After fifteen years together, the Foo Fighters have not lost any of their intensity or ability to write hit songs. On the contrary, they have upped the ante, and their seventh album Wasting Light explodes out of your speakers like a bomb just got dropped about five metres away from you.
It’s always hard to follow up on a huge success, especially when that success (2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience And Grace) earned you multiple Grammy nominations and awards, including wins for Best Rock Album and Best Hard Rock Performance for the smash-hit-single ‘The Pretender’. That album was incredibly balanced and slightly experimental (by Foo Fighters’ standards), placing them at the peak of their powers. What happens afterwards?
For Wasting Light, guitarist and lead singer Dave Grohl wanted to go back to basics. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s real after you’ve gained the ability to sell out stadiums on a fairly regular basis. He has become what most people would agree to be ‘the nicest guy in rock ‘n roll’ – melding a playful, joky persona off-stage, with a rabid, earnest and powerful one on-stage. The same could be said of his band, and the style they embody: post-grunge rock mixed with pop melodies, delivered with a tireless precision. But he felt that they needed to revisit their roots, to tap into their harder, grungier influences and just rock out, old-school style.
So, he converted his own garage at his house in Virginia into a studio and the band recorded the entire album using traditional analogue equipment (with only minor post-production done digitally). Former guitarist Pat Smear also re-entered the picture permanently, and they roped in former Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic for one track, and Nirvana’s producer Butch Vig to guide the process; and thus allowed for the closest thing to a Nirvana reunion since Kurt Cobain’s tragic death in 1994.
Grohl’s legacy has always been wearily-linked with Nirvana’s, and on ‘I Should’ve Known’, he pens the album’s closest attempt at a ballad, which seems to be a lament for a friend that’s killed himself. Although it doesn’t mention Kurt’s name, it may as well, with lyrics such as “I should have known that it would end this way/I should have known there was no other way/Didn’t hear your warning/Damn my heart gone deaf”. The other surviving bandmate Krist plays bass and accordion on this one, and it’s a somber, heartfelt respite from the brutal, free-wheeling chaos of the other tracks.
Every song on Wasting Light is like being caught in a cross-fire of 3 ferocious guitars (with Smear back in the mix), grinding bass, vicious drumming from the ever-entertaining Taylor Hawkins, and Grohl’s distinctive growls, wails and screams. The fact that they can capture this lightning-in-a-bottle and make it accessible to mainstream fans, as well as metalheads, just boggles my mind. Album-opener ‘Bridge Burning’ makes its intentions known right off the bat: as each guitar enters the fold one-by-one, Grohl declares with gusto “These are my famous last words!”, and the ride begins with a vengeance. Cue fist-pumping and head-banging…
Amidst the reverbs and distortion is a distinct sense of melody, and first single ‘Rope’ is a fine example of this element: the guitars are more chimy, the rhythm is more staccato-like, and it ends with a swirling climax that leaves you gasping for air only two tracks in. Hard luck, friend, the Foo’s are only just getting started with their aural assault on your ears. ‘Dear Rosemary’ continues in a similar vein, albeit with some brash pop harmonies and an almost cha-cha-like rock rhythm. Grohl gets the backing of Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould in the vocals department as well, and his gravelly voice is a great influence.
The album’s most surprising moment for me was the arrival of ‘White Limo’. They have sometimes considered dabbling with the idea of turning the volume dial up to 11, and going all-out heavy metal (Grohl has his own heavy metal side-project Probot, and has been in Queens Of Stone Age, known for their darker, metal tendencies), but never like this. This song delivers aggression and swagger in equal amounts, with thrashing riffs and Grohl literally snarling the vocals out, making it very difficult to pick out any of the lyrics in the cacophonic haze. It’s enough to leave you trembling afterwards in the foetal position.
‘Arlandria’ settles back into a more loud-soft dynamic, channelling a children’s nursery rhyme in some of the verses (believe it!), but still retaining that hardened edge to it. ‘These Days’ and ‘Back & Forth’ evoke the spirit of their magnificent early albums The Colour And The Shape and There’s Nothing Left To Lose: the former going for the gentle, yet booming, simplicity of ‘Learn To Fly’, whilst the latter settles in the catchy groove of something like ‘Monkey Wrench’ or ‘Breakout’, where fun and a sexy chorus are favoured over deep emotions. Both shine brightly here.
‘A Matter Of Time‘ bops along with a familiar crisp style that we’ve come to expect from the band, and this middle-of-the-road number slots neatly into the tail-end of the album. ‘Miss The Misery’ explictly goes for a chugging, mid-pace, stadium-sized roar, and sounds as if it was actually recorded on a gigantic stage in front of 80000 people. Next is the already-mentioned ‘I Should Have Known’, slowing things down further whilst cranking up the emotion. The curtain call finale ‘Walk’ ends matters on an undoubted high: a slow-building triumph, as Grohl begins crooning but soon screaming out the impassioned bridge as the tension builds up to a jaunty end.
Wasting Light is one hell of a ride, and definitely the Foo Fighters’ strongest album in terms of execution since 1997’s The Colour And The Shape. Like a tireless puppy wanting to play ball with you, they continue to produce workmanlike rock records, eager to impress as if each were their first. There are no real drawbacks to this album, once you’ve viewed it in the context of why it was made: they deliberately set out as a band to rock as hard as they could, and should get 10/10 just for that. Next album, we can talk about subtlely and experimentation. For now, embrace the unrelenting power of Wasting Light.
- Bridge Burning
- Dear Rosemary
- White Limo
- These Days
- Back & Forth
- A Matter Of Time
- Miss The Misery
- I Should Have Known
Release date: 12 April 2011