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Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
One of America's premier bands shows continuing signs of growth as it builds on its rock solid foundation while adding new elements to the mix.
Foo Fighters' Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is a natural progression of the quartet's recent offerings in which their trademark thunderous precision pop has made room for Dave Grohl and company's growing affinity for acoustic music.
Their 2005 ambitious studio double album In Your Honor devoted a whole CD to this softer side of the band (while the other disc brought on the full power of their electric onslaught). And then its live followup, 2006's Skin & Bones, is just what its name implies - nuanced, largely acoustic, stripped-down versions of some of their most popular songs.
When faced with the task of which direction to take for their new album, they chose an elegant solution: let's be two bands in one. In that sense, Echoes hearkens back to earlier, like 1997's The Colour and the Shape - in which hard rocking and gentle acoustic songs coexisted elegantly side by side. The fact that this setup returns on Echoes isn't really a surprise, since it reunites the band with Colour producer Gil Norton.
But Echoes takes that dual approach one step further, with both their raucous, cathartic selves and their tender, introspective selves often appearing in the same song. The ferocious opening hit single "The Pretender" typifies this dichotomy, beginning with a whispery Grohl on acoustic guitar, before blasting out of orbit with one of his most aggressive yet catchy rockers featuring a vocal chord-shredding performance.
Likewise, the first two-thirds of "Come Alive" features a country-blues feel before exploding into a White Stripes-like howling stomp boasting stellar lead guitar from Chris Shiflett.
Other tunes, however, revert to vintage Foo Fighters formula while still sounding fresh. "Long Road to Ruin" is perfect exuberant power pop, in the vein of "Overdrive" or "Times Like These" from their 2002 album One By One - sort of like The Byrds on steroids washed down with a shot of attitude. It might leave the unassuming listener short of breath.
In need of calm, I welcomed a pleasant surprises later in the album - two gentler songs in which Grohl debuts on piano: "Summer's End" and the closing "Home". The latter, in particular, is a moving ballad with Grohl's most thoughtful lyrics on the album, full of regret, weariness and longing.
The lyrics on the other songs aren't as developed, but in any case are generally overshadowed by the all-encompassing music. And that music remains as powerful as ever, even with the more layered approach. While there are moments where they have the tendency to veer too close to the 'I'm too old to listen to this hard rock' sound, the band's pop instincts and craftsmanship always guide them back to a more palatable approach for those with weakened eardrums.
Despite the band's self-imposed framework which sort of boxes them into a certain style, Foo Fighters still sound passionate and full of fire on Echoes - more than a decade since the band rose out of the ashes of Nirvana. There may not be much silence or echos on the album, but their music certainly is filled with a lot of grace.