There’s something truly paradoxical about Foo Fighters. If anyone has ever seen the Foos interviewed or perform live, it’s clear the rock veterans really care about what they do. They clearly put so much craft and passion into the records they put out, like every album is this crystal vase that could blind people if light reflects off of it. And yet when one hears a Foo Fighters record, does it sound like a lot of craftsmanship is there? Whether it’s on their self-titled 1995 debut or their last studio album Sonic Highways, the charm of the Foos has been that they’ve sounded like a bunch of guys making loud riffs, big drums, melodies and screeching vocals in a garage. Even on the acoustic collection of In Your Honor, the Foos sounded like they were recording in Dave Grohl’s basement by candlelight after smoking weed to make their girlfriends think they were deep. It’s what people love about them, but it also cripples them from ever truly evolving as a band. No matter how much piano or violin or New Orleans horns they put into their music, people will always want and hear the basics first and foremost and not want to listen deeper.
This time around, there’s certainly just cause to do so. Concrete and Gold, the Foos ninth studio album, may not live up to Grohl’s hype of being “Motorhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper’s,” but he and his crew come close to something like that. Produced by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Lily Allen), Concrete and Gold sounds more energized and boisterous than the ambitious but flat Sonic Highways. On lead single “Run,” Pat Smear’s rhythm guitar is front and center with its mean repetitive riff. “Make It Right” also has a twangy Southern rock riff amplified by Smear, Grohl and Chris Shiflett each propelling it forward. Covering Nate Mendel’s bass in fuzzed-out distortion gives “Make It Right” and “La Dee Da” a thick wall of sound for the band to play off of. The title track that closes the album is both a slow-burning anthem and a earth-shaking Neil Young-esque guitar jam that might make your earbuds shake.
There is that classic Foos sound all over Concrete and Gold, but Kurstin’s production plays with different elements of the band to give little sonic touches their due. Take Grohl’s own vocals on “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” supported by some near-angelic opening harmonies. On the verses, Grohl sounds like he’s singing away from the microphone with the echo of the recording booth he stood in audible. When the chorus hits, Grohl sounds like a seven nation army that pumps up the rest of the band.
There’s more to notice about the details of Concrete and Gold, from the vocal melodies on the easy-going “Dirty Water” and the country-tinged “Sunday Rain” to Rami Jafee’s keyboards that add an 80s tinge to “Arrows.” The guitar tracks sound layered but sonically crisper, allowing for a more enriching listen for the ear-covering headphone users. The Foos are still delivering their winning formula but take time to highlight the individual elements of the band that make their songs work.
From the brief album opener “T-Shirt,” the band make it clear they’re not reaching for the stars: “I don’t wanna be king/I just wanna sing a love song/Pretend there’s nothing wrong/You can sing along with me.” The Foos are men of simple tastes even in their old age: they enjoy the freedoms of nonchalantly calling out “the man” on “Run” (“The rats are on parade/Another mad charade/What you gonna do?”) and the casual rebellion of “Make It Right” (“Bite the hand that feeds/Bite a little harder”). Grohl even manages to write a rather moving love song about a girl who cures a hangover on “Dirty Water” (“’Cause I’m a natural disaster/You’re the morning after all my storms”). While Grohl hinted at the making of this album being partially influenced by the current political climate, nothing on Concrete and Gold is overtly making a statement. The Foos lyrics have never been literal and here is no exception.
While it’s not a game-changer by any means, Concrete and Gold is the most consistent and sonically rich Foo Fighters album since Wasting Light. While that album was something of a return to the band’s grungy roots, this is where Foo Fighters remind themselves of their potential. Able to capitalize of modern sonic riches while still paying tribute to their influences. It’s bought them another 20 years in the game and, like Some Girls was to The Rolling Stones, shows that the Foos can still run with the young guns.