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November 1, 2002

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The Foo Fighters

One by One

RCA Records

By now, it's a pretty widely accepted fact that the Foo Fighters are a great singles band. Just look at the collection of songs they've amassed over the course of their four studio albums: "I'll Stick Around," "Big Me," "Monkey Wrench," "Learn to Fly," "Stacked Actors," "Hero," and the downright ingenious "Everlong." They're going to have one hell of a greatest hits package. And if there ever was a band that needed one, the Foos would be it, since they've never managed to make a definitive album. Every single one has been chock-full of filler, redeemed only by the electrifying singles.

The trend continues on their latest, the newly released, One by One. Some have said it's "their rawest yet" or "their most tuneful set." But it's really just business as usual for Dave Grohl, who sprinkles a handful of memorable songs and melodies across the album's fifty-five minute running time. When the album shines, it does so in blinding fashion, but the fleeting flashes of brilliance also make the long periods of creative malaise even more obvious. Those looking for their pop-punk fix would be advised to download "All My Life," "Have It All," and "Times Like These" and let Grohl & Co. keep the change.

—Jon Garrett

Death Cab for Cutie

You Can Play These Songs With Chords

Barsuk Records

There are two ways to view the recently re-issued CD version of You Can Play These Songs With Chords. Either it's a chance for fans of the band to get their hands on a debut album that had only been available previously as an out-of-print, cassette-only release, or it's a rarities collection. Perhaps understanding that the initial eight-song recording made for a rather thin release, Barsuk Records added an additional ten songs, including the much sought, seldom found Sub Pop Singles Club release, "Army Corps of Architects." I'm afraid to tip my hand too early in this review, but while the rarities may attract the most initial interest, it's the early recordings that may be of the greatest ultimate value. That is, fans may buy the album to get a copy of the band's cover of the Smiths' "This Charming Man," or the previously mentioned "Army Corps of Architects," but they'll come back to hear the prototype versions of the songs contained on Death Cab for Cutie's proper debut album, Something About Airplanes.

The songs on You Can Play These Songs With Chords were recorded in 1997, before the band had officially formed, to allow guitarist and producer Christopher Walla to test some new studio equipment. While the production is unpolished, and lead singer Ben Gibbard's vocals have a surprisingly nasal tone, the songs are surprisingly accomplished. Five of the songs on this early album were re-recorded for Something About Airplanes, and the addition of time, money, and extra musicians did very little to change the embryonic versions contained here. Even some of the noticeable changes—while on the whole probably improvements—leave out some of the enjoyable nuances contained here. Witness the snotty delivery Gibbard gives to the opening lines of "Champagne From a Paper Cup"—"I think I'm drunk enough to drive you home now"—which is preferable to the smoother delivery of the album version. While the original eight songs of the re-release provide the greatest chance to check the band's progress, the rarities section also contains a few songs of note. "Tomorrow," an unreleased song recorded purely for fun in 1996, is an effortlessly ingratiating two-minute hook. The Secret Stars cover "Wait," is equally likable. While it's unlikely to win new fans for the band, those who jumped on the Death Cab for Cutie bandwagon after the release of last year's The Photo Album will doubtless be drawn even further into their orbit.

—Tom Zimpleman