Where Does The New Foo Fighters Album Rank In Their Discography?

Last Friday, Foo Fighters released their 11th album, But Here We Are. And the reviews have been almost unanimously raptrous. Perhaps this was to be expected, given the goodwill toward the band in the wake of Taylor Hawkins’ death in 2022 and the fact that this album addresses the tragedy more or less directly. But that doesn’t account entirely for the intensity of the praise — several outlets, including those not known for normally loving mainstream legacy rock bands, have declared that But Here We Are is the best Foo Fighters album in decades.

Are those people correct? Before I attempt to answer that question, let’s review the three tiers of Foo Fighters albums.

Now, these tiers have been determined by me, and my assessments of each record’s merits is obviously subjective. However, I would argue that these tiers are very close to being objectively true, as Foo Fighters are a band in which the good work is extremely well delineated from the decent and mediocre work. (Obvious opposite examples are bands like The National, Spoon and Yo La Tengo that have four or five albums that could be credibly classified as “best.” Foo Fighters have three at the most, and probably only two and possibly just one.)

Here are the Foo tiers, with the corresponding albums listed in chronological order:


Foo Fighters (1995)
The Colour And The Shape (1997)
There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)


One By One (2002)
In Your Honor (2005)
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007)
Wasting Light (2011)


Sonic Highways (2014)
Concrete And Gold (2017)
Medicine At Midnight (2021)

Two notes about these tiers. One, Wasting Light almost went into Tier 1, so while I listed the albums within each tier chronologically that one should, in terms of quality, be put at the very top of Tier 2. (Or perhaps on an island between Tiers 1 and 2.)

Two, I am obviously making the case that each era of the Foos — late ’90s, the aughts and early ’10, and the ’10s into the early ’20s — is slightly worse than the one that preceded it. I suspect a contingent of hard-core fans will vehemently disagree with this, and accuse me of constructing the tiers in the laziest fashion imaginable. But I can defend the tiers by explaining how I see the arc of the Foo Fighters’ career — and why But Here We Are bucks the trend and belongs with the band’s best work in Tier 1.

When I look at the albums in Tier 1, there are all, in some sense, reboot records. Foo Fighters is a reboot from Nirvana. This is hard to remember now, but Dave Grohl was the least famous person coming out of that band — at the time Krist Novoselic was Kurt Cobain’s acknowledged sidekick, and Pat Smear already had a pedigree with The Germs. And there was also very little precedent for a drummer who heretofore did not sing lead or contribute much in the way of songs to his previous band establishing a meaningful solo career. That Foo Fighters sounds relatively low-key and unassuming compared with the later albums is not incidental. While the debut became a surprise hit, it doesn’t seem like it was made to be a hit. That’s a big part of its charm.

With The Colour And The Shape, Foo Fighters rebooted again, this time from a one-man side project to a full-on alt-rock juggernaut. Then, with There Is Nothing Left To Lose, there was yet another reboot, this time as a pared-back three-person lineup. (Grohl was also reeling from a recent divorce.) Both records produced deathless radio singles, but they were also melancholy and introspective. Dave Grohl hadn’t developed his “Mayor Of Rock” persona yet, because his band wasn’t stable enough for him to have that kind of confidence. Instead, the vibe of the Foos was very much captured by the title of their third record. Grohl’s professional life by then had already been rocked by the shocking death of a bandmate, so he responded like a man playing with house money. There really was nothing left to lose.

In the aughts and beyond, however, Foo Fighters settled into being one of the world’s preeminent stadium-conquering bands. And Grohl gradually became preoccupied with “representing” rock music as best he could at the center of culture. Their music grew broader, more bombastic and bludgeoning, and less melodic. In time, the albums started to blend together. They felt like adjuncts to other projects: concert tours, HBO TV shows, comedic horror movies, best-selling memoirs. But because Foo Fighters were very successful at being this version of Foo Fighters, there was little reason to think it would ever change.

Enter But Here We Are, their first reboot album since There Is Nothing Left To Lose, and the only Foo Fighters record made under more trying circumstances than the self-titled debut. Here’s where I’ll join my fellow critics in praising it as their best work since the late ’90s. I’m a little concerned about overstating how good this album is because I’m frankly shocked by how much I like it, given my indifference toward the Foos’ work over the past dozen or so years. But I think it deserves the accolades.

Going in to But Here We Are, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Clearly the loss of Hawkins was going to be a focal point, but there was little reason to expect that Grohl would be forthcoming about his feelings. For a guy who made a documentary series and wrote a book covering portions of his personal background, Grohl has tended to be guarded as a public figure. He lets us know what he wants us to know, and very little else. We know he’s a likable and charming guy, but that public image is only skin deep. That might very well be a defense mechanism for one of the world’s most famous rock stars who now is adjacent to two of the most infamous rock-star deaths of the last 30 years. But it has sometimes made his music feel more like collections of “rock song” signifiers than personal expressions.

However, this new album, obviously, is very personal. It’s natural to put But Here We Are under the same microscope that critics put Foo Fighters after Kurt Cobain’s passing. Only this time, you barely have to squint to notice lyrical allusions to Hawkins. “I’m just waiting to be rescued / bring me back to life,” Grohl sings in the chorus of the opening track, “Rescued.” On the second song, “Under You,” he’s even more direct: “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.”

It’s not just that Grohl writes about Hawkins with unusual (for him) candidness. It’s how he writes about him. When I found myself feeling more moved than I expected by But Here We Are, I noticed it was because these songs of grief are written like they’re about romantic breakups. “I gave you my heart / but here we are,” he hollers on the title track, effectively delivering one of those classically insistent, do-or-die Foo Fighters choruses. On the album’s best cut, “The Glass,” Grohl sighs over a power-pop bounce, “I found a version of love, and just like that / I was left to live without it.” Later on the song “Nothing At All,” over a quasi-new wave reggae rhythm that evokes The Police, he says that this love has “put me into your locket / and pulled me off of the ledge.” You realize by the end of the album that Grohl isn’t merely singing about a bandmate, he’s mourning a soulmate. And that raises the stakes. In the heartbreaking album closer “Rest,” he envisions a reunion fit for the love of your life: “In the warm Virginia sun, there I will find you.”

This emotional resonance is the obvious selling point for But Here We Are. But the album’s secret weapon is the music, which offers an unexpectedly breezy counterpoint to the heavy lyrics. In a pre-release statement, the band likened the album to the homey 1995 self-titled LP. But I think it more closely resembles their most melodic and Beatlesque record, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, which perhaps not coincidentally is the album where Grohl and Hawkins sealed their bond as the band’s core. You hear the moody, jangly beauty of Lose most clearly on “Show Me How,” which includes a harmony vocal by Grohl’s daughter Violet that sounds almost identical to Phoebe Bridgers. (I actually assumed it was Bridgers during the first few listens, given that Bridgers seems to guest on every big album these days.)

The miracle of But Here We Are is that while it’s the Foo Fighters record made under the most duress, it’s also the rare instance where Dave Grohl isn’t trying too hard to make something “more” or “bigger” than just another Foo Fighters album. Even “The Teacher,” the penultimate 10-minute epic that’s really five or six tracks squeezed into one, doesn’t aim for mythic status as a world-changing face-melter. It just sounds like a guy working through one of the worst times of his life. It’s Dave, for once, showing us how hard it is to be Dave. And while it’s sad, it’s also refreshingly down-to-earth and human.