Keep! It! Down!
*Heyhey, retrospective Milo here, with this being a large release and all, this is a large review, so keep dat in mind, yeah?
Another month, another mah-hussive release in the world of music. With an announcement coming out of bloody nowhere, a mere three years since the band’s 2014 slump Sonic Highways, Concrete And Gold has quickly become one of this year’s most anticipated albums, with singles Run and The Sky Is A Neighborhood establishing themselves as two quality tracks in their own right, the latter even getting the plebe into the band after years of me trying.
In 1994 as a result of the tragic dissolution of Nirvana, then-drummer Dave Grohl released a self-produced, self-instrumented album under the pseudonym Foo Fighters as tapes for friends as, what the legend would later describe as, a “cathartic experience” following Kurt Cobain’s death. However, as record labels began to take interest, Grohl would sign to Capitol and released these tapes, to a modest success, both critically and commercially. Following this, Grohl got a few more members in and released The Colour And The Shape, the band’s signature album, with incredible radio hits such as Everlong and My Hero. Since then, band members have come and gone and come back again (lookin’ at you, Pat), they’ve released 6 studio albums, including the aforementioned disappointing Sonic Highways. But that was then and this is now, has the Grohl-lercoaster gotten back on its rails or has it crashed and burned?
Opening on something wholly unexpected from the band, T-Shirt presents a chorus very much comparable to Queen, albeit with Foo-sey twist. With a dainty acoustic intro, with some little-seen Grohl falsettos, the song then busts in with these, as I said, very Queen-like backing vocals, with a level of gusto not dissimilar to the arena rock legends. I just wish, at 1:23, the song was more than just a glorified intro.
A lovely little note is that, while the mixing of the song does fit perfectly into the next track, it also goes very nicely back into the start of the song, making it particularly interesting when listening to on repeat, like I am right now while writing this entry. JESUS LET ME ESCAPE FROM THIS NEVERENDING CYCLE.
Mixing perfectly, we have the lead single from the album Run. The song responsible for getting Reubs into the band, Run‘s multiple instrumental phases and ever-evolving flow make it one of the most ambitious singles the band has put out in a long time. Grohl’s vocals are dream-like but at the same time nightmarish as he balances his internationally-known death scream with his soothing ballad voice, creating one helluva contrast. The grungy guitars, which also change tone with Grohl’s voice, bring a real heavy metal influence to the song, as well as putting out some quality riffage on par with some of the band’s best. My favourite aspect of the track though, is Taylor Hawkins’ drum parts, emphasis on parts. The three or four or five different drum patterns we get from Hawkins have metal stylings and danceable grooves, while also retaining the huge sound we can expect from the stickman. In particular, his cymbal work on this track is near-perfect from me. However, I found the bass to be extremely under-produced, as I can barely hear it over the madness going on elsewhere.
After the high highs of Run, we crank up the energy, but slightly decrease the technical quality, with our next track Make It Right. Opening on a somehow familiar, distorted riff, the song has an undeniable, if a little forced, groove and almost funky attitude, which I’m not sure fit the band. Grohl’s ‘tude laden vocals give the song a wonky identity, as does the backing vocals, courtesy of Justin Timberlake. Overall, I would’t call it a bad song, as it has a great foot-tappy nature to it and I can easily see it being played live, but it’s a bit of a groggy one, if that makes a lick o’ sense.
However, there ain’t no sense to be made or needed with our next track, second single and personal favourite on the album, The Sky Is A Neighbourhood. With a fairytale guitar piece and backing vocals opening it up, the song is then almost interrupted by Dave’s passionate and bluesy shouts, punctuated by pounding drums and sweet ‘tar licks. Then, the song crashes together into this massive-sounding, cymbal-laden, shoutey-bastard, gospel-choired chorus, one of the most inflated (in a good way) and biggest in Foos history. With the bridge, the band kicks into some Beatles-esque surrealism with strings and a killer solo, fitting of the psychedelic imagery in the video. Though the quiet part is predictably told to f*ck off with an abrasive fill, as we’re sent straight back into that big blow-out chorus, this is a fantastically different and catchy Foos track that has stands out as not only the best song on the album, but one of the best since Wasting Light.
Coming straight in with a downright filthy bass riff, a rare occurrence for a Foos track, La Dee Da establishes itself as the loud one very early one, with Grohl kicking right off with that blood-curdling scream from his massive mouth. With phrases like “American ruse” and “Whitehouse”, you’d be easily mistaken for thinking this song was in any way political. But of course it wouldn’t be political, it’s the friggin’ Foo Fighters. These lyrics are actually inspired by Dave’s hardcore-fueled youth, though the political allegories aren’t very hard to find. While the breakneck pace of the song, with roaring guitars and rapid-fire drums, is blood-pumping and exciting, the production here, particularly the mix, is extremely distracting, with the instrumental being way too fuzzy for its own good and completely filling up the aural space.
Taking things down a notch with a gentle acoustic intro, coated in a warm bassline and punctuated with minute electric guitar picks, Dirty Water once again showcases Dave’s falsetto, although this time its supported with these really pleasant, dreamy backing vocals. The instrumental gains a bit more grandeur, with Dave returning to his normal voice, the backing becoming more prominent, as do the cymbals, and the electric strumming being a bit more noticeable. However, it goes back quiet again and we jam a little more. THEN it happens again and, this time, IT KICKS OFF. With a great synth riff actually adding to the heaviness, one of Rami Jaffee’s only meaningful contributions to the album in my eyes, the rockin’ instrumentation is background to a strange but ultimately great part of the album; Dave singing in rounds. Flashbacks of primary school regardless, the song’s energy after this point really brings the quality up with it, making it one of my preferred album cuts.
HOWEVER, my favourite deep cut was yet to come, with Arrows taking that title and running far with it. The intro, featuring a beautiful, drifting production style, with a solid bassline running underneath, and isolated guitar and keys parts floating through, is soon ended with a goosebumpifying build-up to what is most likely my favourite chorus on the album. Dave’s impassioned roars and seemingly emotional lyrics is backed by a steady but also somehow passionate-sounding beat and another fantastic bass part. Like The Sky Is A Neighbourhood, this is a song I’d rank as one of the best I’ve heard from the band in an extremely long time.
*These last four tracks is where the album gets a little tits, so I thought I’d split it up with a little opinion paragraph and a dope video.
With the announcement of Run and Concrete And Gold came also an announcement that the Foos were now a six-piece, with long-time multi-instrumentalist and contributor Rami Jaffee becoming an official member. You’d think, ergo, that Jaffee’s contribution to the album would be at least, in some way, noticeable. This isn’t really case, however, with my slight dig at Jaffee’s usefulness in Dirty Water being backed up by the fact that, with Foo Fighters being pretty “guitars and drums” rock, the keys aren’t really there. Contrastingly, I feel like, especially with tracks like Arrows, bassist Nate Mendel’s contributions are most prominent than ever before, with him usually fading into the mix. This is great for me because Nate’s such a great bassist and it’s great we get to hear him.
We jump right into it with the weak acoustic ballad Happy Ever After (Zero Hour). Ignoring the fact that it’s happily ever after, this track’s unmemorable guitar lead, uninspired backing vocals and repetitive hook all come together to make this song the definition of inoffensive filler, with the only pro being the admittedly palatable solo.
Then we have the longest song on the listing, Sunday Rain, a song which I don’t completely hate, but far from love. Notably the lead vocals, performed by Taylor, are nothing on what Grohl has to offer and, while I don’t have any beef with his voice, seem a bit needless when you have such an entertaining vocalist already. Additionally, we’ve got a bridge that really shows Hawkins’ limitations as a singer, as he stretches far to hit the higher notes. The overall structure of the song, even if it is overlong, does make up for the lacking riffage, which seems generally a bit boring. However, I am strangely fascinated and happy with Paul McCartney’s turn on drums in this track, pleasantly surprising me with a Ringo-esque groove (I guess some things you just pick up). Overall, a mixed bag veering on lackluster.
NOW THEN. Here we go, the worst track on the album. And, unfortunately, in comes in the shape of third single The Line. Immediately showing itself off to be a melodramatic bore-fest, with Imagine Dragons-like overproduction and a real “hand-on-my-beating-heart” vocal performance from Grohl, one of his worst turns for a long time, nothing at all about this track strikes me as interesting, and sounds more like the Foos doing pop-rock and thinking they could hide it if they just turn it all up.
And, sadly, I’m not too impressed with the album’s eponymous closer, Concrete And Gold, either. With an opening guitar lead that depressingly plods along like an alcoholic walking home from the pub, the song, like many times on the album, brings out some stacked backing vocals, this time from Boyz II Men man-boy Shawn Stockman, which feign some kind of chorus, while the tempo still drags its lazy ass through the runtime. If I could describe this track with one word, it would be tedious.
While Dave hypes it up as the new RHCP/Rick Rubin pairing, Greg Kurstin, a hugely prolific pop producer working with artists like Adele and Sia, produces this album no-differently than the bore-inducing work on said artists. There’s nothing harsh or rocky about it, it’s all just clean and polished and completely passable. However, if he isn’t doing that, like on songs such as La Dee Da, he’s getting the mix so wrong it’s painful, with the backing instrumentation sounding like sonic bullshit. While a lot of the stronger songs, like Run and The Sky Is The Neighbourhood come out this unharmed, there is also a group of songs, like the aforementioned La Dee Da, that suffer greatly as a result.
Overall, Foo Fighters’ ninth studio effort is, in all fairness, a departure from what I’ve heard from the band. They seem to be trying out new things, some of which worked monumentally well, some of which crashed and burned. Yes, this song does have its fair share of shiteboxes, not helped by the weak production, but it also has a good few of absolutely smashing bangers, some of which I could see in my top 30, or even 20, Foos tracks. Best album of 2017? Probably not, but one I’d recommend all the same, especially to an FF fan.
BEST TRACKS: The Sky Is A Neighbourhood, Arrows, Run, Dirty Water
WORST TRACKS: The Line, Concrete And Gold, Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)
RANKING AMONG OTHER FOOS RECORDS:
1. Echoes, Patience, Silence & Grace (2007)
2. One By One (2002)
3. Foo Fighters (1995)
4. Wasting Light (2011)
5. The Colour And The Shape (1997)
6. There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)
7. In Your Honor (2005)
8. Concrete And Gold (2017)
9. Sonic Highways (2014)
Top 25 Foo Fighters Songs
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations