Foo Fighters’ ‘Saint Cecilia’ surprises fans with new spin on old rock sound, combines history with introspective lyrics

The Etownian February 4, 2016 0

The great Saint Cecilia walked the streets of Rome in the 2nd century AD.  Her spiritual actions at her own wedding, singing to God in her heart, crowned her the saint of the musicians.  Her day of the year comes on Nov. 22 a feast for St. Cecilia Day.  Most do not come close to the obsession she has with music, but one man in particular comes to mind: Mr. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters.  One might ask, what is the band’s way of celebrating such a joyous occasion?  There is only one solution to this conundrum: an album release.

The Foo Fighters released an unexpected new EP, Saint Cecilia, on St. Cecilia Day last November.  The band just wrapped up a long tour of their national pilgrimage album, Sonic Highways, when they decided to stop in at Hotel Saint Cecilia in Texas for an impromptu studio session. This resulted in a five-track journey to the far reaches of musical soundscape.  The work was provided free of charge; it was their musical condolences in light of recent tragedies in Paris.  All of the Foo’s recent work has been in random studios in random cities on the road to neurotic nirvana.  For example, all eight tracks on Sonic Highways were in different cities: Austin, Arlington, Chicago, Joshua Tree, Nashville, New Orleans, New York and Seattle.  Their spontaneity and fearlessness give the contemporary rock scene the kick in the pants it needs.  The album featured here sparks the senses into a state of relaxed energy flowing through the temporal plane.  Given the short length of the EP, every song shall receive a formal autopsy.

The title track, named after the music-obsessed martyr described above, begins with a thunderous guitar line acting as the musical cake, with lyrical icing sung above.  Grohl has a tendency to make his guitar sound like the entire band.  The pulse of the drums rolls along with a small, repeated bass melody while adding keyboard chords in-between. One can appreciate the kindness in Grohl’s heart to keep those warm bodies around him while he, Atlas, carries every song on his shoulders.  The drummer Taylor Hawkins, fellow string pluckers Smear and Shiflett, and grooving bassist Nate Mendel act as the head, wings and feathers of the soaring eagle, while Grohl screeches his famed cry for all to enjoy beneath.  Saint Cecilia would most definitely approve of her namesake.

The next two nods to the early punk era, “Sean” and “Savior Breath,” form hybrids of the classic punk form, reworked to involve the more domesticated Foo sound.  At first listen, the song “Sean” seems to fly by unnoticed, but after a few times, this little caterpillar evolves to join the rest of the song butterflies in equal existence.  The following tune, “Savior Breath,” uses distorted vocals and heavy drums to give an industrial feel.  It almost races in to save the attention of the drowsy listener, the snare drum like a beeping alarm clock.  The lyrics themselves, besides the chorus, are lost in the heavy track, almost becoming one with the music.  These two works do not carry as much retaining value as the others, but should not be forgotten.

Following the journey back to the eighties punk scene comes a mellow palate cleanser, “Iron Rooster.”  The easy-going melodic string line is layered with rhetorical questions to stir up some deep analysis of the self.  The drums and guitar find chemistry as they duet through a tunnel of thoughtful mystique.  The song as a whole would not stand as a single, but plays an important role in bridging the divide between the thrasher tunes and the finale of this album.

The conclusion of this free bundle of joy is a catchy anthem known as “The Neverending Sigh.”  Beginning with an airy guitar passage to create atmospheric foundation, the song dives into a frenzy of quick drums and rumbling bass grooves.  Grohl rings his vocal bells across every bar line, measuring up to the holiest of rock gods.  The cleverness behind his drawn-out vocals at the end of the chorus matching up with the song title is duly noted.  It crosses the finish line with a graceful guitar fade-out to leave the audience’s musical appetite thoroughly satisfied.  This work culminates every style presented on Grohl’s artistic palette onto a musical canvas worth a thousand and one words.

If it is still not clear, “Saint Cecilia” is most definitely a bang for the buck.  With a perfect bombardment of old-fashioned, head-banging, looney-toon punk and reflective, analytical, intellectual songs, the mind becomes trapped in a transonic state of aural bliss.  The men responsible shall be rejoined with their deity Saint Cecilia someday, but for now, they will keep rock ‘n’ rolling.


–Marc Unger

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