Album Review: Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

Foo Fighters

Wasting Light



 
The Foo Fighters and I have had an interesting relationship over the years. While I’ve always (almost always) enjoyed their singles and can say without a doubt that they’re a stellar rock band, they’ve always lacked that certain something that would propel them into my favourites list.  Why am I telling you this? Because you’ll appreciate it more when I tell you that Wasting Light is kicking my ass.
 
Dave Grohl knocks the door down with ‘Bridge Burning‘ screaming, “These are my famous last words”. A perfect album opener, this line sets the pace for the rest of the album- or at least the first six songs. Creativity stalls a bit on ‘Back & Forth‘, ‘A Matter of Time‘ and ‘Miss the Misery‘, highlighting their sometimes-unspecial rock sound. All is not lost though; track 10- ‘I Should Have Known‘ is easily the deepest and angriest, albeit slowest song on the album. With most songs weighing in between 4 and 5 minutes long, this 11-song track list is pretty substantial. Though none of them noticeably overstay their welcome per se, it wouldn’t be creatively detrimental to cut a minute here and there.
 
The marketing of Wasting Light has included a lot of talk about unrefined recording and simple production. Wanting to return to his roots, Grohl decided to record the album in his garage. That sounds pretty raw until you actually think about it. After all, it’s Dave Grohl’s garage, which is likely nicer than my condo. My suspicions were confirmed by the making-of documentary, Back and Forth– it’s not like they were recording amongst paint cans and cobwebs when all is said and done. And while they might have lost a few indie points by pairing up with mega-producers Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage, AFI) and Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) they gained it back by recording on analog tape.
 
In most cases, a good litmus test for Foos albums is their first single. As a listener of terrestrial rock radio, if a song doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists after a month, it’s probably pretty good. ‘Rope‘ isn’t even the best song on the album, but it hasn’t yet worn out its welcome. The only thing that bothers me is the “drum solo”, which sounds like one guy banging on an overturned bucket in a vacuum. Perhaps they’ve fallen victim to the inability to edit digitally; either way, I’ve heard less experienced bands pull off better breakdowns.
 
For a rock album, Wasting Light has some fairly introspective lyrics. ‘Dear Rosemary‘ mourns, “truth ain’t gonna change the way you lie. Youth ain’t gonna change the way you die”. While ‘These Days‘ warns “Easy for you to say, your heart has never been broken. Your pride has never been stolen. Not yet, not yet.” Even though Grohl can come up with lines on the fly (as shown in Back and Forth), he’ll never be criticized for writing vapid or meaningless lyrics.
 
The Foo Fighters have proven with this album that it’s possible to be both heavy and poppy at the same time. Almost every track has a hook that will get stuck in your head for days. Exhibit A: ‘Arlandria‘, on which Grohl manages to sound angsty and sincere over what sounds a lot like Good Charlotte’s ‘Girls & Boys‘. They even use the catchy clap-clap-clap cymbal hits (also employed in Tegan and Sara’s ‘The Con‘). And I’m not discrediting them for this, I clap along every time.  On top of all this, the powerful lyric writing paired with the vocal arrangements is goosebumpy perfection. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t feel all warm inside when the chorus of ‘Bridge Burning’ kicks in.
 
White Limo‘, with its distorted screaming metal, is a bit of a misfit on this album. Its inclusion seems in part to prove a point, considering the guys are mostly over 40 and have enjoyed a considerable amount of commercial success. On the other hand, it’s just a different style of heavy rock song, and Wasting Light is a heavy rock album. Motörhead’s Lemmy even shows up in the music video. Grohl also recruited Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould to sing on ‘Dear Rosemary’ and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic to make an appearance on ‘I Should Have Known’.  His cameo is pretty special, as it marks the first time that he, Butch Vig and Dave Grohl have been together in the same room since the recording of Nevermind.
 
I’ve struggled a bit with how I’d like this album to end. The first few listens to ‘Walk‘ left me with that old generic feeling; a bit of a letdown after being torn apart by ‘I Should Have Known’. Whereas the latter is too sour and unsettled to close an album, ‘Walk’ is a positive open-ended sendoff. Aside from the lazy songwriting in the chorus – “Learning to walk again…learning to talk again”, every aspect of this song works feverishly up to Grohl wailing, “I’m on my knees, I’m waiting for a sign. Forever, whenever. I never wanna die…Never wanna die. Never wanna leave. Never say goodbye”.  We can only hope that these are not really his famous last words.
 

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About J2

What happens when you're a wordsy music aficionado who works for NXNE, CMW, HPX, Olio Music Festival, The JUNOs and Polaris Music Prize? You spend all of your free time blogging about it... Follow on Twitter if you're so inclined: @HearPlugged

Posted on May 1, 2011, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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