Just admit it. The Foo Fighters have always been a vanilla band. Not just a "sitting at the bar during opening act" yawn festival; we're talking "call the girlfriend on the phone because nothing is on TV" boring. And it's been the case since way before 2002's One by One, a boiled egg of stagnant guitar piffle that not even Raymond Pettibon cover art could upgrade.
No, the Foos were lame out of the gate - especially with that insipid "There goes my hero/watch him as he goes" song becoming both a lame excuse for a pop-rock song and an uplift soundtrack for James Van Der Beek's drawling quarterback in Varsity Blues. Take away the cheeky clever video, and "My Hero" is inoffensive, midtempo Stone Temple Pilots stadium schlock lacking the affectations of junky self-indulgence.
Blame it all on Dave Grohl. He can lay down some mean drum kicks, but when he opens his mouth to sparrow-scream his lyrics, you get the impression that a coupla really Glengarry Glen Ross-competitive Girl Scouts could make him their bitch during cookie sweeps. And no amount of black-denim rocker outfits, complete with chin-strap goatee - actually, that may have been just to butch up Grohl and keep him from looking too much like Entertainment Tonight fashionista Steven Cojocaru - costumes the truth. The egoless demeanor that makes Grohl a total sport in interviews and as a talk-show guest is what makes him an utterly uncharismatic bandleader. In the Foo Fighters, Grohl is a killer
Nothing drove this fact home harder than Queens of the Stone Age's 2002 Songs for the Deaf. The Queens tapped the hammering machine that put the rib cage-bruising elbow-throws into Nirvana's pity-me soul binges-and-purges, over 14 tracks packed with title-fight guitar hooks. Grohl beat his snare and bass drums like a reformed spoil-the-rod high-school health teacher told that the bad-attitude boys are once again fair game. The experience definitely rekindled a fire under Grohl's ass, because he's gone off and done something nigh sublime: He's made one of the greatest tribute albums of all time.
Under the clunky name Probot, Grohl has smelted a mash note to early 1980s-to-'90s metal, and it is a right solid slab of hair-parting oomph. For these 11 tracks, Grohl teamed up with different vocalists - writing their own lyrics and melodies - and a guitarist or bassist here/there; the rest of the pile-driving licks are all Grohl.
Probot's near seamless self-titled album for Southern Lord - Stephen O' Malley and Greg Anderson's Los Angeles-based metal shop batting near perfect with its output - is a K-tel records compilation of underground '80s death-metal and speed/thrash pipes: Venom's Cronos, Sepultura's Max Cavalera, Motorhead's Lemmy, Corrosion of Conformity's Mike Dean, D.R.I.'s Kurt Brecht, Napalm Death's Lee Dorrian, the Obsessed/St. Vitus' Scott "Wino" Weinrich, Celtic Frost's Tom G. Warrior, Voivod's Snake, Trouble's Eric Wagner, and Mercyful Fate's King Diamond. Each vocalist brings his own personal mood-setting presence, yet the
From the horror movie scene-setting slow fade intro of the Cronos vox- and "war bass"-driven "Centuries of Sin" to the closing gothic haunt of the King Diamond-belted "Sweet Dreams," featuring ex-Soundgarden ax man Kim Thayil providing the grandiosity, Probot aims for death-metal heaven and doesn't miss. Lemmy's "Shake Your Blood" is Ace of Spades vintage Motorhead menace, Wino's scorching guitar and rumbling vocal cords smoke "The Emerald Law" with a classic stoner haze, and Grohl's drum-kit assault provides the perfect bag-of-bricks beat down for Cavalera's throat in the shredding "Red War." And best of all, Dean's hyperkinetic "Access Babylon" features ex-Void guitarist Bubba Dupree - yes, Bubba fucking Dupree - firing off a Tommy-gun guitar line, reminding you that Dupree was one of hardcore's few guitarists who could step to Black Flag's Greg Ginn. And the whole affair is recorded with extra-sensitive studio attention paid to huge sonics that '80s underground metal bands could only dream about.
It's a little too simplistic to knight these tracks as the greatest songs `pick your favorite metal band` never wrote, but step back from the adrenaline surge for a moment to admire what Grohl pulled off. He orchestrated an album that sidelines himself, and the end result more than likely gives his inner-teenage boy a power surge that trumps a box full of free porn. And most tellingly, Probot passes the inner-teenage boy litmus test: While playing a first-person, kill-everything-that-moves video game with headphones strapped on and the volume pegged, you feel like god.Probot does truck in death-metal dark and imaginative subject matter that reads like a hobbit away from fantasy cliché to outsiders, but you won't find a smidgen of the superficial adornments that metal a pop peacock. And while Grohl does stand on the precipice of remember-when nostalgia, he stops short of trying to recreate an era. That's a very fine bet-hedge, but it's enough to permit Probot to offer sterling proof that it can be invigorating to remember the past rather than a sad reach to live in it. •