Review Summary: Pretend there’s nothing wrong, you can sing along with me.
In retrospect, I’m not sure what it was that I saw in Sonic Highways
that made me give it near perfect marks; I praised it for operating on ‘greater echelons’ (I don’t know what that means,) said of Dave Grohl that he had ‘remarkably fresh style’ (he did wear a slick Morrissey shirt in the D.C. episode, it’s true,) and authoritatively claimed the album and project to be an, ‘innovative, concise… mid-career opus.’ Listening to it now, I hear none of that. Its first 2 songs, the lumbering “Something from Nothing” and perfectly formulaic “The Feast and the Famine,” no doubt stand out as some of Grohl’s and the Foo Fighters’ best material, with anything after overlong, underworked, and generally placid in demeanour and presentation. They weren’t bad songs necessarily, but coupled with a HBO documentary series that was never really much more than a HBO documentary series, it paled in comparison to Wasting Light
, an obvious contender for best Foo Fighters album. In retrospect, I should’ve moved on from Sonic Highways
quickly; it operated on lower turf, was remarkably conservative despite the palaver surrounding its promotional cycle, and far from the halcyon days of “Everlong” and “Learn to Fly.”
All of which leads me to a briefer still criticism of Concrete & Gold
: it’s somehow no worse, no better, yet just as placid and ineffectual as anything on Sonic Highways
, but an improvement still upon the laboriousness that plagued every song on that album. In essence, you should know what to expect, but let me explain it to you if you hadn’t already expected otherwise: Dave Grohl, every man’s everyman, a guy that wrote an album about John Kerry and featured Joe Walsh on another, assembles himself an album of references to 50 years of American rock music, replete with Shawn Stockman and Justin Timberlake, and ends up making a sinuous miasma of heavy metal, blues, and everything guitar-led. Grohl describes it as, ‘Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper
;’ a more apt comparison would be above-average radio rock with the needlessly weighty cloud of influence. Concrete & Gold
is completely slathered in and suffocated by its pretence that it’s almost difficult to listen to at times, not least of all because most songs almost always default to mid-tempo, shout-y, almost melodramatic, ballsy balladry. It’s difficult to locate just when Foo Fighters became Grohl’s vehicle for radio rock nostalgia, but Concrete & Gold
certainly represents its nadir.
Which is to say nothing of when Concrete & Gold
works like a pre-2011 Foo Fighters album might actually work. “Run” is long, but it’s exhilarating, and its chorus is worth it. Ditto “The Sky is a Neighbourhood,” a typical Foo Fighters standard, made a notch above the rest by its atypically thundering groove. Otherwise, Concrete & Gold
plays out in similar fashion for much of its duration. There are grooves, but they’re not worth. There are melodies, but you’ve heard them before. There’s Paul McCartney, but he’s barely a blip on “Sunday Rain,” as is the case for every other disparate name billed in the liner notes. And in all, it adds up to the sort of mangled formula of a Foo Fighters album that Sonic Highways
fell prey to. Sure, the lyrics are better, the songs aren’t quite as boring, but it’s becoming harder and harder to defend this band on the charge of being dad rock. Grohl is literally making albums that are dedicated to the pantheon of music that your parents listened to and, while there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, it tends to stack up as irrelevant or classist after a while. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Foo Fighters have written their best songs yet, either; it just so happens that I envision those songs sounding nothing like this.