Review Summary: Foos are back! (kinda)
Way back in 2011, just before the turning of Wasting Light
, I thought Foo Fighters were well and truly spent. At that point Foo Fighters
was their only really great album, with Foos' follow-up, The Colour and the Shape
, riding on the coattails of the eponymous debut as a decent alternative. Yet, even with my praises for both of those records, they aren’t entirely cohesive in the “album experience” sense. One of the biggest problems I have with Foo Fighters is their albums always feel like patchwork quilt jobs – one self-contained track being stitched together with another, just to make the ends meet. Though the debut and sophomore LP are largely exempt from such criticisms, the problem does rear its head as far back as then. As such, with a track record of myopic album making, for the longest time I had the group penned as being a singles band – the type of band that can craft a scathing radio banger, but always fails to weave an engaging, well-thought-out album when it comes to piecing whole projects together. And, man, don’t get me wrong, the band’s late-nineties-noughties-era singles are career-defining, but on the albums themselves, in between those classic tracks lies a string of songs ranging from forgettable and average to decent. I may go up in flames with the sentiment, but I think it’s a fair observation Foo Fighters are better known for writing really great singles over albums.
Of course, this opinion was swiftly obliterated in 2011 when Wasting Light
came into the equation. It’s the year where, seventeen years into Foo Fighters’ life, the band decided to craft the most punctilious album of their career. It’s a record brimming with glorious top-tier rock tunes from cover-to-cover; a rock album so impeccably designed that, to this day, it still leaves me dumbfounded by the quality and succinct execution of it all, simply because it goes against everything I am used to seeing and hearing from the band. It’s nearly fifty minutes long but it feels like a breezy thirty-minute summer album, packed with every one of the band’s positive traits: it’s heavy, groovy, sharp-witted, and deliciously catchy. So, yeah, after the quality display Wasting Light
presented, I was all in again and kept my ear to the ground with this revitalised version of the band, eagerly awaiting the incredibly unique project that was Sonic Highways
in 2014: a record that, on paper, sounded amazing in concept but was horrendously miscalculated and superficial in execution. The record would be accompanied by an HBO documentary (the better-executed half of the project) that went into America’s musical history; Foos would explore eight cities, tap into their musical heritage and record a song in a famous recording studio from that city, in reverence to its contributions. The problem with this idiosyncratic concept was the album didn’t reflect the styles and scenes being investigated, amounting to nothing more than average Foo-tunes guested by some pertinent musical figure from the style/scene it was based on.
In truth, the band have never recovered from that bitterly disappointing project. What’s worse, where you could have once accredited Foo Fighters for writing intensely enjoyable singles over complete albums, post-Sonic Highways
proved even that attribute had faded into obscurity; the average side of the band now completely engulfing their works. All of the band’s EPs and the exceptionally bland Concrete and Gold
now exhibited a band completely devoid of creativity. As harsh as it sounds, there isn’t a single memorable moment to be had from those projects, and it is music ultimately reserved for supermarket ambience and bargain bins.
Indeed, I wonder why I’m continuing to follow a band that seems to have peaked ten years ago, but in regards to Foo Fighters in 2021, the very reason I’m sat here reviewing Medicine at Midnight
is because its singles formed an impenetrable, enigmatic mist over what the album’s true quality would be: perched on a razor’s edge, just aching to cleave itself in half. On the one hand, I found “Shame Shame”’s benign demeanour to be extremely cathartic and somewhat refreshing – in spite of the terribly distracting song title and Grohl’s crooning “shame, shame”, which had me reminiscing over Cersei Lannister walking down King’s Landing, starkers, getting piss and *** thrown her way. There’s just something about the song’s pedestrian verse, filled with tapering groove-dominated funk, burrowing through a narrow hole which eventually breaks out into a soaring chorus of swelling, synthetic grandiosity. The two segments just flow so well together and it’s a synthetic, folk-y rock mesh I can get onboard with. However, on the other side of the coin, “No Son of Mine” brought the seeds of doubt into what we were going to be getting here. It’s an offering best described as an outright bad dad-rock song. This uncertainty was then doubled down on with “Waiting on a War”, a track that walks perfectly in between the contrasting quality being reflected by its previous two singles. It has an equal measure of good and bland elements, but its attempt at capturing the epic build-up of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” brought commendable engagement to the table, as it half succeeds in its endeavour.
So, I guess the only question that remains is, which side does Medicine at Midnight
want to reside in? Does the album get over the stagnant hump Foo Fighters have been trying to clamber over for the past decade – with “Shame Shame”’s amalgamation of synth-heavy pop and rock, peppered with folk-y undertones – or does it want to continue festering in the immediately forgettable rock tunes arena with tracks like “No Son of Mine”? In a strange turn of events, Medicine at Midnight
doesn’t so much climb over the hump they’ve been trying to get over, no, the album kind of gets halfway up it and latches onto it so it doesn’t slide back down to the bottom again. There are some great ideas at the heart of this thing, and I would say it’s the best album Foo’s have done since Wasting Light
, though that doesn’t say much. There’s plenty of big riffs to sink your teeth into, and the LP has a fervent focus on foot-tapping disco grooves that the bass player in me just can’t deny – “Making a Fire”, “Shame Shame” and “Medicine at Midnight” being obvious proponents of this aspect. The title track in particular is a very worthy recommendation because it has an undeniable rhythm, and a seedy nightclub aesthetic. In addition to the great instrumentals behind the piece, Grohl’s vocal approach is excitingly different and adds to the enjoyment of the track.
For the most part Medicine at Midnight
is an enjoyable LP. “Holding Poison” has a Josh Homme, Them Crooked Vultures vibe to its squawking guitar riff, and, generally, every track here brings big riffs and even bigger grooves. The concise length of the album also works massively in its favour as well. It’s as if Foo Fighters wanted to pack as much into the album as possible and tell it in the briefest way possible. “Chasing Birds” and “Love Dies Young” are very forgettable, sure, “Cloudspotter” (with the exception of the guitar effect in the verse, which reminds me of Torche’s “Admission”) and “Waiting on a War” are a little flat and uninspired, but overall, this is a decent return for the band and it should quench any Foo Fighters fan's thirst.