Review Summary: No filler! Finally, it's the album the Foos always had in them.
It's tough for old dogs to learn new tricks, particularly ones as long in the tooth and weather-beaten (not to mention successful) as Dave Grohl. He's happy and polite enough in interviews to seem youthful, but let's not lose sight of the fact that between Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Probot, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, and lesser-known projects like Dain Bramage, Mission Impossible, Scream, and The Backbeat Band, this is the 21st studio album Grohl has been a major part of in his 42 years (and that's just a rough count - I've probably missed a couple). That doesn't include collaborations or live albums either. To get some perspective on that, U2 have only released 12 studio albums, and spring chickens The Eagles have only released 7.
You would expect somebody that's been involved in so many projects with so many different people all exerting some kind of influence on him (there are certainly worse people to hang around with than Kurt Cobain, Josh Homme, Mark Lanegan, and John Paul Jones) that his primary project would take in a fairly broad range of ideas and influences, but instead, narrowness has always been the biggest flaw that the Foos suffer from. With the exception of the acoustic second disc of In Your Honour
- which remains their finest single CD and grossly overlooked in most discussions of the band - you know exactly what to expect from any one of their albums. That's why, despite a string of very fine singles, they've never managed a good album.
Until now. Wasting Light
isn't a masterpiece, nor does it see Grohl really reinventing the wheel as far as the band's sound goes, but it's clearly painted from a broader pallette of colours and it's clearly their first consistently good set of songs.
Crucially, it sounds like Grohl has started to learn from his collaborators. "Bridge Burning" and the decidedly Probot-esque "White Limo" are both noticeably heavier than anything they've conjured before besides "Low", which, fittingly enough, was both complimented and derided for sounding so much like Queens of the Stone Age. He's reaching into rock history more too, perhaps as a result of his affiliation with John Paul Jones - "Dear Rosemary" rides a riff that's could just as easily have been written by The Kinks as Jack White (truth be told, it's a whisker away from being a shameless rip-off of "Steady As She Goes" by The Raconteurs, but it's forgiveable). And then there's "Arlandria", which opens up a hithero unexpected chicken/egg scenario between the Foos and Biffy Clyro. These five tracks makes for a startling opening to the album. It honestly feels like this is the kind of music that Foo Fighters should have been making all along - the newfound heaviness really suits them, making a mockery in the process of softer, awkwardly performed tracks like "Learn to Fly" and "Big Me".
The second half doesn't quite hold up the standard, sadly, but it's certainly still got its moments - "These Days" is melodically Beatles-esque, and "I Should Have Known" is a spooked, sweeping, string-laden ballad with a psychedelic edge that you suspect they wouldn't have been brave enough to attempt on any of their previous albums. "Walk" is fine enough too, even though it has a slight whiff of obligation about it, as if it was written purely to tick the box marked 'epic album closer'.
A couple of songs late on in the album aren't that great ("A Matter of Time" doesn't feel like it really knows what it's doing structurally, starting out like The Cars before turning into Rocket From the Crpyt for 8 bars before a Springsteen-esque chorus), but any disappointment with that is tempered by remembering all the filler from their previous albums, all the likes of "Statues" and "Aurora" and "My Poor Brain" and "Enough Space" and "Resolve", and acknowledging that everything on here is better than that. A Foo Fighters album without filler" I never thought I'd see the day.