Dave Grohl says “These Days” is the best song he’s ever written. Is that true? Maybe by his standards.
The new single is unquestionably a Foo Fighters song: there’s the quiet beginning, the gradual build-up, the screaming choruses, the aggressive guitar chords, and the loud-quiet motif again here.
This is by-the-numbers Foo Fighters, in terms of the dynamics—the intertwined guitar-picking at the beginning, the smooth vocal bridges to the chorus a la Blue Oyster Cult, and the screamo choruses that provide a bracing (and at times startling) counterpoint to the more laid-back two-thirds of the song.
Now on their seventh recorded album, Wasting Light, the group started by Nirvana’s fifth drummer—the voracious skin-pounder Grohl, who played on two of the band’s three recorded albums (not counting Unplugged)—have more than established themselves as arena-rock veterans. From humble beginnings of an anonymous cassette that Grohl recorded by playing all of the instruments to the revolving door punctuated by the departure of Pat Smear between numbers as they played outside Radio City Music Hall live on MTV to their headlining Lollapalooza—short of Nickelback, this is the band that has most recently produced the most bawls-to-the-walls rock.
In the 2011 documentary Back and Forth, Grohl describes the recording techniques used in the new record, including recording direct to analog tape, bringing back the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Butch Vig, and recording the album in his garage.
But Wasting Light, supposedly a new chapter in Foo Fighters’ discography, is really more of the same, and “These Days” provides a perfect example of why their sonic flying-saucer attack really crashed and burned years ago, or at least should have.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain made no secret of his adulation of his predecessors, Pixies, and their loud-soft-loud fetish, and he integrated that approach into his own band. Grohl has mined that vein as well, but his secret musical crush has always been Sonic Youth. From the very first record and up to and including Wasting Light, he has taken the buzz-saw agro-guitar skronk of those New York No Wave hipsters and sanitized it for the consumption of the masses on the modern-rock charts. To be fair, he’s also made it much easier to listen to and kicked up the tempos a notch. (Hüsker Dü, another inspiration in the Land Speed Record department, gets a nod on the record, in the form of former frontman Bob Mould contributing vocals on a track.)
But that’s only a minor quibble. Where Foo Fighters trip up, and why their schtick has gotten so tired, has been in the lyrics department. Grohl never met a cliché he didn’t like, and some of his songs read like an assemblage of rock song and album titles. Consider the lyrics of “These Days,” remembering that Grohl says it’s the best song he’s ever written: “One of these days, the ground will drop out from beneath your feet/One of these days, your heart will stop and play its final beat.”
So, in verse one, there’s ground dropping out from under “your feet,” clocks and hearts stopping and breaking, and bombs dropping. The bridge has Grohl singing soothingly that it’s all right (“I said it’s all right”) before he comes up with a real dagger: “Easy for you to say/Your heart has never been broken/Your pride has never been stolen./Not yet, not yet.”
Actually it’s easy for him to say. One of these days, someone should take a look at Grohl’s lyrics, and they’ll realize why, after seven albums and 17 years, he and his Foo Fighters have never come up with anything as powerful and resonant as Cobain did in Nirvana.
Cobain also deeply respected and admired what R.E.M. accomplished, believing they had never compromised their principles or their integrity, even though some college-radio purists cried foul with every step of their evolution. Consider a track from R.E.M.’s Lifes Rich Pageant produced by John Cougar Mellencamp producer Don Gehman—a song also called “These Days” but with very different lyrical content—”All the people gather, fly to carry each his burden/We are young despite the years/We are concern, we are hope despite the times/All of a sudden, these days/Happy throngs, take this joy wherever, wherever.”
If only Foo Fighters had chosen to record “These Days” as an R.E.M. cover on Wasting Light instead of covering up their lyrical inadequacies with another hatful of hollow power chords.