The Foo Fighters Albums Ranked
I love Dave Grohl. The former Nirvana drummer and the Foo Fighters’ charismatic frontman is rock’s resident “good guy,” a positive and funny force for a kind of popular, alt-mainstream, radio-friendly music. The guy is super talented, and the longevity and success of the Foo Fighters is all the more remarkable considering the great success of Grohl’s previous, more legendary gig with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic. The Foo Fighters have always been a presence in my musical awareness, a big part of my tween and teenage years as I discovered “edgier” music. But then, as I’ve reviewed the Foo Fighters’ discography, I’ve found that the band doesn’t rock quite as hard as they are purported to. The band’s identity as a post-grunge, alternative group in the late ’90s transitioned to a modern-day emulation of what is considered “pure” rock around the mid-2000s. And yet, Grohl and Co.’s ability to find the poppy hooks in their guitar-driven sound has continued, although to less and less effect. I aim to not be too negative; the Foo Fighters are a nostalgic favorite, and having seen them live, I can attest to the fact they are a rousing act. But I suppose I’ll explain myself more in the ranking of the Foo Fighters’ ten albums, spanning from 1995 to 2021; EP SAINT CECILIA (2015) was also listened to, but not considered for the list.
EDIT 7/28/21: Added HAIL SATIN to the list at #11.
#11 — HAIL SATIN (2021)
Favorite track: “More than a Woman”
So here’s an interesting addition, one that I considered not including. HAIL SATIN was a semi-surprise Record Store Day vinyl-only release (well, for two days before it came to streaming) from the Foo Fighters under the pseudonym “the Dee Gees.” That is because, yes, HAIL SATIN is primarily a Bee Gees (and Andy Gibb) cover album. It’s a bizarre concept all around, complicated further by the back half of the album’s ten tracks being live performances from the Foo Fighters’ other 2021 release, MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT. The first five songs, though, are those disco covers, and this whole set up gave me pause on considering HAIL SATIN a full, “canon” Foo Fighters. But just as it’s impossible to not consider SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) a full-fledged Bee Gees album even though only the first five tracks on the record are theirs, I felt I had to give the cover portion of HAIL SATIN the same treatment. By contrast, the Foo Fighters’ other cover album, MEDIUM RARE (2011, another Record Store Day thing), is not included on this list because it was compiled from various other releases. Anyways, with all that clarification out of the way, I can now say that the Foo Fighters…ehem, the “Dee Gees” impressively emulate the Bee Gees. Grohl channels Barry Gibb with a potency I didn’t think possible, especially since the former hasn’t sung in a higher register for quite some time. And otherwise, the covers are played pretty straight; the instrumentals are a bit more rocky, but otherwise, these songs are just faithful renditions. It makes sense, I suppose, that the Foo Fighters would love the Bee Gees this much. I mean, who doesn’t? But I’ve also recently seen an interview in which Grohl explained how much he stole from disco music for his drums on Nirvana albums. And that’s just a cool influence. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t make HAIL SATIN an “essential” Foo Fighters album, even as I do consider it one of their now-canonical 11. The songs are of course great, but in evaluating what I want from a Foo Fighters album, while there are smaller success rates on the albums to follow on this list, those albums do offer a fuller experience than a little novelty.
#10 — IN YOUR HONOR (2005)
Favorite track: “Best of You”
I think IN YOUR HONOR is the locus point of that transition I mentioned in the introduction. By 2005, ten years after Grohl’s solo debut (the Foo Fighters weren’t initially a group, just a pseudonym for Dave in the wake of Cobain’s death and the dissolution of Nirvana), the Foo Fighters had settled into a bit of a groove. And that’s the worst place to be for music that, while never threatening like Nirvana’s, was electric and powerful and even funny. The Foo Fighters fell for the great “double album trap,” juxtaposing typical, heavier rock tracks on one disc with a whole acoustic set on the other. IN YOUR HONOR is not a bad album, but it is Foo Fighters’ worst; perhaps the most damning description of it is “boring.” The album’s big hit, “Best of You,” is a rare standout across the record’s whole 20 songs and 83-minute run time. IN YOUR HONOR is bloated, and the representation of the Foo Fighters’ change from spunky pseudo-outsiders to peddlers of the rock establishment.
#9 — CONCRETE AND GOLD (2017)
Favorite track: “Make It Right”
CONCRETE AND GOLD is cited as an attempt by Grohl to “get serious,” and deliver a political record unlike anything else the Foo Fighters have put out. I don’t really hear that. I just hear the post-WASTING LIGHT sound that has, sure, kept the band in Grammys consideration and the like, but again, as indicators of where straight-ahead “rock music” is now. It’s working for them, too; the Foo Fighters are consistently best-sellers, and they certainly deliver solid music on this album. But it’s never more than that, solid. CONCRETE AND GOLD is fun to listen to, but not much sticks around after. Even though it is generally better than IN YOUR HONOR, CONCRETE AND GOLD doesn’t even really serve up one great song; “Make It Right” is a nominal favorite.
#8 — MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT (2021)
Favorite track: “Chasing Birds”
The four-year gap between CONCRETE AND GOLD and MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT is tied for the Foo Fighters’ longest break between albums with ECHOES, SILENCE, PATIENCE & GRACE and WASTING LIGHT. Unlike with those two albums, though, the return doesn’t feel as decisive a shift in a new direction. Somehow, Grohl sees in this album the Foo Fighters’ version of a LET’S DANCE (1983, from David Bowie). I really don’t get that, because MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT is neither as funky as that album, nor as significant a deviation for the Foo Fighters as it was for Bowie. However, I will say that MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT feels like a more eclectic experience than its predecessor. The lowkey “Chasing Birds,” especially, reminds me of “Big Me” from FOO FIGHTERS, and that’s a favorable comparison. I wish Grohl would croon more, and if he and the band really see MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT as a significant shift for them, I hope the next album sees them commit further to that sentiment. This a decent record, with a couple good rock songs and another couple slow tracks, but it lacks…something. Descriptive, huh?
#7 — SONIC HIGHWAYS (2014)
Favorite track: “Something from Nothing”
SONIC HIGHWAYS was the result of a much-publicized, novel writing and recording process. The Foo Fighters crafted the eight songs of the album by visiting eight key American cities and producing each track from within its confines. This whole system was the subject of a popular HBO docuseries of the same name, and as the critics who received the series positively have noted, the resulting album nevertheless doesn’t play like some kind of radical experiment. After the rawness and (sometimes cliches are effective) “return to form” of WASTING LIGHT, SONIC HIGHWAYS feels a little bland. Obviously, this blandness is less potent (or is the album more potent?) than the previous albums on this list, and the abridged number of tracks does deliver a concise statement. The statement is just a sort of rock that the Foo Fighters have become quite proficient in. If the cities had any influence on the album, it’s through the lyrics, and not necessarily in the construction of the music itself. When the music is as rousing as it is on “Something from Nothing,” or “The Feast and the Famine,” that doesn’t matter so much.
#6 — ONE BY ONE (2002)
Favorite track: “Times Like These”
ONE BY ONE is kind of disappointing. It has two of the Foo Fighters’ biggest hits (and best songs) in the form of “All My Life” and “Times Like These,” but for some reason, the rest of the album never coheres around them (or even “Low” and “Have It All;” together these songs form the first third of ONE BY ONE). The record is certainly weighted in the beginning’s favor, and if IN YOUR HONOR is the transition point in the Foo Fighters’ two eras (as I see them), there are shades of that change in a few of ONE BY ONE’s songs. Nevertheless, the record is still a fun one, and it feels like the last glimpse we had of shorter-haired, goofy Dave Grohl on the records themselves.
#5 — ECHOES, SILENCE, PATIENCE & GRACE (2007)
Favorite track: “The Pretender”
For a long time, I thought “The Pretender” was from an album earlier than ECHOES, SILENCE, PATIENCE & GRACE. That’s to the song’s and the album’s credit, because they came on the heels of my least favorite Foo Fighters album, IN YOUR HONOR. By comparison, the 51-minute-long ECHOES feels like a sprightly, tight rock album. It’s still not necessarily a super consistent record, but tracks like the aforementioned “The Pretender,” “Let It Die,” and the instrumental “Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners” rule. ECHOES, SILENCE, PATIENCE & GRACE is the definitive middling Foo Fighters album (it’s at #5 of 10…duh). It’s good fun, not totally electrifying, but also elevated a bit out of a rut.
#4 — FOO FIGHTERS (1995)
Favorite track: “Big Me”
The Foo Fighters’ debut wasn’t even the debut of a group. This self-titled record was actually the sole work of Dave Grohl, who wrote and played all the parts on all of the songs on the album. It came out just one year after Kurt Cobain’s death and the end of Nirvana, and it is kind of crazy how spectacularly it ushered in the post-grunge sound of the mid- and late ’90s. I mean, how often does a member of one legendary band go on to define the sound of another part of a decade in which the former band became legendary? You get what I’m saying. But the distinction isn’t overwhelming; FOO FIGHTERS does feel like an evolution of grunge and Nirvana, not a repudiation of it. However, Grohl’s singing voice, which is actually quite beautiful on even later songs in the Foo Fighters’ history, can still hit some growls and screams. But “Big Me,” one of my favorite Foo Fighters songs, is the shining example of FOO FIGHTERS’ brilliance, a spectacular little track that showcases the sensitivity and eccentricity of the band’s earliest work. There’s enough great heavy stuff on the record to complement the song perfectly.
#3 — WASTING LIGHT (2011)
Favorite track: “Arlandria”
WASTING LIGHT is noted as one of those quintessential “comeback albums,” critically if not commercially (because as far as I can tell, the Foo Fighters have never been in real dire straits in the latter respect). The comparison of the album’s sound to the ’90s work of the band is a bit overblown. Sure, it’s “raw,” but as early as THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE, the Foo Fighters were already employing some smooth production techniques. But I must admit, there’s a certain edge to WASTING LIGHT that is compelling. Grohl’s voice hasn’t sounded better since, and the pop hooks on most of the tracks are really killer. I find “Arlandria” gets stuck in my head nearly without fail, and “White Limo” is a really cool, off-kilter song for the band. As my first new Foo Fighters album, WASTING LIGHT’s place in the narrative of the band was lost on me, as it maybe should be to this day. This is just a really great rock record, period.
#2 — THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE (1997)
Favorite track: “Everlong”
I expected THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE to be my favorite Foo Fighters album. I expected “Hey, Johnny Park!” to be my favorite song from it. And of course, both are still incredible. If there’s anything lacking from THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE in comparison to #1, it’s nearly indescribable (but I’ll try in a second). The fact of the matter is THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE is one of those seminal rock albums, the fulfillment of FOO FIGHTERS’ premise that grunge was over with Kurt Cobain’s death, just like Sharon Tate and friends’ murder at the hands of the Manson Family ended the ideology of the ’60s (let’s not forget that happened in 1969, also the literal end of the ‘60s). In any event, this album felt like an escalation from Grohl’s pseudonymous debut. A full band helps, but the emotional scale of THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE’s songs, from “My Hero” to “Everlong,” are remarkable. And of course, the album rocks, but in a way that…I don’t know, if I had to find a word to describe it, it would be…”curvier?” I don’t quite know why I’ve settled on that word, but if the Foo Fighters became some kind of harbinger for “straight ahead” rock of the mid- to late 2000s and all of the 2010s, there’s a sort of verve and refraction of that energy in this sophomore effort. THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE is a special album, certainly the Foo Fighters’ most important, but I suppose not their best…
#1 — THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE (1999)
Favorite track: “M.I.A.”
…if only because THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE surprised me upon revisiting it for the first time in years. I already knew it was one of my favorite Foo Fighters albums, with the song that introduced me to the band (“Learn to Fly”), but there seems to be some sort of emotional core that I missed before. As fun as THE COLOUR AND THE SHAPE is purported to be, there was a sense of melancholy there, a sense that is driven here to the angriest music that the Foo Fighters have produced (“Stacked Actors”) but also the most wistful (besides “Big Me” [“Learn to Fly,” “M.I.A.”]). THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE concluded the Foo Fighters’ trilogy of albums that didn’t feel like some attempt to claim the importance of keeping rock and roll alive. It concluded the Foo Fighters’ trilogy of albums that seemed to serve a more personal purpose for the guiding force of Dave Grohl. Coincidentally, literally, and fittingly, THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE closed out the ’90s, with all the decade’s retaliation and optimism, with the fun-loving, angry, bemused, and sad sensitivity that defines the Foo Fighters’ best work.