The first minute of their new album, Wasting Light, makes that abundantly clear. Bridge Burning, the album's blazing opening number, sets the tone for the rest of the record. The moment Dave Grohl howls These are my famous last words/ My number’s up, bridges booaauughh/BOOAUUGHHH, it’s apparent that the band might have finally captured the energy that Grohl brings to the live setting on record. In concert, Grohl routinely screams the last parts of lines rather than singing them, and that tactic is on display on Bridge Burning, a hell of a first track.
The Foo Fighters have three guitarists now, with Pat Smear having officially re-joined resident axemen Grohl and Chris Shiflett, and the triple blitz of guitars is evident on the opening cut and throughout the album.
A lot has already been said about Rope, the Rush/Led Zeppelin-ish lead single, with its echoed guitar and stop-start rhythmic flow. Drummer Taylor Hawkins smacks all of his drum equipment with precision, and his voice is a great match to Grohl’s familiar singing in the verses.
This album was recorded in Grohl’s garage, as everybody knows, on analog tape. No computers, no Auto-Tune, no Pro Tools, no nonsense. Just the Foos, producer Butch Vig, practice, and precision. Oh, and Bob Mould from Husker Du, who plays guitar on Dear Rosemary, one of the best moments on Wasting Light. Bringing the guitar count up to four, Mould also adds some husky background vocals. This song was one of the most impressive parts of the Foos’ recent LA club gigs, which even featured Mould onstage.
Yes, the verses of Dear Rosemary sound a lot like Joe Jackson’s Is She Really Going Out With Him? and, thus, The Raconteurs’ Steady As She Goes, but the similarity is only in the rhythm of the verse. Its grabbing melody and familiar rhythmic progression create a simply irresistible overall sound. Truth ain’t gonna change the way you lie/Youth ain’t gonna change the way you die yells Grohl, lyrics that sound meaningful, but in reality were created on the fly in the studio, as is revealed in Back & Forth, the Foos’ new feature length documentary.
White Limo throws a curveball into the smooth vibes and rhythm of the first three tracks, with its Motorhead-ish aggression and Dave screaming like he hasn’t since Weenie Beenie. The song, a snarling old-school blast of hard rock energy and fury, is a far cry from the more typical primed-for-radio-play Foo Fighters songs that casual radio listeners probably expected from this album, and it’s positioned perfectly as Wasting Light’s fourth track.
Arlandria starts out with a bang before quieting down and allowing Grohl to sing over the gentle guitar. The lyrics aren’t among the best Grohl’s ever penned, but again the rhythm and melody, aided by the siren wails of Shiflett’s and Smear’s guitars, take over. The chorus of You used to say I couldn’t save you enough/ So I’ve been saving it up/ I started saving it up was one of the more memorable moments of hearing the album premiered live for the first time, and it translates just as well in the studio.
Foo haters usually dismiss their music as “bland radio rock” and “unremarkable”, probably due to tunes like Learn to Fly and Times Like These, but These Days avoids such comparisons thanks to its quiet intro guitar and soft-loud-soft-loud dynamic. The steady rising action of the verses ends with Grohl’s passionate scream of Easy for you to say!! before a radio-friendly chorus kicks in. Its combination of the Foos’ past radio success and the new formula give it a freshness that helps it avoid falling into the traps of past “traditional Foo Fighters” material.
Back & Forth is probably the weakest track on the album, but it isn’t terrible. The straightforward riffs and typically bouncy rhythm just aren't as creative as the other tunes on the album, but the pre-chorus riffs are pretty sweet.
A Matter of Time’s off-beat tempo, staccato riffs and time changes give the song its best qualities. It’s definitely more of an “experimental” type of song for the Foos, and it works well.
The song segues into the crushing Miss the Misery, which is a cacophony of thunderous guitar riffs. Classic rock vocal hooks lead into the verse, giving the song its overall throwback feel. Nate Mendel’s steady bass line drives the song, and the guitar work accompanying the main riff is layered exquisitely. The bridge has fuzzy, distorted guitars and a key change, and it rocks.
While there are no acoustic guitars, pianos, or other softer stuff on the album, I Should Have Known is the album’s moment of somber reflection. No, the song isn’t about Kurt Cobain, but the general theme could be applied to his suicide, as many similar Foo songs can. Grohl likes being intentionally vague, with lyrics that may or may not refer to someone specific, when in reality they probably don’t. I should have known/ I was inside of you/ I should have known/ There was that side of you/ Came without a warning/ Caught me unaware sings Grohl, his voice distorted and fuzzy, as sad-sounding guitars and a violin give the whole thing its downbeat tone.
The song could have been part of the acoustic portion of In Your Honor, until Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic chimes in with his deliciously grunge-y bass solo in the bridge. It’s sludgy, dark, and dirty, just as a contribution from Novoselic should be. I Should Have Known is another of the album’s brightest moments, allowing the Foos to branch out a bit and get personal.
The album closes out with Walk, the second single from the album. Its opening guitar sounds like Tal Bachman’s She’s So High, but thankfully the song elevates itself from that unfortunate similarity into a fantastic album-capper. It’s basically the sequel to New Way Home, the epic closer to The Colour and the Shape. It’s also a great way to close out Wasting Light: hopeful guitar chords and confident declarations of self-discovery and a positive outlook for the future, fitting for an album like this.
The flaws with past Foo albums such as In Your Honor and parts of Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace implied that the band was perhaps running out of ideas, but it’s evident with this new record that things are back on track.
With Wasting Light, the band has managed to create its best full album in at least 10 years, if not longer. It’s great to see the Foos recapture some of the inventiveness and exuberance of their early career, and do it so impressively.
It’s 2011, but the Foo Fighters sound as strong and powerful as they did in 1996.
The future is bright for rock.