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Monday, June 6, 2011

Foo Fighters - Wasting Light: A-

In the last four years, Foo Fighters have become the quintessential band of teens living out their rock and roll dreams. The group frequently tours with and features on their albums members of Queen, they get Grammy’s thrown at them with every album they make and they even got Geddy Lee on stage to play “YYZ” with them for one show. Even though they were formed long before it was made, Foo Fighters now more than ever seem to me like the first band of the Guitar Hero generation, hard to believe considering that the group’s frontman was part of the rhythm section of the band that would arguably kill the careers of the artists they now idolize.

After Foo Fighters burst into the new millennium with the brilliant One By One, however, the group’s accomplishments began to sag like that of their forebears. 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace had some fantastic singles like “The Pretender” and “Long Road to Ruin”, but the album was ultimately quite uneven, the group clearly grappling with their quickly distancing poles of “Monkey Wrench”-like aggression and “Next Year”-like softness. Unfortunately, regardless of this, Echoes was an improvement on the album that preceded it, 2005’s In Your Honor, an album that was even more unbalanced in its direct attempt to segregate the group’s disparate styles.

Apparently Dave Grohl and the group sensed this imbalance, making it clear in the promotion for Wasting Light, the group’s seventh album, that they were going to go “back to basics” for their newest release. Apparently, the album was recorded in a garage, the group recruited Nevermind producer Butch Vig, re-enlisted guitarist Pat Smear and even brought in Nirvana bassist Krist Novaselic to play on a couple tracks.

While I don’t necessarily believe that bringing the remaining members of Nirvana back together (or at least the Nevermind version of Nirvana) was needed to bring Foo Fighters back to their roots, any excuse to reinvigorate one of the first groups I had ever fallen in love with was good enough for me. Luckily, Wasting Light delivers on the group’s promises. It is certainly the most aggressive album Foo Fighters have ever released, but it is also filled with the great vocal hooks and melodies that made albums like The Colour and the Shape and There Is Nothing Left to Lose such classics in my mind.

The album continues that aforementioned aesthetic of Foo Fighters living out their rock and roll dreams through the great music they make and the heroes with whom they collaborate. “Sweet Rosemary” features a distinct backing vocal performance from Fugazi’s Bob Mould, an excellent base through which Grohl’s hollering can hit harder. “White Limo” is a thrashy slice of hard rock that features Grohl bellowing through what sounds like a broken intercom. The video is pure nostalgic bliss for late-80’s schmaltz. The group rides around in a white limo filled with booze and cute pale white girls in cut off jean shorts. Did I mention that Motörhead’s own, Lemmy Kilmister, drives said limo? The fidelity is low and the good times proficiently roll. The past gets polished and I couldn’t be happier.

What’s interesting about Wasting Light, though, is that it also continues Foo Fighters’ recent trend of not having an overarching sound to accompany their album. There is no looming gloom like in One by One or a light tenderness as in There Is Nothing Left to Lose. Wasting Light is just a collection of excellent hard rock songs, a fact I had to grapple with for a while before I gave it the grade you’re seeing above. Grohl screams more like he did on The Colour and the Shape and Taylor Hawkins’s drumming is surprisingly tame and unmemorable here, but, other than that, I don’t see a point in explaining the melodics of every track on Wasting Light when you can just get it and explore its excellence for yourself.
But I will say this. After Foo Fighters have finally exploded into a world-renown entity that can level Wembley Stadium and Madison Square Garden, I’m glad that people hardly associate Dave Grohl with Nirvana anymore. I find that people who constantly do that will always scoff at the new music the man makes and will always point to Foo Fighters’ self titled debut as their best simply because it was released closest to In Utero. I think with Wasting Light we’re seeing a clean break from Grohl’s past, Novaselic, Vig and Smear gimmicks notwithstanding. There is a generation of music lovers being born that will remember Dave Grohl for “Everlong” as opposed to the drum beat to “Scentless Apprentice” and while, to some, that is a travesty, I’m glad that Foo Fighters are finally not being mislabeled as the one-off they never were.


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