Sunday, April 3, 2011

Foo Fighters: Wasting Light review

For the last few months, Dave Grohl has been touting the new Foo Fighters album as a back to basics barn burning rock behemoth. All I can say is if you're talking about barn burning like this, you better not be talking about Farmville - I want apocalyptic visions of a whole valley of Amish barns on fire.

The promise of a great rock record with no filler is an enticing one to fans of the genre and Grohl has the pedigree to pull it off. The check list on the album was promising:
a) Grohl coming off drumming for Them Crooked Vultures inspired and ready to rock - check.
b) Re-union of Nevermind alumni Butch Vig and Krist Novoselic - check.
c) Guest appearance by Bob Mould - check.
d) Return of original line up member/Germs guitarist Pat Smear - check.

So with these ingredients, did Grohl pull off the rock album of the year? I want to say yes but Wasting Light is good but not great. There are some exceptional songs here but the album is let down by its track order as well as some weaker songs at the back end of the album.

The album starts with a quadruple punch of awesome. The first song Bridge Burning is exactly what Grohl promised and is a good old fashioned throw-your-devil-horns-to-the-heavens-and-air-guitar-rock-out moment. The final section where Grohl sings "Gathering the ashes" is the first goose bump moment on the record and is a perfect lead into the single Rope. At first, I wasn't that impressed by this song but after a few listens, it has the infectious quality of the Foo's best work - Dave sure knows how to pick a single.

Dear Rosemary
is a more plaintive work and features Bob Mould on backing vocals and guitar. The song wouldn't be out of place on any of Mould's later solo album and has a halting, emotive quality. The call and response between the two singers in the latter part of the song is an album highlight and shows why at his best Bob is one of the most distinctive and moving voices to come out of the 80's punk scene. This is swiftly followed by White Limo, which seems to be Grohl's tribute to Motorhead. If having Lemmy in the video wasn't enough of a hint, the solo is a pure Motorhead overkill. However, this is where things start to wind down on the album.

The next track, Arlandria, starts with a riff that is easily the worst thing on the album. However, this is the only time it is played in the song but stands out as a signpost in the shift of dynamics in the record. Pretty much every song from here has a muted verse followed by a thundering distorted chorus which is problematic - being drawn from the same template makes them very samey. Where the opening tracks swing and fight for your attention, the rest seem like assembly line rock for the masses. This is not to say the songs are not good, they're just not in the stratosphere that the early songs promised. I think this may be in part to the track order as I'm surprised no one noticed the lack of variety in the back end of the album. Despite this, Arlandria is actually a pretty good song despite it's shaky start and is ably followed by the remaining tracks but it is middling rather than compelling.

As with any rock record, I think it pays not to pay too much attention to the lyrics. They are singalong fun but not really particularly deep and more fodder for memorable melodies. There's no denying Grohl's sincerity but a lot of the stuff here is rock by rote and rhyme. That being said, Grohl has never sounded better as a singer - there is a lot of variation in his tone and voice on the album and let's face it, he has a pretty great rock scream.

So, Wasting Light is a solid rock record with some real high points but it is not the classic that Grohl has been talking up. As for all this talk of a return to grunge because of the Vig/Novoselic connection, I think that's bullshit given this sounds no different from the music Grohl has been peddling for the last fifteen years. It's definitely one of the best Foo Fighter records but I can't help but think they're an outstanding singles band but don't have the depth for great deep cuts. Maybe I'm being harsh as I've only had a good 24 hours with the record and the latter tracks will grow on me but at first flush - this is less barn burning and more barn bbq. That's ok because it's still good fun and worth the price of admission for any discerning rock fan. What more do you want from a rock record?

The album is streaming here.


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