An exercise in Grohl power
Imagine all the world’s big rock bands adrift on a leaky raft. Supplies are low. Who’s shark bait? It’s a scenario sadly untestable in the field, but few rock fans would conceivably pick Foo Fighters over more divisive arena-fillers – Red Hot Chili Peppers, say, or U2.
Born from the ashes of Nirvana, but transformed into a juggernaut thanks to Dave Grohl’s grasp of melodics, the Foos are a reliable group who are hard to hate: power with tunes, good times with gravitas. For their ninth album, the first after a broken leg temporarily hobbled the irrepressible Grohl (“I feel the metal in my bones,” runs one wry lyric here), they have enlisted pop merchant Greg Kurstin (Adele, Katy Perry, Lily Allen; more recently, Liam Gallagher, Beck) to produce.
The science is simple enough: every lick gets its titanium sheen, the vocals are layered millefeuilles upon millefeuilles, and Grohl is able to further indulge his inner singersongwriter (as on the pretty love song Dirty Water) as well as his anthemic thrasher (Run; the video is awesome).
Albums eight and seven were, in their own ways, conceptual; Concrete
and Gold is much more accessible. Such is Grohl’s pulling power that he can rope in Justin Timberlake on backing vocals, or call up his buddy Paul McCartney to play drums on Sunday Rain. You would never accuse Grohl of being a smug star, the kind who would countenance semi-retirement running a trout farm. There’s still a lot of roiling going on under the affable exterior. But ninth albums from famous dudes with Beatles as jam-mates aren’t known for grabbing you by the gizzards and turning you inside out.
As it is here. No reinventions, no crises of faith, and – given it’s 2017 – no overt state-of-the-nation addresses – unless you are counting the oblique opening track, T-shirt, which Grohl has said was written in reaction to the political mood ( you can’t really tell). La Dee Da, meanwhile, is littered with references to obscure rightwing bands. In a recent interview, Grohl was at pains to explain that the song reconnects with both his own alienated teen self and other alienated young males he knew. You get the feeling it’s loosely about the embittered testosterone fuelling current US politics.
The rest ranges far and wide: love songs, storytelling, questioning. There are chant-along tunes that start raw and become saturated, such as The Sky Is a Neighborhood, whose heaviosity is leavened by angelic backing sighs. McCartney is here in spirit as well in body. Sunday Rain is highly Beatley; so is Happy Ever After (Zero Hour). Both have a dark bent. “Where is your Shangri-la now?” muses Grohl on the latter. “Happy ever after/ Counting down to zero hour/ There ain’t no superheroes now.”
Grohl and co are on point, the tracklist has girth and depth. What
Concrete and Gold lacks, perhaps, is actual concrete: fresh, modern, risky architecture, rather than Beatles tributes.
‘Good times with gravitas’: Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, third left, with fellow band members.
ROCK Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold (ROSWELL/SONY)