Ronnie James Dio. David Bowie. Dimebag Darrell. Lemmy. Jeff Hanneman. John Lennon. Kurt Cobain. Layne Staley. Trevor Strnad.
We all know where we were when we first heard they had died.
Nobody is perfect, and surely rock stars have faults that make them especially human. I was on the rail at the second of three sold-out Jawbreaker concerts at The Filmore in San Francisco when my cell phone started to go nuts, right before the band took the stage. Taylor Hawkins had died while on tour in South America. That is all we knew at first. It’s not the first rock star to pass away. Hell, in these last few years of never-ending losses Ghost Cult has had its share personally) the countless obituaries, and other travesties, maybe we should be better prepared. But just as we got the news, a jolt went through the crowd, fans gasping with disbelief. I was at a show with a close friend and I broke the news to them. We were gutted to the bone. Even though we were there to see one of our favorite bands just seconds away, and the music definitely helped cool the initial shock, the night and next few days were difficult. I’m just a journalist and a lover of music, and this hurt me to my core, So just imagine how Taylor’s family, bandmates, and die-hard fans must feel.
Just seven months before his passing I watched Taylor rock out with the Foos at BottleRock Napa, where he came out from behind the drums to sing my favorite Queen song and his, “Somebody to Love”. It will be forever my happiest moment from him, this band, and in general the last few years.
The 800 lb gorilla in the room of how the band would carry on was answered when they said they would, in fact, carry on. They performed two global charity concerts, announcing a new album, sharing some singles, and finally performing again last month. While not performing on the new album, adding drummer Josh Freeze is a fitting way to go forward.
Plain and simply put, But Here We Are… (Roswell Records) is a band both grieving a devastating loss and celebrating all of life’s miracles, all at once. I had the benefit of the full lyrics of the album and listened along as I read through each track. Some of the songs are really triumphant sounding, including a few of the singles. But make no mistake, Dave Grohl is working out his pain and grief and everyone else’s through these songs. Most of them have a philosophical and whimsical take on life, all of its sublime moments; embarrassment, ponderings, wins, losses, and ugliness altogether in a big bowl of lyrics. Sad, depressed, anguished, confused, inconsolable at times, but highly relatable to most who are empathetic in nature. Yet, there is a silver lining throughout so many of the tracks that leans toward hopeful, instead of hopeless.
The lead track “Rescued“ bends toward the triumphant feeling I discussed earlier. Very typical for them, and a great song overall. Similarly “Under You” can be taken many ways lyrically, but it’s a fiery uptempo rocker which is really what Dave and the rest of the band do best.
The third track “Hearing Voices” is where we really start to break through into the grieving zone. The lyrics are haunting and you can hear the pain in the words come through in the vocals. It’s also not a stretch to say that even the drum performance by Dave on this album is a tribute to Taylor. One of the greatest drummers of all time, Dave doesn’t have to imitate anyone, but I can’t help but hear Taylor’s familiar fills on occasion. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, however.
Unsurprisingly, the title track is an uplifting mix of heavy guitars, and earworm melodies at their finest. The words here are the lyrical equivalent of thumbing your nose instead of finding comfort in “thoughts and prayers.” It’s maybe the most human thing to seek meaning from tragedy, and not far-fetched to reject a higher power when the pain of life disappoints you.
“The Glass” is a strong track leaning hard on a Stones, Eagles, or Poco-style Country Rock/ Americana vibe. Again we hear Dave lamenting how he misses his friend, and what the future looks like without him. Gut-wrenching stuff to hear on repeat, but at the same time you can’t help but smile at the sly B-bender twang of the guitar motif. Is that an alternate tuning? These are masterful rock songwriters.
I’m not sure if it’s on purpose but the track “Nothing At All” calls to mind 1980s radio classic “Talking In Your Sleep” by The Romantics. I’m not saying it’s an on-purpose copy of the song, but it’s got a lot of the same elements down to the classic Mike Skill guitar riffs, and the syncopated drum pattern. This track is a little bit of an interpersonal relationship type of song but also could have multiple meanings.
A prominent single, “Show Me How” has a real ethereal guitar part and a great vocal backup from Dave’s daughter Violet Grohl, similar to her turn “The Teacher later on. Like so many of us dealing with the devastation of loss, this is another track that will literally cut you in half emotionally in song.
There’s very little of the acceptance phase of the five stages of grief on this album, but “Beyond Me” is a small part of it. A beautiful, soulful power ballad in the grandest sense. This is definitely the most “Taylor” song of the whole album, although I feel like he would have made it more Yacht Rock in the chorus and less dour. Halfway through, it opens up into a big 1970s Led Zeppelin/Thin Lizzy feel. I’m pretty sure if there’s an afterlife Taylor is looking down smiling at hearing this one.
The long and meditative track “The Teacher,” is unique to this album. They have no other track in their history in this style. Such a different kind of moody and atmospheric track that maybe Neil Young or Nick Cave would write. Another track elevated by future star Violet Grohl, with her grown and distinctive vocal delivery.
The final song “Rest” is just crushingly sad and I am wiping away tears for the second time after hearing this one. The majority of the song is soft and sparse with just vocals and guitars. A tender reminder of the fragility of life and how quickly it can change. However, rather than navel gaze all the way through, the song has a triumphant surge and swells halfway through leaning in towards a big rock ending. You can even close your eyes and visualize how Taylor would look and sound playing this song live. Smiling that smile, with his blonde hair going every which way like Animal from The Muppet Show.
Maybe I’m just too sentimental since I am definitely a long-time Foos fan and a Taylor stan, but this album is stellar and just two years forward from another brilliant album Medicine At Midnight. For a long time, this band were masters in sharing a united front on the human condition, but the tables are now turned. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine having the strength to pick up the pieces like this, and not for the first time in Dave’s life.
Music is the greatest healer of all the arts, cathartic when needed most. Anyone suffering will come out of hearing this one for the better, but bring some tissues.
We love you, Taylor.
By the album here:
9 / 10