’ trademark, endearing them to rockers both young and old.
Lyrically, the album is expectedly heavy, yet not overbearing. “Under You” hits the hardest:
Someone said I’ll never see your face again
Part of me just can’t believe it’s true
Pictures of us sharing songs and cigarettes
This is how I’ll always picture you
“Hearing Voices” follows close behind:
I think I spoke too soon
It’s time to clear the air
It’s quiet in my room
The silence is unfair
I’ve been hearing voices
None of them are you
“The Glass” touches on 1 Corinthians 13 territory:
Waitin’ for this storm to pass
Waitin’ on this side of the glass
But I see my reflection in you
See your reflection in me
How could it be?
Yet all is not gloom, as in “The Teacher,” Grohl gives himself a talking to:
Hurry now, boy, time won’t wait
The here and the now will separate
There are some things you cannot choose
Soul and spirit movin’ through
Hey kid, what’s the plan for tomorrow?
Where will I wake up?
“Yet Here We Are” isn’t the stuff of summer party playlists. It is a superb, hard-rocking tribute to a fallen colleague, and a reminder that we who remain need to get on with the business at hand. Dave Grohl has suffered profound professional and personal loss twice with the deaths of Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain and now, from his band, Taylor Hawkins. Yet he continues forward, and for this, we are all fortunate.
Meanwhile, the generational voice that is Bob Dylan carries on. “Shadow Kingdom,” the successor to 2020’s masterful “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” is the audio release of a 2021 streaming video event presenting Dylan and top-notch backing musicians including T-Bone Burnett and Don Was’ pure Americana interpretations of assorted classics from his vast catalog. The now 82-year-old troubadour has never shown reluctance at reinterpreting his own works, and “Shadow Kingdom” maintains his tradition with its relaxed, yet focused stylings.
The primarily acoustic arrangements showcase, of all things, Dylan’s voice. Now far more gravelly than the nasal style for which he is famous (or infamous), there is a well-worn warmth to Dylan’s tone. You can almost hear his wry smile over an octogenarian singing, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” At the same time, such standards as “Queen Jane Approximately” now have new depth coming from a man silently acknowledging that time on earth is short. Thus, we should both celebrate, and celebrate with those who remain.
And there you have it. Give yourself a break from the grind and give your ears a treat.