Loud, upbeat and energetic
In his latest solo album Hard Lessons, Chris Shiflett of the Foo Fighters acts as a teacher wanting to pass his wisdom to anyone who will listen.
Shiflett wants to reach someone with these songs. Almost all the lyrics are addressed in the second person. The opening track “Liar’s Word” begins with the lyrics “Oh, Mama, have you heard?/ I’m about as good as a liar’s word.” The song introduces the album nicely. It gives the listener a taste of the rock sound that Shiflett puts on this album but does not reveal everything that is coming in the subsequent ten tracks.
The album cover and its title might be a little misleading. The cover, a black and white photo of Shiflett sitting on a stool alone with his guitar, suggests the listener might be in for a contemplative and acoustic sounding album, but what Shiflett delivers seems to eschew such adjectives. Shiflett delivers a loud and confident album full of energy with driving rock beats. If there are any hard lessons in it, Shiflett plays and sings as if he has conquered them.
Some songs on this album are classic rock tunes driven by lots of guitars, a loud sound and Shiflett’s substantial voice, like “Liar’s World.” Other songs have more of a country tinge and it’s in these songs that Shiflett shines more.
“This Ol’ World” is one of the latter songs. Without going into any specifics, Shiflett laments “Has this ol’ world lost its goddamn mind?” Instead of getting cynical, Shiflett uses it as a reason to look for comfort. “Yeah, I need you right here by my side ‘cause, baby, this ol’ world has lost its goddamn mind.” The refrain “I hope you’re doing alright” can get tedious, but the song is nonetheless the sort of upbeat comfort Shiflett wants.
“This Ol’ World” also encapsulates the deception in the album. Though “Hard Lessons” might imply more difficulty or hardship in Shiflett’s lyrics, he delivers the opposite. Many songs purport to be about difficult—like “Welcome to Your First Heartache” and “Weak Heart”—Shiflett sings them with the confidence of someone who has conquered those difficulties. Shiflett is obviously used to performing in huge venues before enormous audiences and this album is no different. The driving guitar sound and pounding drums would be at home in an arena. Shiflett treats his “hard lessons” as anthems of his own strength that he and audiences can sing out together. “Don’t you know I’ve got a weak heart?” he asks, “When it comes to you, babe, you make it so hard.”
“The One You Go Home To” is one of the most heavily country-influenced tracks. Elizabeth Cook features on this cheeky duet where the two singers celebrate that “thank God I’m not the one that you go home to.” Its themes of love and heartbreak, which also show up on other tracks like “Welcome to Your First Heartbreak,” are typical country music material and Shiflett does them adequate justice.
Amongst the heavier songs is “Leaving Again,” the tenth track on the album. The piano and acoustic guitar which accompany the heavier sound add a welcome delicacy to the song. Like Cook’s vocals on “The One You Go Home To,” it provides a much-needed balance to the songs on the rest of the album.