In the more than 20 years since Nevermind (no, it’s not a feeling – you are old), Dave Grohl has progressed from punk-rock insurrectionist to magnetic-tape preservationist, with time in between to become a human Muppet. There are so many reasons to love Grohl, at this point you wonder if the music he makes is even in the top 10 anymore. Is he wondering the same thing? He starts the new Foo Fighters EP, Saint Cecilia, with a plea to the patron saint of music, for a little healing: “There ain’t no secrets anymore,” he sings. “My name’s been hanging on a hook outside your door/Just an old eyesore.” The songs roar along, blending the secrets of the past with the dominant culture they once protested – the loud-hard-fast ethos of hardcore merges into Seventies boogie. The EP takes its name in part from the Austin hotel where it was recorded. But this music has no particular sense of place, or time. The Foos have perfected a sort of classicism that folds in on itself. It can feel hermetically sealed, even when it’s irresistible (see the pummeling Motörhead stomp of “Savior Breath” and the mournful sway of “Iron Rooster”).
Cage the Elephant play with a different classicism on Tell Me I’m Pretty. Long one of rock’s great untamed live acts, they trade heavy riffs for Sixties melodicism. Produced by Dan Auerbach, the sound is rooted in garage soul but reaching for more: Songs like “Cry Baby” and “Sweetie Little Jean” evoke the Yardbirds of “For Your Love,” toggling between the exploration of psychedelia and the verities of the blues. Pray that some adventurous radio programmer fills the Ed Sheeran slot with the graceful ballad “Trouble” and turns Cage the Elephant into the sort of pop stars no guitar band is these days.
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The distorted caterwaul of two new one-off Weezer songs – “Do You Wanna Get High?” and “Thank God for Girls” – evokes the mid-Nineties days when guitar heroism came with a side of self-doubt. Melodies and hooks leapfrog over one another, but haven’t we heard these songs about drugs and wondrous girl creatures before?
The guitar crunch of PWR BTTM’s Ugly Cherries can sound familiar too, but the perspective isn’t. The Brooklyn duo, who met in college in upstate New York, dress up riffs nicked from everywhere – Van Halen, Tommy James and the Shondells, Weezer – in glitter and drag. It’s one of last year’s great rock surprises, full of songs about boys, lipstick and heartache, and charged by the thrill of two queer artists establishing themselves as the heroes of their own music. It’s rock & roll’s oldest trick, and greatest purpose: Plug in a guitar, let the volume rewrite the rules and make a case for liberation. It still works.