Album Review : Foo Fighters - Concrete & Gold (2017)
The twenty-first century hasn't been kind to rock n' roll. It has become the last battle horse of dinosaur corporate labels and diluted to its blandest, most radio-friendly essence for the most part. Either do what the label says or go indie. Foo Fighters are one of the last, great arena rock bands we have. They earned an important place in our culture by playing accessible rock with passion, writing a handful of bangers over two decades and, most important, being in direct lineage with Nirvana, one of the top 10 most important rock bands ever.
But are we sure they're good? I like Foo Fighters as much as the next guy, but I never could listen to an album from cover to cover. So, I have their new record Concrete & Gold a spin looking for answers.
I've probably enjoyed Concrete & Gold better than most people. It's not exactly crawling with memorable hits, but it's surprisingly reliable. There are little to no skippable songs on it. The opener T-Shirt begins quietly with only Dave Grohl and an acoutstic guitar and explodes into a bombastic riff and powerful harmonies, setting the stage for their first single Run, that comes right after. I do like Run, but it has elements of what Foo Fighters do best and what makes them forgettable in it. The verses are played in that abrasive, straightforward rock style and the chorus is soft and melodic, almost like a 1970s prog rock song. The lyrics also reflect that schism: the verses convey a sense of urgency and people chasing the protagonist, while the chorus has more romantic undertones: In another perfect life/In another perfect light/We run.
Theoretically, I have nothing against changes of tempo and layered emotions in a song. Radiohead' Exit Music (For a Film) for example, does it very well. But you have to go from point A to point B, you can't zig-zag between both. Run is catchy and well-written, but I don't know what I'm supposed to feel when hearing it. The following song Make it Right * is a much more straightforward rock n' roll song. It doesn't pack much of a lasting impact, but the power chords are fun and aggressive for a Foo Fighters song. It's the kind of song you sing in a car with friends on a road trip. Same thing for La Dee Da, which comes almost right after. It's played with an energy and abandon that are contagious and that slightly transcend the rigid boundaries Foo Fighters created for themselves over the course of their career. There's an endearing rawness and spontaneity to these two songs.
Now, I've been quite critical this far, but there is greatness on Concrete & Gold. Songs that will go on my Foo Fighters all-time playlist. I really enjoyed the second single from the album The Sky is a Neighborhood, which had strong late Beatles influence. It reminded me a lot of Oh! Darling without the horrible heartbreak of it. Dave Grohl offers a powerful, jagged vocal performance in it. My favorite song onConcrete & Gold, though is Dirty Water, which immediately became one of my favorite Foo Fighters song. It begins with simple acoustic arrangements and slowly progresses into all-time banger like a hurricane doing landfall. And the heavier and more aggressive it gets, the simpler the lyrics are. By the end, you'll sing: BLEEEED DIRTY WAAATER/ BREEAAATHE DIRTY SKYYY alongside Dave Grohl. It's a beautiful, empowering song about embracing the imperfection of life.
The other song that immediately became immortal for me is Happy Every After (Zero Hour), a beautiful, simple ballad with subtle string arragements, which I primarily enjoy for its powerful lyrics. In the song, Dave Grohl chastises the manufactured search for bliss and perfection of the twenty-first century by stating: Where is your Shangri-La now? and There are no superheroes, they're underground. The mix of cynicism and earnestness on Happy Every After (Zero Hour) is intoxicating. I will be muttering it for the next twenty years. Another song that made quite a lot of noise is Sunday Rain, because of the collaboration with Sir Paul McCarthney. I mean, it's a good song. I find it catchy and completely unmemorable on an album that embraces the more abrasive and confrontational side of Foo Fighters. It's something that could've come from one of their less inspired album of this last decade.
I skipped only three songs in this review: Arrow, The Line and Concrete & Gold. The first two are unmemorable compared to the others. They're not bad, per se. Just kind of phoned-in. The latter shouldn't have been on the record. It's a slow, sludgy and monotone ballad that ends such an energetic and spontaneous rock album with a down note. Anyway, Concrete & Gold (the album) is some of the most inspired material Foo Fighters offered us since Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace a decade ago. It perhaps doesn't have its high notes, but it's a sturdier and more reliable rock n' roll effort. I enjoyed this record WAAAAAY more than I thought I would. The singles don't sell all of its secrets. Come for Run and The Sky is a Neighborhood, stay for Dirty Water and Happy Ever After (Zero Hour). You won't be disappointed.
* A lot of noise has been made around Justin Timberlake's contribution to that song, but he's only doing oooohs and aaaahs.