About a month or so ago, the Foo Fighters released a (mostly) limited vinyl-only compilation for Record Store Day. Entitled "Medium Rare", this basically throws together a bunch of covers the band have previously released, along with one or two new ones.
I don't think any copies made their way down to the small handful of participating New Zealand stores, so I had to resort to the internet. For the most part I have a real aversion to downloading albums for free - given the amount of time, effort and money that artists invest in making music they deserve a reward for it, after all it is their livelihood. I mean, I'd be pretty peeved if my employer told me I wasn't getting paid today. But I think downloading can be justified where the particular track/album simply isn't commercially available by virtue of being out of print or limited or whatever. So, basically, if I can't buy it, then I have no qualms about downloading it.
And so it was with Medium Rare, which has a delightfully meaty cover.
1. Band on the Run (originally by Wings)
This originally appeared on a Radio 1 compilation and frankly it's pretty damn good. It's not a major reinvention - and trying to reinvent a McCartney track might be a bit bold anyway. But it sounds like the Foo Fighters doing a really good cover of Wings, particularly during the first major dynamic change in the song ("If I ever get out of here..."). Definitely a good track to start with.
2. I Feel Free (originally by Cream)
Originally a b-side to DOA, this one sees Taylor doing most of the singing and Dave doing all of the drumming, which happened on one or two other tracks during the In Your Honor period. Decent enough and the guitar solos do sound particularly cool.
3. Life of Illusion (originally by Joe Walsh)
You know how there are always 'Japan-only EP's'? Well this was on the Times Like These Japan-only EP. Maybe Joe Walsh was in the Eagles but this song is fairly unremarkable and mostly just plods along. There are a number of covers the Foos have done that would have been more worthy inclusions - Born on the Bayou, Ozone, even their highly-amusing cover of Stairway to Heaven was probably a better option (skip to 3:30 for a Jack Black moment).
4. Young Man Blues (originally by Mose Allison; made famous by The Who)
One of those 'second order' covers (a la Sevendust covering Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails' Hurt), this was from a VH1 Rock Honors show in 2008 and wasn't available on record until now (although apparently they also covered Bargain with Gaz Coombes of Supergrass at the show). This is a really fun cover because it's much looser than the average Foo Fighters track and the band jams a lot in the middle too. It's nice to hear them do something a bit less structured and do it really well.
5. Bad Reputation (originally by Thin Lizzy)
Previously unreleased, and frankly a great choice. Dave doesn't quite have Phil Lynott's swagger behind the mic but the band more than compensate for that musically. Rollicking good stuff.
6. Darling Nikki (originally by Prince and the Revolution)
This one dates back to The Colour and the Shape era, appearing on a bonus disc that came with some copies. An unlikely choice, perhaps, but it's always been a big personal favourite of mine - a little straighter and poppier than the original but the explosion into the chorus with Dave doing his 'big rock scream' is brilliant. One that they still perform live on special occasions, occasionally with Cee Lo Green. Definitely a highlight.
7. Down in the Park (originally by Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army)
Originally appeared on Songs in the Key of X, a collection of songs loosely related to the X Files (remember that?!). It's a pretty straightforward verse-chorus-verse effort which is made special by the dynamic build throughout the song. The first verse is just Dave singing over the rhythm section, on the second verse the guitars join in (albeit palm-muted), and then in the third version we're in full-on rock mode (complete with moar crash cymbal). Nothing particularly tricky about it, but it works really well.
8. Baker Street (originally by Gerry Rafferty)
This was a b-side to My Hero and popped up on the same bonus disc as Darling Nikki. It actually became a minor hit in its own right and it does a good job of taking the track down a much more rock route, most notably by substituting guitar for the distinctive sax solo of the original.
9. Danny Says (originally by the Ramones)
This one was a bonus track with some versions of One By One. If you thought a punk cover was most likely to be Chris Shiflett's choice, I'm betting you'd be right because he sings lead vocals on this track. In the solid-but-unremarkable category.
10. Have A Cigar (originally by Pink Floyd)
Here's a trivia gem - the Foos have actually released two different recordings of this cover, both with Taylor on vocals. The first was a b-side on Learn to Fly. The second - featured here and which originally appears on the MI-2 soundtrack - features Brian May on guitar and is also noticeable because Taylor's vocals are a lot more aggressive. It's essentially a hard-rock take on the track - while it's quite different from the much more spacious Floyd version, impressively the Foos manage to retain the original's groove with bassist Nate Mendel taking an unusually prominent role.
11. Never Talking to You Again (originally by Husker Du)
A live performance - with Dave solo on vocals and guitar - that popped up as a b-side to Low. Solid but nothing special.
12. Gas Chamber (originally by the Angry Samoans)
An oldie but a goodie that popped up on the Big Me single. At 0:56, it's the shortest song the Foos have recorded and I'd pick it as a Dave Grohl choice because it sure harkens back to his Scream days. Rocks hard, doesn't mess around.
13. This Will Be Our Year (originally by the Zombies)
A previously unreleased track to close the album. In the category of "there were probably better choices than this". It's not bad, it's just not that interesting.
Overall, there are some absolute stunners, and a few that probably could have been omitted in favour of better alternatives. But you know, you can probably happily track it down for free without too much moral culpability. And if you got it on vinyl, well done you.