When Dave Grohl was seeking refuge from the world following the death of Kurt Cobain, he turned to what he knew best: music. In 1994, he booked studio time to record a collection of his own songs, simply because it was something to focus on. He played every instrument himself, and recorded an albums worth of material in just five days. In a bid to maintain anonymity and avoid the media circus that pursued him in the wake of Cobain`s death, the final product was put out under the name Foo Fighters, the name given to UFOs by allied pilots in WW2 and an indication of Grohl`s nerd-like obsession with the prospect of little green men. And what do you know? Soon “the drummer from Nirvana” is the front-man of the biggest rock and roll band the world has seen since Led Zeppelin. It is a story firmly rooted in music folklore. And yet it is only the very beginning of the story. The Foo Fighters have endured longer, and survived more turbulence than Nirvana ever did. Now for the first time, the band speak candidly about their whole ride in the feature length Back and Forth.
Released to coincide with their seventh studio record, Wasting Light, The Foo Fighters have also given us what is hands down the best rockumentary since Julien Temple`s masterpiece on Joe Strummer, The Future Is Unwritten. Directed by Emmy and Oscar winning director James Moll, Back and Forth is in places brutally honest, with some home truths that might shock even the most avid Foos fan. One of the revelations that struck me and my friends who I attended the one off screening with, was that Grohl harbours some past misdemeanours which are fairly unfitting for the supposed “nicest man in rock”. The most damning of these was the way in which he handled the sacking of first Foos drummer William Goldsmith, who interestingly is also on record in the documentary to give his version of events. As is former guitarist Franz Stahl, a lifelong friend of Grohl`s and member of his first band Scream, yet again someone who was seen as a disposable asset to Grohl when differences arose. We also see a forthright Taylor Hawkins discuss his hurt at watching Grohl abandon the Foos to play with Queens of the Stone Age, an obvious knock to their famously close relationship.
For whatever reason, either Moll’s skill as a director, or simply that those interviewed appear to be completely open, we feel as though we are granted a real insight into the thoughts and feelings of all those who are, or have been, a Foo Fighter. There are of course some generic rock band tales of drug overdoses and musical differences; however these pass without a trace of cliché due to the skill and honesty with which this amazing story is told. It is as entertaining as any other film you are likely to see this summer, with several genuinely hilarious moments, often courtesy of bassist Nate Mendel, who I had previously always thought of as “the quiet one”.
There are some critics who have accused the film of being merely an extended promo for the new album, which in essence it is. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad thing. The latter half of the picture does indeed document the making of the new record, yet this is a fascinating insight into the bands working ethic rather than a run of the mill behind the scenes. This is mainly due to their decision to record in Grohl`s house, with all of their families in tow, which provided some genuinely heart warming moments in the film (cue Grohl`s young daughter tapping him on the shoulder, pestering him to come for a swim whilst he was recording guitar parts.) Earlier on in the film we had seen Hawkins talking about his drug induced coma, which was a result of him living the life he thought rock stars were meant to lead. And now, watching him arrive at Grohl`s place with his wife and kids is an overt reminder that the whole band have reached maturity. Hawkins also re-evaluates himself by saying profoundly “I’m not a rockstar, I’m a musician.”
The fact that the band are now all family men, approaching middle age is so clearly evident on the new record. After the documentary finished, we were then treated to a live performance of the new record, front to back. And sitting in the cinema, able to just watch and listen to every word Grohl sang, I am very soon convinced that This Wasting Light is the most poignant, heart wrenching album the band have ever made. It sounds as though Grohl is trying to make sense of everything in his world up until this point. There are several haunting moments, most notably on the spine tingling ‘I Should have Known’. Not about the death of Cobain like many have speculated, rather it is Grohl opening up on the death of yet another close friend, Jimmy Swanson, who was lost to a drug overdose in 2008. The emotion is almost unbearable when Grohl proclaims “I cannot forgive you yet”.
Musically, it is not at all the heaviest record they have ever made like Grohl told fans it would be. In fact, I would say it is their most dynamic. There are no all out acoustic tracks like those which grace In Your Honour and Echoes and Silence, Patience and Grace, but we certainly still feel both sides of the Foo Fighters, and it is without doubt the most well crafted of all their albums. Tracks like ‘These Days’ and ‘Dear Rosemary’, which features Husker Dü frontman Bob Mould, are among the most poignant they have ever penned, and yet the switch into tracks like the shatteringly powerful ‘White Limo’ are so seamless as to hardly be noticed.
All in all it just feels as though The Foo Fighters have reached a point in their career when they can simply climb no higher. But I recall thinking that when they released Echoes… and played two sell out nights at Wembley Stadium. And yet here we are again. The record is already getting rave reviews, and the band are playing two nights at the Milton Keynes bowl in July as well as a cluster of European festivals. What evolved from Dave Grohl`s reclusive recording stint in 1994 into this world wide freight train seems to be unstoppable. Provided they don’t want to stop. We can only hope that the albums opening “These are my famous last words” is one of Grohl`s famously amorphous lyrics rather than a statement of intent. I wouldn’t know what I’d do without Foo.