For as legendary as the Foo Fighters are, outside of a few singled-out LPs, the group’s album-based consistency has been a disappointing affair—especially since 2011’s solid Wasting Light. Both Sonic Highways (2014) and Concrete and Gold (2017) are muddled-down attempts to conquer their former early-2000s glory, without evolving, identifying, or even utilizing a single strength the group has. In fact, since Wasting Light, it may be as far back as 1997 since there has been another truly great Foo Fighters record. So, while my expectations for Medicine at Midnight weren’t necessarily the highest, the bright and bedazzling cover art certainly showed a bit of a refreshing palette-cleanser—something that told me their lengthy slump could be routed—and while that isn’t actually true, this failure was much more interesting than the last few.
On this album go-around Foo Fighters’ sound has lost the “hard” part of hard rock in exchange for a bright, glowing, sometimes-emotional pop sound—but one that fails to draw in any intrigue once the first song or two end. Luckily, the group recognized a primer would be necessary for this sudden jaunt to a new realm of genres, and graced us with the most acceptable track, “Making A Fire,” to start it off. The groovy ascending and descending guitar chords that layer themselves throughout the song are as heavy and jamming as Foo Fighters’ guitars get, and the crafty left-ear right-ear production work done halfway through shows off their off-air talent as well. It still flaunts these optimistic, powdery background vocals of a Britney Spears song, but after this point, things get much worse.
Somehow within a week of their rocking brethren, Weezer, Foo Fighters determined they too would release a pop-rock record full of swooning orchestral instrumentation—but it’s evident they should leave the Baroque production to their peers. “Shame Shame” is the most glaring example of this sonic facade Foo Fighters try to pull. The chorus is set with striking, luscious strings and an ocean of understated guitars. Yet, while this approach to music is perfectly fine for someone like Rivers Cuomo to tackle, Dave Grohl’s more brute-force songwriting style fails to bring the necessary lyrical muscle to fill a four-minute track with just these tools. The calm and subtle, guitar-driven instrumental of “Waiting On A War” becomes boring with one-dimensional rhyme schemes of lines such as “I’ve been waiting on a war since I was young / Since I was a little boy with a toy gun / Never really wanted to be number one / Just wanted to love everyone.”
Only more failed experiments come to close the record with “Chasing Birds” and “Love Dies Young.” “Chasing Birds” is their impression of 70s rock. The group softens things up to some of the most try-hard psychedelia I’ve ever heard, blatantly ripping forced-in “wubs” and unnatural levels of reverb that just get uncomfortable after four minutes of exposure. The long, extended background hums harken back to the Beatles and Pink Floyd, but unlike veteran psychedelic bands’ work, this seems like a cookie-cutter ballad pushed into the genre by force—rather than a naturally-inspired, genuine take at the aesthetic. Then, “Love Dies Young” pairs shredding electric guitars with galloping of a horse’s feet in a faux-Western march towards victory scarily close to an old AWOLNATION track.
In most instances, Medicine at Midnight is either a neutered version of Foo Fighters’ former glory or a quite ridiculous musical leap the group is unable to pull off. The highlights could easily fill the C tier of standard Foo Fighter album songs, but the downfalls could arguably be named the worst in the Foo Fighter discography. It’s ironic that the worst of the worst are what give the album its personality, but without them it’d be boring—instead, it’s amusing for the wrong reasons.