Foo Fighters – The Pretender: Best in a Decade

The Pretender:

I think I’m in love with Foo Fighters again.

I’ve watched as the band kinda coasted down hill, or at least plateauing after achieving breakout success and emerging from the long shadow of Nirvana after There’s Nothing Left to Lose. After that the band just seemed to be going through motions.

I still liked Foo Fighters during that time and some of their songs from that time are good, but the band’s zeitgeist felt like it missing the playful spark that made the early era so much fun. Since then, I’ve treated each release with increasing skepticism and when I learned of a new record, skeptical I remained.

But all it took was one viewing of the premier video from the forthcoming Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, The Pretender, and I was hooked.

The Pretender is the Foos’ hardest rocking song since Monkey Wrench and is some of their best material since The Colour and The Shape was released ten years ago. And that video is effing fantastic. Way to go Foo Fighters, I eagerly await next weeks release of your new album.

Do you know who Prince is? Good.

prince rocks our socks at the superbowl. best show ever?

OK. I like Prince; let’s just set that on the record. But after the recent Superbowl Halftime show, my respect for the man just tripled. I swear that was the best halftime show in recent memory, and possibly ever. Certainly much better than anything offered in the past few years, especially 2004’s infamous profligacy.

Prince’s performance was showy, but tasteful, spectacular, but not gaudy or opulent. But most importantly, his show reminded me of just how well he can handle an axe. Prince, as a celebrity and iconoclast, is notorious for many things, but one fundamental attribute that often gets overlooked is his mad skill on the guitar. Despite being noteworthy for it, few people when asked about the musician, would say “Oh yeah, he’s that great guitar player.” I’ll be sure to bring that little tidbit up in future conversations about him.

The show had everything: his trademark showmanship, an enthusiast crowd, excellent production values awesome stage and pyrotechnics, and a top-shelf marching band adding copious amounts of soul. But it was the eclectic and quite surprising set list that made the show: a medley of cover songs and a to-die-for rendition of Purple Rain.

And really, it was the out-of-character selection of cover songs that truly made the show unique. We will Rock You, and All Along the Watchtower I can understand; those are classic standards these days. But watching Prince play Proud Mary, well, that was pretty much mind-blowing. But of course, the biggest surprise of the night was hearing a song that is far too new to be considered a classic, and not new enough to be considered a recent hit: Foo Fighters’ Best of You from 2005’s In Your Honour. A high honor, indeed, for Dave Grohl and the Foos, but it kinda validates some of my past criticism of the band.

Then there was the grand finale: Purple Rain in the pouring rain, a more perfect setting could not have been found. And that silhouette pretty much sums up The Artist himself, projecting himself larger than life.

If you missed the show or just want to relive the experience, check out this video. Do it quick before the NFL has it pulled off the site.

Whither TV Themes?

It seems the television show theme song may be dying, or so says this cribbed AP article I ran across in a user’s journal.

It’s not really surprising, given that show running times are increasingly crunched as the networks try to crap ever-more ads into the broadcasts. And stylistically, many show producers may be trying to “set trends” by breaking away from the decades-long practice of including a show theme.

Then there’s the current practice of using an existing pop song as the show’s main title, as Ed did with Foo Fighters’ Next Year and CSI does with The Who’s Who Are You. That, I say, is an artistically cheap cop-out. If a show wants to omit a theme so it can fit 30 seconds more drama or a couple more ads into its run time, fine. I can respect that. But to borrow someone else’s caché and hope that it rubs off on you stinks of artistic desperation and gives off a whiff of the pathetic. Of course, that doesn’t include established acts that compose original music for TV, as Nerf Herder did with the Buffy theme.

The thing I’ve not seen discussed anywhere though, is how a good, memorable, unique TV theme can add to the appeal of, and build the brand/character of show. The article mentions how hearing the theme to Cheers and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air stirs up nostalgia and memories. But what it doesn’t talk about is how those themes (and related underscore) helped to complete those shows’ universe, filling in the missing atmosphere that dialogue and staging could not. A good TV theme song helps a show build a relationship with its audience and adds to its longevity.

Cheers, Fresh Prince, Night Court, The X-Files, Hill Street Blues, Star Trek, Bonanza, The Simpsons, MacGyver, The A-Team… heck, even Growing Pains, Full House and The Facts of Life. Those are all examples of shows with great theme songs that have endured. In fact, most of those shows still have an active fan base today, partially due to their engaging music.

So, this brings the question: have there been any good, memorable, original theme songs in the past five or so. I must admit that I don’t watch much of the television these day, so I can’t speak for most of the newer shows. Futurama had a nice one and I liked the one for Angel, but both those are late-90s compositions. What’s good today?

p.s., in case you’re wondering, the best tv theme song of all-time is Hawaii 5-0.

Mudhoney – My Brother the Cow: mmm mmmm angst

my brother the cow

Mudhoney’s My Brother the Cow, I think, is a fitting bookend to the “grunge” era. And though I didn’t get into Mudhoney until the waning days of the movement, in retrospect it seems as though it was the most quintessentially grunge of all the big bands to come out of Seattle during that time. Nirvana was more pop friendly; Pearl Jam leaned toward hard rock; Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were imbued with a metal sensibility; but Mudhoney was the band the best encapsilated the grunge ethos.

My Brother the Cow was released at a time when the music world was leaving grunge behind. It was spring of 1995 and Cobain had been dead for a year. Post-grunge acts such as Better Than Ezra and Live were bringing a kinder, gentle form of rock to the masses.

But Mudhoney continued doing its own thing and produced this great album. I remember waiting especially eagerly for this record to come out.

In January of that year, I obtained a recording of "self pollution radio," a sprawling 4 hour radio show hosted by Eddie Vedder and friends. They had gotten together to spin some records and engage in intelligent conversation.

Those tapes three ninety minute maxells became my musical divining rod for nearly 2 years. The first song played was Sonic Youth’s Teenage Riot and I was instantly transformed from casually interested in the band to hardcore fan. As the set progressed, I was introduced to forms of music both new and strange.

I heard songs months, and in some cases, years before they were officially released, including some Dave Grohl demo songs that would eventually be released as Foo Fighters.

The best part of the tapes, however, were the live sessions. Besides all the vinyl spinning, Eddie and company had arranged for a bunch of their friends to play a handful of songs in a make-shift studio.

  • Pearl Jam itself put in 2 sets with mostly material from Vitalogy.
  • Soundgarden put in a set, delivering Kyle Petty, Son of Richard and No Attention, both of which sound better on this performance than the studio versions released 2 years later.
  • Mad Season was there too and their performance inspired me buy their album when it was released a couple months later.

Which brings me back to Mudhoney, whose performance really kinda blew me away. I hadn’t given the band much attention beyond their song on the seminal Singles soundtrack. but by the time the strutting bass line of What Moves the Heart had finished, I knew that I had to add this band to my collection.

I picked up Piece of Cake shortly thereafter and waited a couple months for My Brother the Cow. When I finally received it, I deemed it awesome and it quickly made its way into my frequent rotation. The music was great, but the thing that made it characteristically Mudhoney was the prankish sense of humor. My favorite part of the record was waiting for the last song to drain away to nothing, then come roaring back as the album started to play itself backward.

But just as this record seems to be the last defiant gasp of grunge, it was also Mudhoney’s last hurrah for me. I listened to them vigorously for a couple years, but by the time the group’s next album, Tomorrow Hit Today, was released in 1998 I had largely forgotten about them. But listening to My Brother the Cow again reminds me why I liked them so much in the first place.

Foo Fighters descent into wuss rock?

I’m currently listening to Foo Fighters 2005 double-album, In Your Honor, and for some reason, it feels like a chore. Foo Fighters has been a perennial-favorite band around these parts, but, starting with There’s Nothing Left to Lose, each album gets increasingly more disappointing. and that’s ironic, because the band’s popularity and mainstream success seems to be inversely proportional to its slide toward mediocrity.

I don’t know if Dave and company are simply having a shortage of ideas or if it’s a matter of production values. My general feeling is that it’s the latter. The songwriting is generally on the up-and-up though there’s nothing like everlong or oh, george or even stacked actors, but In Your Honor, much like One by One before it, gives off the strong impression of being over-produced. Not so much on the acoustic second disc, but the first “hard rock” disc reeks of it. The mixing just plain smells bad and dave’s vocals are lost in the mud.

The first few Foo Fighters albums benefited from the rough edges provided by Dave Grohl doing all the work himself. Those records have an caution-to-the-wind, do-it-yourself spirit, and were even released on Dave’s own label (Roswell records). but most importantly, they were a little bit quirky and a lot of fun.

Somewhere during the There’s Nothing Left to Lose era, however, it seems that the band somehow earned corporate credibility. It even won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. I’m not the kind of person who cries "sellout!" when someone finds success, but it’s around this time that Foo Fighters’ sound and attitude changed, becoming more polished and increasingly likely to be the "go to" band for "mainstream media" rock events. In 2006, it’s really not that hard to imagine Foo Fighters splitting the bill with Aerosmith to headline a Superbowl halftime show. Oooo, I know that’s cold, but think about it, would you be surprised by that?

If i were a meaner person, I might suggest that the band has intentionally watered-down its sound in order to court commercial success (c’mon, a duet with norah jones??). But I’m not that guy. I’d rather just listen to the music and hope that the band turns it around.

April 14-17 : 163 songs played. 25 removed


last week was a good week for tunequest. not only is 381 songs a new weekly best, but i achieved a new daily best on april 10. this is precisely the pace i need to keep, but in retrospect it seems i spent all my free time working on this project last week and i hope not to burn out on it. as a bit of a bonus, i had a more productive than usual weekend contributing to this week’s gains.

and while i’m on the subject of progress, i made some new calculations that take into account the rate at which i’m weeding songs from my library, not just the rate at which i’m listening. so far, i’ve had a net decline of 5 songs per day. i’m fine with that; i know i’ve had detritus accumulating for years now and it needs to be cleared out. when those numbers are taken into account, it looks like i would be able to get though an additional 13,000 songs before the end of the year, a 1500 song surplus, which is certainly more optimistic than what the graphs are saying.

and while i’m on the subject of calculations (take that, segue!), i discovered that after 2 months of listening, the top 10% of songs are now responsible for 46% of the total playcounts, a 3% decline from when i started. this has lead me thinking about the iTunes library as a metaphor for economics and society. i imagine the total number of songs to be the population of a society and the number of plays a song has represents its "wealth." heck, this model even takes into account governmental directives; by listening to the lower-played songs, i’m "aiding the poor." this would be a fascinating essay to write. i may just do some research on it.

but enough meta, onward tunequest:

  • add n to (x) [avant hard]
  • michael andrews [donnie darko]
  • dennis mccarthy [deep space nine: the visitor]
  • dave grohl/foo fighters [dave grohl demos]
  • gorillaz [demon days]
  • glitter mini 9 [break up at the rock show]
  • philip glass [dracula]
  • golden shower GS [digital 2600]
  • four tet [dialogue]
  • nine inch nails [the fragile – left]
  • cibo matto [stereo type a]
  • howard shore [lord of the rings: the two towers]
Derided as self-indulgent by many, the fact of the matter remains that nine inch nailsthe fragile contains some of trent’s best songwriting, just mixed in with more filler. ‘the day the world went away,’ ‘even deeper,’ and ‘the wretched’ (especially that one) are among the finest in the entire nails catalog. most of the fragile’s strength is on the ‘left’ disc, though ‘right’ starts off well but quickly meanders, but that’s a topic for another post. •

the dave grohl demos bootleg i picked up in paris (at fnac, maybe) 10 years ago, when foo fighters were still very new and still "dave grohl’s new solo side project." it’s an interesting collection of mostly pre-nirvana material, much of which would be reworked for inclusion on foo fighters self-titled and the colour and the shape. there’s even a live performance of ‘down in the park’ (official version appears on songs in the key of x) where dave doesn’t quite know the words and a solo acoustic version of ‘marigold’ (titled ‘color pictures of a marigold’), the ‘heart-shaped box’ b-side and only nirvana song that dave gets sole writer’s credit for. •

miho and yuka, please stop appearing on everyone else’s records and put together a new cibo matto record, stereo type a is brilliant and we want some more, dammit. and don’t give me any of that ‘"we’ve broken up" business. you’re good on your own, but you’re great together.
speaking of miho, gorillaz’s demon days is an ok record, though somewhat disappointing. ‘feel good inc’ and ‘fire coming out of a monkey’s head’ are superlative.
and finally, i have heard the soundtrack to the end of the world, and it is ‘revenge of the black regent’ by add n to (x).

The Offspring and Wool

The official start date for the tunequest was feb. 11.

I actually started formulating the idea on the 10th, but it took until the next day to fully formulate my methodology. even though the date passed last saturday, i think it’s worth noting that, if i had managed to stay awake and do nothing but listen to my iTunes library, i would have finished on march 25. as it stands, i’ve managed to accomplish 16% of that and my latest projections show me to be on track for my end-of-year completion goal.


  • yann tiersen [amelie]
  • thievery corporation [abductions & reconstructions]
  • tortoise live in san francisco oct 20, 2005
  • the offspring [conspiracy of one]
  • isao tomita [picture at an exhibition]
  • christopher franke [babylon 5: darkness ascending]
  • the pizzarellis [bucky and john: contrasts]
  • nobukazu takemura [child’s view remixes]
  • soul coughing [contest 7"]
  • basement jaxx [atlantic jaxx]
  • wool [box set]

every time i think i’ve outgrown the offspring, the group’s trademark power-punk-pop always manages to pull me back in. i was a big fan in high school, even saw them in concert. since then however, my passion for the group has waned to the point where i’ve repeatedly considered ditching my collection. in fact, i hadn’t listened to conspiracy of one since iTunes gained the ability to track playcounts. it’s been so long that that this was like getting a whole new cd, and like the sucker that i am, i fell for it. that’s not something to be ashamed of, is it? •

speaking of music that’s survived since high school, let’s take a quick look at wool. i picked this up, used, at hawsey’s book index, the book store i frequented in my teenage years for cheap books and music. i was tipped off, if i remember correctly, by a plug by friend-of-the-band dave grohl on an episode of mtv’s alternative nation (or maybe it was 120 minutes) and subsequent airing of the video for ‘kill the crow’ some time in 1995.

box setbox set is respectable enough, a heavy mix of punk, metal and enough pop-formula songwriting to merit attention. unfortunately for the group, the music industry was turning its attention toward crap-rock in the wake cobain’s suicide and this album barely made a splash at all. the fact that i found a copy at the book index is quite astonishing in retrospect. a couple years later though, wool’s guitarist joined foo fighters when pat smear left, so i guess it worked out for him. •

two other quick notes: amelie soundtrack will take you away to the streets of paris. And the pizzarellis brand of laid back classical guitar will make you feel like you’re on the deck of a beach house, sipping a cool drink and enjoying the ocean breeze.