This is an anthology of strong new songs by a great bunch of bands, all calling themselves Foo Fighters. You get the speed-of-light Foos in “The Pretender,” the glam-candy Fighters in “Long Road to Ruin,” the Southern-rock stompers who butt in with “Summers End” and the goth folkies on “Stranger Things Have Happened.” Singer-guitarist and ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl used to spread this variety across whole albums — the one-man power pop of 1995’s Foo Fighters; the real-band slam of ’97’s The Colour and the Shape; the unplugged CD in the 2005 set In Your Honor. He has finally figured out how to make one record out of all that leeway.
There are bumps — “Stranger Things” isn’t strange enough (drums and fuzz would have helped) — and a disappointing finish: “Home,” which is just Grohl on vocals, piano and too much melodrama. Grohl, guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins make the same points about loss, defiance and rescue better earlier: in the machine-gun-guitar stutter of “Erase/Replace” (Grohl writes riffs like a drummer) and the shape-shifting “Let It Die,” which starts with cautious acoustic questioning (“In too deep and out of time/Why’d you have to go and let it die?”), then blows up into a full-metal cross-examination.
And there is “Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners,” a fingerpicking ballet with guest guitarist Kaki King that sounds like it dropped in from an old Takoma Records anthology. Grohl wrote the instrumental after meeting a survivor of a 2006 mine collapse in Tasmania (while trapped underground, the miner asked for an iPod loaded with Foo songs to keep him company) and swore to record it. The track makes no sense, even in this eclecticism — except that Grohl is a man of his word.