Nobody who heard Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut in 1995, which featured Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl playing all the instruments and singing all the leads, could have guessed that 10 albums and 26 years later Grohl & Co. would be one of the most successful rock acts in the world. While you could draw a straight line from the Foo’s “I’ll Stick Around” to Kurt Cobain’s songwriting style in Nirvana, the quirkiness of “This Is A Call,” and out and out pop sensibility of “Big Me” were singles that suggested that Grohl had a broader, more hook-centered appeal which has been born out in a string of hit singles that include “Learn To Fly,” “My Hero,” “Everlong,” “All My Life,” and “Times Like These.” But beyond that band’s string of hits and stellar live shows, there’s no doubt that part of Foo Fighters’ appeal comes down to Grohl’s affable personality and everyman approachability, his genuine good-natured expressions of cheer and good will, and the fact that he’s one rock star you could imagine having over to the house for a beer.
When the Foo Fighters debuted their first single from Medicine At Midnight
“Shame Shame” with a live performance on Saturday Night Live back in November, it landed like a lead balloon. Grohl has often expanded the band’s sound to include a variety of classic rock influences, but the attempt to incorporate some R&B feel into the band’s rock sound felt ill-suited and over-dramatic, yet soulless. Turns out the recorded version, thanks to collaborating with producer Greg Kurstin, who is best known for work with Adele, Beck, Pink and others, is better than expected, approximating something resembling an actual groove. Grohl has described “Medicine” as Foo Fighters’ party album, hinting that the rhythms are more suitable for the dancefloor than the mosh pit, something you hear in both the title track and the opening song, “Making A Fire,” which notably includes Grohl’s 14-year-old daughter Violet singing on the song’s “na, na, na” chorus sections.
We can feel a groove that wouldn’t be out of place coming from the Red Hot Chili Peppers at work in “Cloudspotter,” before they slide back into that big familiar rock sound that has defined Foo Fighters every time they get to the chorus, with Grohl in full growl, and the guitars of Grohl, Chris Shiflett, and Pat Smear searing metal hot. That big familiar guitar rock grind dominates “No Son of Mine,” while “Holding Poison” leaves enough space in the mix for Rami Jaffee to provide piano and keyboard fills, and the galloping guitars of “Love Dies Young” close out the album, again with a strong melodic hook that has come to mark Grohl’s post-Nirvana work.
“Chasing Birds,” the album’s one quieter ballad feels a bit out of place, while “Waiting On A War” builds from its acoustic guitar intro to incorporate strings and the return to the full band rocking at the end. Now, nobody expects deep lyrical insights from the Foo Fighters, but when you turn our attention to a big pressing concern like war, especially given the fact that two of our nation’s longest active engagements are still taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq, surely repeating the phrase “there has to be more to this than that” isn’t going pass as meaningful social commentary.
As they did with 2017’s Concrete And Gold, Grohl and his Fighters of Foo, with the aid of Kurstin’s polished production, have produced a reliable rock album that works as whole greater than the sum of its parts. It’s almost as if Grohl’s earnest desire to please his huge rock fanbase, plus the mix of big guitars together with songs with hooks big enough to drive a truck through, is enough to make you want to overlook any individual song’s shortcomings. The bottom line, for some of us, is that there are times when you just want, no, need to turn it up loud and bang your head. And in those moments, you want a companion you can trust to deliver the goods. At those times you could do a lot worse than Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters.
Key Tracks: “Cloudspotter” / “Making A Fire” / “No Son of Mine”
Artists With Similar Fire: Pearl Jam / Red Hot Chili Peppers / AC/DC
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb