Review Summary: The kings of playing it safe have a point to prove.
Consistently successful in the mainstream, but never ones to really ‘wow’ the average listener, Foo Fighters have always seemingly been comfortable in being satisfying without peeling away at the corners of their own comfort zone. Dave Grohl and co have a basic purpose that they fulfill, albeit extremely well. Nothing more, nothing less. Sounds harsh coming from someone who considers themselves a fan, huh?
Entering Concrete and Gold
, you could be forgiven for expecting more of the same – solid songs with no sense of identity for the album they’re attached to. However, that’s not QUITE what’s on offer here. This isn’t by any means a risky album, but it hints strongly at a touch of playfulness, and a willingness to break out (geddit?!) from the Foo Fighters’ blueprint. It is still inescapably a Foos album, complete with trademark swagger and an almost world-weary lyrical and instrumental competence, but when the band give themselves permission to enjoy themselves a bit, Concrete and Gold
comes to life. It should come as no surprise that The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Beach Boys are influences on this record, but when Grohl wears them so brazenly on his sleeve, its leaves a very charming flavour on the tongue. For example, even if Sir Paul McCartney wasn’t drumming on Taylor Hawkins-fronted ‘Sunday Rain’, the blues-y throwback vibe of the track would immediately make you think of him, and not by way of cheap parody: the Foos stand up as peers. Similarly, the Zeppelin-esque strut of ‘Make It Right’ is lovingly presented with just a little bit of self-referential cheese to make it a thoroughly enjoyable listen rather than just a well-played joke. Elsewhere, ‘Arrows’ takes a dirge-y QOTSA …Vulgaris
era (someone stop me, I know) intro, meshes in some emotive Grohl bark-singing and a stomping groove to deeply satisfying effect, and folk-lite ‘Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)’ breaks the Foos mould in that it’s an acoustic ballad with real substance and atmosphere, despite the baffling decision to fade out during a gentle solo rather than let the track blossom. ‘Run’, ‘La Dee Dah’ and the aforementioned ‘Arrows’ carry a real bite and aggression akin to a more treble-happy Motörhead, giving the record just that little bit of snarl on top of the more psychedelic-inspired rock tracks. Surprisingly too, all three singles fit the running of the record perfectly, all standing stronger within context than they have as separate entities, and for the first time in a long time, Concrete and Gold
represents a snapshot of where the band are at a given point in time, rather than the interchangeability of the material on previous efforts.
Ultimately, the band have produced a great album here by sprinkling just a little bit of their caution into a gale. A total re-invention at this point would seem crass and contrived, but there’s just about enough on offer here to show that the Foo Fighters of 2017 want to earn their success, rather than walk into it every 3 or 4 years. I don’t want to gush too much praise on a band taking themselves off auto-pilot, and for many listeners, it simply won’t cut it, as expectations can be understandably low when the previous output has been so… safe. However, when one grows an affection for a band, and they show an ability to surprise, it puts a golden shimmer on the often too concrete past of their discography. It may not have been the purpose, but never before has a Foos record made this writer more excited to hear the next one. Watch this space.