Dave Grohl might never be canonized on gloomy Hot Topic tees a la dearly departed bandmate Kurt Cobain, but this much we now know is true: The most talented guy in Nirvana was actually the drummer.
Grunge — and, for that matter, Nirvana — aged with all the grace and post-'90s reverence of Pauly Shore. I was in my early 20s during those daze, and although I had my own share of dumb angst, I just wasn't buying what the Seattle 3 was selling. And yet, once the pity party was over, Grohl, freed from his suicidal captain's shadow, proved to be the most consistently likable rock god of the past two decades.
You have to wonder if even Grohl bought into all of Cobain's doomsaying. Out of the gate in '94, Grohl's new crew, Foo Fighters, mixed prehistoric power chords with sun-dappled Brian Wilson harmonies. Plus, who knew the spastic tub-thumper could sing that well — the most sensitive soul in the biker gang! The Foos had us hooked from the opening strains of debut smash This Is a Call. Grunge is gone, he said; now let's have a little fun.
As proved by new FF album Wasting Light — a rambunctious charmer being released today and produced, ironically enough, by old Nirvana knob-twiddler Butch Vig — Grohl never wavered from that feel-good formula. And why would he? No one mixes power pop and Sabbathian thunder like Grohl, drummer Taylor Hawkins and the rest of the Foos. Plus there's a little extra oomph this time around: In a sweet vintage cameo, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic joins Grohl for the first time in a long time. It's a reunion, and a happy one at that.
First single Rope regains that old Foo flair for the sonic haymaker; the song is pretty but tough, unlikely harmonies offsetting the song's Zep-inspired framework. A Matter of Time generates the same kind of rumble and sweat but adds a sneaky element: Grohl getting wistful about past mistakes. I Should Have Known packs punch, too; it's a fuzzed-out haunted blues, with a ghostly chorus in the shape of a somber string section.
The Foos have amassed a considerable string of hits: Big Me, Monkey Wrench, Everlong, My Hero, to name of few. Adding to that impressive list, and maybe even surpassing it, is Wasting Light's big beating heart, Walk. The album closer plays like a microcosm of Foo excellence: a tingly preface, a heart-racing chorus and a surprise mid-song twist that sounds like a prison break of street poets. When Grohl begs for his life at Walk's end — "I never wanna die! I never wanna die!" — it's a powder-keg moment. The man wants to live. That may not get Grohl immortalized as a lost rock angel, but something tells me he's just fine with that.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.