Side-project: a dirty phrase, perhaps? Too often we've seen sojourns made by members of prominent bands into solo territory that have made us wish that they’d just stuck to the day job. But it appears that you can’t button a musician’s creativity even as said day job rumbles on in the background. That's the case in point for Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who’s stepped out with this avian inferno-entitled project while his main band gradually thinks about putting together their eighth studio album.
The Birds of Satan comprise Hawkins - on drums, natch - and his two buddies from Chevy Metal (guffaw at the punnery of that, why don’t you), another of the drummer’s dalliances in rock moonlighting: Mick Murphy is entrusted with guitar duties, whilst Hawkins’ BFF Wiley Hodgden wields the all-important bass. The three buddies convened in Studio 606 in L.A. with producer and fellow bro John Lousteau to thrash out a record in less than a week (and do Foos fans wish that such productivity collectively coursed through the veins of their favourite band), with help from Pat Smear and one Dave Grohl (who owns Studio 606).
Kicking off with ‘The Ballad of The Birds of Satan’, you’d be forgiven for sighing at its lengthy duration. And yes, at nine-and-a-half minutes long it is a little too much to comprehend, but try to think of it as more like the combined total of three segments of rock-opera proportions. Recorded in one take with the help of Grohl, there’s enough chunky riffs, rolling drums, and screechy vocals to fill an early-Eighties MTV hair-metal booze cruise. The obviously cocaine-referencing ‘Thanks for the Line’ follows, which is actually more of a jaunty prospect than you might expect: there’s even a piano-break that recalls Queen (not the first time that Hawkins unashamedly wears his influences on his sleeve), before Murphy’s adept fingerwork spawns a whirlwind of heavy-rock instrumentation.
‘Raspberries’ is the designated driver of this comely seven-pack of tracks, spewing out laboured balladry that’s a little disconcerting considering that the usually-reliable Grohl had a hand in writing it. We want rawk, Taylor! Thankfully, ‘Nothing At All’ quickly fulfils this desire, tersely declaring that “talk is cheap” as crazy drum fills, guitar slides, and Hawkins’ throaty delivery decries a partner who’s done him wrong.
Closer ‘Too Far Gone To See’, meanwhile, threatens to round proceedings off with an introspective hum that’s crafted by some harpsichord-sounding keys and more Queen-aping, this time in the form of group vocal harmonies. But then it skyrockets into the kind of comfortable stratospheres that The Birds’ choice of genre occupies where guitar arpeggios and determined head-banging are the order of the day. All in all, it makes for an agreeable build that compliments Hawkins and his bandmates’ approach to structuring, despite its quick-fire construction.
A muck-about with friends that was brainlessly cooked up in the duration of a coffee break? You certainly wouldn’t relay such a judgement to Hawkins, who’s evidently proud to embrace his cherished branch of musical influences - from early Van Halen to Jane’s Addiction – for the world to see. And The Birds of Satan is a fun record – it doesn’t aim to top the charts, be name-checked by politicians, or indeed supersede anything that the Foos have ever done. Hawkins simply used the resources close to him to explore a creative urge that does more good than harm, and thus we can safely declare that this bird should be allowed to fly.
6Sam Moore's Score