Foo Fighters pivot to pop and win big with newest album 'Medicine at Midnight'
- Foo Fighters' new album "Medicine at Midnight" was released on Friday.
- It's the band's most pop-heavy album yet, proving the band can deviate from the norm.
- "Making a Fire," "Waiting on a War," and "Love Dies Young" will no doubt be festival romps.
In the past 25 years, the Foo Fighters have transformed from Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana one-man band into a bona fide rock institution.
But in that time the band has also garnered a reputation as being one of the safest rock 'n' roll bands out there, almost always reverting back to what's worked for them in the past.
With "Medicine at Midnight," the band's 10th album released on Friday, the Foos took another swing at transforming themselves - and this time it felt genuine.
On what is certainly the band's most pop-influenced record yet, many of the tracks eschew the overdriven guitar riffs, primordial screaming, and heavy drumming typical in Foos' songs in favor of more laid back danceable grooves - likely the influence of producer Greg Kurstin.
Kurstin, who worked with the band on 2017's "Concrete and Gold," has a major pop background, having worked with the likes of Adele and Kelly Clarkson, among other pop stars. With his guidance, the band explored new sonic territories via cowbell, handclaps, and drum loops.
The result: "Medicine" overall feels very polished.
Read more: 10 rock albums we're excited for in 2021
'Making a Fire,' 'Waiting on a War,' and 'Medicine at Midnight' are standout tracks on the album
The album kicks off with the jovial tune "Making a Fire," which boasts a funky 3/4 groove. The chorus is especially catchy thanks to a gospely "na-na-na" refrain with harmonies from some female vocalists including Grohl's daughter Violet.
As Grohl sings "I've waited a lifetime to live / It's time to ignite / I'm making a fire," you can feel the enthusiasm imbued within the lyrics. The band seems happy to be playing together and it sets the tone for the rest of the record.
Inspired by his 11-year-old daughter Harper, "Waiting on a War" revisits Grohl's childhood in the '70s and '80s and the overhanging fear of nuclear war with Russia. The majority of the song is housed within a warm acoustic guitar melody with sparse backing from the bass drum and tambourine.
But, with a minute left, the song begins to build to a familiar blistering grunge breakdown. It's a triumphant crescendo and I can already envision fans moshing along whenever concerts resume.
—Foo Fighters (@foofighters) January 14, 2021
The title track is the perfect marriage of classic '70s rock sounds and new-wave textures. It features a funky bassline and cowbell pattern, but it also produces a bluesy Stevie Ray Vaughn-style guitar solo, which is arguably the best guitar moment on the album.
Grohl's deep, breathy singing sounds just like David Bowie circa "Let's Dance," further blurring the line between rock and disco in the best way possible.
But it wouldn't be a Foos album without a song that delivers a tried-and-true sound
"Holding Poison" is no doubt a throwback to the band's '90s garage-rock roots. The drums are loud, Grohl gets his scream on, and the guitar breakdown towards the end is super heavy (à la Muse's "Knights of Cydonia").
But even still, the synth and drum patterns during the chorus sound more like something The Killers would whip up, proving the band is still willing to push the envelope even when playing it relatively safe.
The album falls short when it deviates from its pop-rock vibe or tries to overcompensate for the lack of hard riffs in other songs
In "Cloudspotter," Grohl sings from the perspective of someone overcome with pessimism after being rejected. He sings, "Bang! Bang! Bang! / You're so mean / But don't we look good? Don't we look good?" Considering the sonic architecture of the song - a bright, disco-infused rock beat - it feels like there's an emotional mismatch between the music and lyrics.
And then, sandwiched between "Making a Fire" and "Cloudspotter," "Shame Shame" stymies the rhythm of the record and feels too plaintive.
"No Son of Mine," an anti-establishment punk romp, is a tribute to Motörhead bassist Lemmy Kilmister but it leaves much to be desired. I feel like I should like it, but it wails and throbs too much to the point that it feels overdone; like Grohl tried too hard to emulate his hero.
Overall, 'Medicine' is a triumph for the Foos that came at just the right time
"Medicine" was originally slated to release in 2020 but, like so much new music, was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguising receiving this album a year later. Its simultaneously positive and rebellious themes feel appropriate for 2021.
After a quarter of a century, the Foos could have done what it does best and churned out another reliably safe album.
Instead, Grohl and the band took a risk and the reward is a refreshing collection of songs that fit the contemporary mold - not that of 1997.
Final grade: 7.8/10
Worth listening to:
"Making a Fire"
"Waiting on a War"
"Medicine at Midnight"
"Love Dies Young"
"No Son of Mine"
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," 0 for "Press skip").
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