Nate Mendel has always been adventurous. It was a brave step jumping from excellent hardcore bands Diddly Squat and Brotherhood to emo titans Sunny Day Real Estate. Even braver was putting everything aside for a never-ending tour with a small band in 1995 fronted by a former Nirvana drummer. That small band went from opening Mike Watt shows in ’95 to becoming arguably the biggest rock band in the world today. Other than Dave Grohl, Mendel is the only member of the Foo Fighters to have been with the band throughout its 20-year history. And if the Foo Fighters have a George Harrison-esque “The Quiet One”, it would be Nate Mendel.
It’s of no surprise then that Mendel often takes the backseat to the bombastic personalities of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. What is surprising – and perhaps the bravest step Mendel has taken – is that he’s decided to test the waters as a frontman and release his first solo-album, If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going to Eat for a Week, under the moniker Lieutenant. The timing is also interesting as the Foo Fighters are embarking on a massive world tour. But then again, maybe there isn’t a great time to do anything – just do it.
What makes the album so intriguing is that Mendel is a solid songwriter, likely taken from years of being in the industry and surrounded by great musicians and artists. The other intriguing element is its massive list of guest collaborators on the album, which helps being a member of the Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate. Dispersed throughout the album are Page Hamilton (Helmet), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), Josiah Johnson (The Head and the Heart), Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters), and Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate). The album was recorded in the Foo Fighters’ Studio 606 on the legendary Sound City Neve console and was produced by Toshi Kasai, who has previously worked with the Melvins and Helmet. As if the lineup on the album isn’t impressive enough, in the handful of shows Mendel has played as Lieutenant, his live band consists of Fleet Foxes member Christian Wargo, The Bronx drummer Jorma Vik, and Snow Patrol bassist Paul Wilson.
Opener “Belle Epoque” reveals Mendel’s surprisingly smooth vocals that have never been heard before. The track is multi-layered with a great uplifting chorus; however, sometimes the prominent guitar on the album makes it hard to decipher his lyrics. “Believe the Squalor” is a more relaxed song with moody guitars, sounding like it could easily be a lost Sunny Day Real Estate b-side.
Overall, If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going to Eat for a Week is a nice effort by an underrated bass player. Lieutenant is an enjoyable listening experience, but nothing here truly stands out as ground-breaking or fresh. For instance, though the album boasts an impressive lineup of guests, it’s often hard to tell them apart and uncover who is playing what through the 9 tracks. This is an album, however, for hardcore Foo Fighters fans like myself… for those who stay up late wondering if we’ll ever get another Rubensmear or why don’t the Foos let Chris Shifflett sing any Dead Peasants songs live? (“Get Along” would be awesome). Mendel should be commended for releasing this project, and it would be nice to see what he can bring to the writing table with the Foo Fighters.
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