Album Review: Foo Fighters, ‘Saint Cecilia’

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They say the holidays keep on giving, well, I’d call Dave Grohl the rock n’ roll Saint Nick since the Foo Fighters recently released a brand new EP Saint Cecilia. The months of November and December once looked extremely bleak for rock listeners since there were zero noteworthy releases on the calendar. Now we have reasons to celebrate the holidays since we just received a five song masterpiece of rock n’ roll ecstasy.

Foo Fighters had teased the release of Saint Cecilia for a few weeks now and this EP feels like the perfect platform to celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band. Let’s also mention this fact; Foo Fighters are currently at the height of their popularity. They performed in sold out stadiums across the world for much of 2015. Dave Grohl literally broke his leg in Sweden and developed a guitar throne to keep his leg lifted for the remainder of the tour. He simply refused to let his injury halt the band’s momentum.

Much credit to Grohl, it was a wise decision to enter the studio in the midst of this breathtaking tour. So many bands fail to translate such incredible momentum into their next batch of material. One must read Grohl’s letter where he discusses the inspiration behind Saint Cecilia. He quoted Tenacious D to make a valid point, “Always record, always record.”

The band’s previous LP Sonic Highways saw them trek across the country to summon the creative aura of American musical landmarks such as Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City. To their credit, they also provided mainstream exposure to the influential artists of each respective city. Sonic Highways was a much larger concept than eight individual songs; it was a musical/theatrical hybrid that celebrated the history of American music.

Photo Credit: Hayley Madden
Photo Credit: Hayley Madden

While the Sonic Highways concept proved highly successful, the album itself failed to capture the energy of 2011’s Wasting Light. What made Wasting Light so successful – it was a fairly laidback writing process. They recorded the entire LP in Dave Grohl’s garage amongst their friends and family members. They had barbeques in Dave’s backyard while their kids swam in the pool. They also brought their A-game performance to the studio since the entire album was recorded to analog, which captured the full spectrum of their live sound. Atop of all that, Butch Vig’s guidance helped Grohl summon the best material of his entire career.

Saint Cecilia feels like the rightful follow up to Wasting Light; not only from a production and songwriting standpoint but from the storybook description within Grohl’s heartfelt letter. Saint Cecilia’s recording process served as a nice getaway from the pressures of this massive stadium tour; just imagine the production costs and travel arrangements. They transformed an Austin, Texas bar/hotel known as The Saint Cecilia Hotel into a recording studio where they literally hung out with friends and locals and recorded some music. It’s no coincidence how this fun creative atmosphere – much like Wasting Light – translated into another brilliant addition to the Foo Fighters catalog.

From a musical standpoint, the opening track “Saint Cecilia” sounds like a musical crossover between LPs such as Wasting Light and There Is Nothing Left To Lose. “Saint Cecilia” merges influences such as Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and The Clash into the Foo Fighters grungy DNA. Grohl’s soft spoken vocal delivery shifts into this contagious melody that’s glittered with crunchy power chords and stop and go rhythms. One thing to notice – there’s still a youthful angst within the musical undertones of Grohl’s material but his confidence as a songwriter has never sounded stronger. This certainly isn’t his first rodeo; writing rock anthems is a major proponent of his personality. His brash style of rock n’ roll isn’t forced or manufactured; this is what he lives for. I fully expect this song to top the rock radio charts and eventually become a staple of their live sets in the near future.

The EP’s second track “Sean” harkens back to the early days of Foo Fighters groundbreaking debut. In my opinion, “Sean” sounds like the perfect musical bridge between the Foo Fighters circa 1995 – 1999 and their borderline progressive tendencies from 2013 – 2015. For longtime listeners, “Sean” will feel like reacquainting with an old friend and noticing how much they have matured yet their personality remains completely intact. The Led Zeppelin style riff around the 59 second mark demonstrates how the Foo Fighters have grown as musicians yet the track’s hooky verses could have easily fit into 1997’s The Colour and the Shape.

“Savior Breath” sounds like a full blown musical tribute to Motörhead. I applaud this track’s up-tempo ferocity since I love Foo Fighters’ heavier material. In fact, I’d say Dave Grohl also drew inspiration from his days in the Washington D.C. punk/hardcore scene. If Motörhead found a way to merge with Bad Brains, “Savior Breath” would be the likely result. There’s an organic balance of rock n’ roll freedom and punk rock rebellion within the riffs. Grohl has always worn his heart on his sleeve whenever he recalls his time in the hardcore band “Scream.” “Savior Breath” certainly sounds like a nod to his punk rock roots through the Foo Fighters hard rock spectrum. How many global rock stars give such high appraisal to the mid-80s hardcore scene? The only answer: Dave Grohl.

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“Iron Rooster” should be hailed as this EP’s crown gem. The acoustic guitars perfectly echo alongside Nate Mendel’s bass lines before the piano interlude amplifies Foo Fighters’ sound into new territory. From a guitarist’s perspective, “Iron Rooster” features some of the finest guitar leads of Chris Shiflett’s career. He utilizes David Gilmour style emotion within his note selection atop of Kim Thayil inspired phaser effects that heighten this track’s emotional value. Needless to say; “Iron Rooster” features retrospective lyrics where Grohl balances witty sarcasm with thought provoking metaphors, which helps the listener appreciate the small things in life. Those sort of moments or memories we unintentionally take for granted, especially when he sings, “Have you ever been young enough to feel what you wanted to feel? / Take back those years for something real.”

Speaking of Kim Thayil, Foo Fighters give a nice nod of appreciation towards their Seattle counterparts Soundgarden during the effect laden intro of “The Neverending Sigh.” If there’s any doubt towards my claim, take a quick look at this YouTube video where Grohl sings “The Day I Tried To Live” in the crowd alongside thousands of Soundgarden fans. “The Neverending Sigh” features Superunknown inspired riffs before quickly establishing itself as a relentless Foo Fighters thrasher. As Grohl screams atop of his lungs during the chorus, “No one lets everyone in,” the riffs underneath will likely result in friendly circle pits. This song contains the much beloved “cool factor” commonly associated with Foo Fighters. From a riff standpoint, there’s such raw confidence within the musical delivery. I truly believe the Foo Fighters have never sounded better.

Once “The Neverending Sigh” concludes, the listener will most likely crave more material since this EP is such a fun listen. From my perspective, I prefer the EP format since it provides bands with the ability to concentrate on fewer songs. I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week. At the same time, Foo Fighters have such a beautiful catalog that I’m sure they could have composed another four or five brilliant tracks. If anyone felt disappointed after Sonic Highways, listeners should have every reason to rejoice after listening to Saint Cecilia. This EP will recall the brightest memories of discovering the group’s first two records since the energy level and musical drive remains as pure as ever.

Within Grohl’s letter, he certainly indicated that Foo Fighters will most likely go on hiatus. They certainly deserve a nice break since they have toured nonstop since 2011. I truly don’t believe Dave Grohl will put Foo Fighters to rest. This group’s musical chemistry is way too special to waste away for no reason. He most likely needs some time away from the spotlight to reenergize his creative spirits. Since the band members are mostly in their mid 40s, they should enjoy some well-deserved time off with their families. In my opinion, they remain atop of their game and they haven’t lost a step whatsoever. Don’t forget; they spent all of 2015 performing three hour sets in front thousands of attendees. That sort of musical execution proves how this band is firing on all cylinders.

Once again, Foo Fighters have released the rock record of the year. Yes, I will make this claim since Saint Cecilia is such an impressive effort. This EP has such a likeable energy and charisma that is unmatched in today’s modern rock scene. Grohl dedicated Saint Cecilia to the victims of the Paris tragedy, which was such a classy move. This EP was released at a much needed time where the music world needed hope after we suffered such heartbreaking losses. They say music is the ultimate form of therapy. If anything, the world needs Foo Fighters to carry the torch for us rockers out there even as mainstream music tries to shun the genre aside. Hopefully this hiatus won’t last too long but Foo Fighters listeners have this Saint Cecilia to hold us over until the king’s reclaim their throne.

Saint Cecilia Rating: 9/10