In utero
Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl has no illusions: "I was always going to be 'that guy from Kurt Cobain's band,' and I knew it," he says, and so he and Pat Smears do not go out of their way to sever the ties that bind; rather, the two former members of Nir-vana--Grohl as drummer, Smears as the band's touring second guitarist--wrap themselves tightly in their legacy until they nearly cut off the circulation. Foo Fighters is not Nirvana or a reasonable facsimile, but to ignore the similarities--which occur as often as they do not, Grohl's vocals eerily echoing those of his old boss--would be casting a deaf ear toward the obvious.

Foo Fighters, then, is the ultimate synthesis of what Nirvana wrought four years ago--a riff-pop band raised on equal measures of hard-core and album-rock, one that owes as much to HYsker DY and the Germs (of which Smears was a member) as to Thin Lizzy and Boston. And so the debut is filled with melodies like the ocean's filled with water, the guitars scream whether they're soft or loud, and the words are only half-heard underneath noise and fuzzed-out distortion that never bury the music.

But the words understood clearly are, well, clearly understood: "This is a call," Grohl sings from the get-go, then he threatens to stick around by insisting-proclaiming, "It's all right if you're confused...I don't owe you anything." Two songs later, he's an "Alone+Easy Target"; five songs later, he's "not about to blow it for all the cows." Grohl's as confused, angry, and disillusioned as anyone who went from the world's most famous rock band to being in "just another rock band." But he's liberated, too, making music that lives up to the expectations by sinking so far down to them.

Childhood, schmildhood
Soulful Sensation
Jackson 5
Motown Records

"Have you seen my childhood?" Michael wonders on HIStory, but he need ponder the question no more: Here it is, wrapped up in four discs that prove MJ had more heart, and God knows more soul, at 11 than he does in his late 30s (or when he was, say, 13).

He was a kid who could keep up with Sly Stone and Smokey Robinson and stand tall like Marvin Gaye against Motown's cynical pop-audience formula; his youth made the love songs more believable and his voice perfectly imperfect, two things borne out by the fact the set grows more tedious as these guys get older. But if you think his brothers were only stage props there to hold up baby bro, then you overestimate Quincy Jones and Jimmy Jam.

--Robert Wilonsky