Earlier today, US rock group Foo Fighters released a free, out-of-the-blue EP entitled Saint Cecilia. The release is their first since their well received concept LP Sonic Highways, which co-incided with the band’s 20th anniversary and led into what became “The Broken Leg Tour”, following Dave Grohl’s infamous on-stage accident.
For those who missed the memo, in Gothenburg earlier this year, Grohl broke his leg on stage, but continue to play the set through in true rock fashion, while the medic attended to the break. A throne was built (“Dave of Thrones” as it became known), shows were rescheduled and the group played on. “A lucky break? Yeah, you could call it that”, Dave says in the letter that accompanied the album’s release. The letter was written earlier this month, before the Paris attacks which led the band to cancel the remaining dates of what was supposed to be the final tour for the album. And it’s an insightful look into why they made this EP, and exactly what it’s all about.
The timing of the release couldn’t be ignored, however, and Dave has prefaced his original letter with a new one, paying reference and respect to the recent tragedies in Paris, which have given new purpose to the release:
Now, there is a new, hopeful intention that, even in the smallest way, perhaps these songs can bring a little light into this sometimes dark world. To remind us that music is life, and that hope and healing go hand in hand with song. That much can never be taken away.
The five track album starts off in familiar territory with the titular track, “Saint Cecilia”, taken from a hotel of the same name – “named after the patroness saint of music” as Dave points out – in Austin, Texas.
Austin seems to be an important part of the story for the last few years for Dave and the band. It’s where they ended the Sound City Players shows in March 2013, that set off what became Sonic Highways. They returned to the city to record one of the album’s finest tracks. And it’s at The Saint Cecilia Hotel – which they converted into their own private studio – that the band recorded this EP, when the band were in Austin to play two weekends of the massive Austin City Limits Festival. Designed as a thank you for fans, the album lives under a mantra of “Always Record”, and features friends like Ben Kweller, while the letter indicates that you can probably hear Gary Clark Jr. and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the background, as they all joined the band in their weeks in the Hotel.
Now, I say this track is familiar territory because it’s music that seems to best represent where the band is musically today, and will sit best with the casual listeners of the band, or those who came on a bit later in the game. For most fans, though still a strong track (on any other release it would probably be one of the album’s best, and would have sit well on the Sonic Highways release), it will likely be seen as one of the album’s weakest links. Because what follows is some of the band’s strongest material in years. As we get to the end of the album (and the review), the reason for this starts to become clear.
Track two, “Sean”, hits in hard and immediately and any veneer that was applied to the opening number is washed away. This is rawer, this starts to feel like the band at their best. Dave’s vocals start almost at the first beat, and the track never lets up. As a long time fan of the band, there’s something eerily familiar about the song, yet it fits in comfortably amongst their wealth of newer material.
“Savior Breath” comes third, and heralds back to the earliest Foo Fighters material – in a similar way that “White Limo” did a couple of albums ago. It’s scuzzy, fuzzy – taking us back to the sticky carpets the band once played in front of, and their predecessors (Motörhead etc.) they continue to worship. It could easily have been a B-side off of one of their first two records. Fans of the band at their heaviest (which I’d count myself among) will easily name this the highlight of the record.
But at the other end of the spectrum, things immediately calm down in what may be one of the band’s most beautiful songs to date. Though not acoustic, the stripped back track “Iron Rooster” has Rami Jaffee’s keys feature heavily, taking us back to the late 90’s and their slower numbers on albums like There Is Nothing Left to Lose, rather than their later acoustic record.
We end with “The Neverending Sigh”, a song that is the Foo Fighters at their rawest and their most unrestrained. The riffs are simple (though catchy as fuck), there is limited flair for the majority of the track and it flows effortlessly. It feels less like a song written by a band at their creative peak, and more like a band starting out who were looking for a killer track to an end their debut album with. And perhaps that’s because it kind of is. As he points out in his letter, the origins of this song go back 20 years (It was once known as “7 Corners”).
In fact, there seems to be a pretty good reason why the album seems to take us back in time – from the present day Fooies with the titular track, back to the the screams and the riffs of the Fooies of a time past in “The Neverending Sigh”.
Like a musical retrospective, we were going through decades of songs no one has ever heard, pieces left on the cutting room floor from every album. Our own sonic scrapbook… Without the usual pressure or expectation of making an “album”, we sat happy and relaxed as we played. A virtual “This Is Your Life” of the Foo Fighters.
Rather than rush through and create an album in a week from scratch – which as Sonic Highways proved, doesn’t always create a band’s best music (but that was never the point) – the band went back through their history and have, intentionally or otherwise, created a five track album that serves as much as a summation of the band’s last twenty years, as it does their last two – or any indication of the future. And that’s really, really fucking cool. Because it works.
It’s a testament to the band that they’ve released this album. They’re wrapping up their tour – albeit prematurely following the Parisian attacks – and going their separate ways for now. The album is a thank you to fans – though to think that they think they owe fans anything this far in the game is quite remarkable in its own right. But it’s in this freedom, a desire to make music for the sake of it – not to please studio executives. Not to highlight a tour. Not to promote anything. Just to make music. – that has delivered an EP pumped full of quality and passion.
And as for their future? After earlier pointing out “we’ve always been pretty good at knowing when to call it a day”, Dave signs off from his letter in typical fashion:
So tonight, as I sit in my Berlin hotel room on our final tour for this album, counting down the days until we return home, I can’t help but wonder when we will see each other again. Who knows? But, with everything Foo Fighter related, it will only be when it feels right. And that’s a feeling that’s easy to feel.
If their intent was to “bring a little light into this sometimes dark world”, then Foo Fighters fans will not be disappointed. There is nostalgia here, and some of their finest jams in years. You’ll enjoy the all-too-short release from the first notes, all the way through Dave’s screams in the final tracks, and a jam session that fades away into the distance. Not quite neverending, but nothing ever is.
Review Score: 9.2 out of 10
Saint Cecilia is available now for free as MP3, WAV or FLAC at http://www.saintceciliaep.com/, with a Vinyl edition available for pre-order and the band encouraging fans to donate to Josh Homme’s Sweet Stuff Foundation in support of the victims of the attack. You can do so HERE.