Review Summary: Modern rock done right.
Dave Grohl is 42 years old. In the realm of rock music, that qualifies as washed up. Usually, by the time a rock musician hits their forties, they are coasting on fumes of great albums in the past and have settled on average. Solo projects, a casual, self-indulgent album by their main band, greatest hits tours, and just fading off into obscurity (see Billy Corgan for more information) makes up the rest of their musical career. And Dave Grohl, unfortunately, headed off into that route the past few years. It was pretty sad to see, as the prolific nice-guy Grohl seemed to be losing his edge. But something happened around 2009. Them Crooked Vultures appeared, kicking ass and taking names. Foo Fighters started playing three-and-a-half hour setlists. Pat Smear, former guitarist who only appeared on The Colour and the Shape
returned, and Grohl promised an ass-kicking new Foo Fighters album.
Well, after the indecisively boring Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace
anything could have been better. They were trying so hard to be something they weren’t. Nothing against Foo Fighters, but they got popular being adrenaline-fueled alternative radio rock, done right. Echoes
was not that. Echoes
was a dreary, sad, way too mature and ultimately boring album that failed to live up to expectations. Wasting Light
, however, is the Foo Fighters album we’ve been waiting for. It’s the best album they’ve released and is what alternative radio rock should be. It’s perfect. Blame Butch Vig or Grohl’s surprising late-career reinvigoration, but Wasting Light
is beyond fantastic. Dave Grohl has bucked the late rock musician funk.
What’s even more shocking is that there’s nothing new on this album. Everything the Foo Fighters do here has done before in great excess or great repetition; often times on their own past albums. But instead of that overly watered down stuff they’ve been pumping out on the past few albums, the edge they lost on There is Nothing Left to Lose
is back. "White Limo", the barn-burning Meshuggah (thrashy-riffs, ferocious drumming, screaming) meets Queens of the Stone Age track is awkwardly similar to anything Josh Homme’s written post-Kyuss. Even then, "White Limo" is the most fresh track I’ve heard in years. Here is a band, past their prime, who easily could have rode off into the sunset making Tom Petty B-sides like "Wheels" for the rest of their career; instead, they make a dirty, sludgy thrash track containing only Grohl screaming, slap a video straight from 1990 on it, add Lemmy from Motorhead in it, and paste it as the first taste of the album. What’s more; you bring in Butch Vig, whose yellow-tinted sport glasses just brings back of images of him sitting behind a studio board mixing Siamese Dream or Nevermind and record your entire album in your frontman’s garage. Foo Fighters did everything wrong here, but it turned out right.
"Bridge Burning" is the most abrasive, unorthodox start to a mainstream rock album I’ve heard in years. Metallic, layered riffs and a blistering like scream of “These are my famous last words,” opens the album up with more energy than I’ve heard in recent years from anyone. Throw in a fantastic chorus line and this new affection for layered, discordant guitar riffs and you have the first song. Then it goes into "Rope", which is one of the greatest radio rock songs I’ve heard in a quite a while. Catchy, creative and a bit abrasive; everything that the band once was and lost in the recent years is back. Then there's "These Days", which has one of the Foo Fighters’ best chorus lines. It’s one of those albums that, as you listen to it, you never get an urge to skip any single song in particular. It all kind of flows, and while Grohl can’t manage to keep up the aggression of the first half all the way through the second half, it still keeps up as pure, great alternative rock. They remind rock fans that they aren't just a singles band. It is a slick, partially front loaded album of great singular adrenaline-fueled rock songs.
But what separates Wasting Light
from everything else (think: Nickelback) is the specifics. Dave Grohl always knew how to scream, but in the past few years, his vocals have matured from average rock frontman to distinguishable vocals with a nasty, gritty edge and a fantastic scream. He rolls it back from a delicate singing tone he’s been perfecting, then to his traditional tone; and 20 years after starting singing, the variety in his voice is astonishing. There isn’t another 42 year old that has as a young sounding scream right now as Grohl. But in addition, the guitar riffs are more technical, the tones/tuning they use more unorthodox, the drumming faster, and the layers of guitars thicker and denser (think Queens of the Stone Age or Stone Temple Pilots). Combined with the typical Foo Fighter verse/chorus/verse construction, you have basic rock songs that aren't actually so basic upon deeper introspection.
In the past, when Foo Fighters, or Dave Grohl for that fact ventured from the basics of adrenaline-fueled rock, they failed. Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace’s worst moments were the unusual ones. It’s best, the usual ones. Wasting Light identifies what makes the Foo Fighters, well, the Foo Fighters and tightens it into a slick package of perfect modern rock; one of the greatest modern rock albums of all time. It's just one of those fun rock albums that you're Def Leppard/Motley Crue-wanking father will love. We're reminded that Dave Grohl knows how to rock. Do you?