Album Review: Foo Fighters - Wasting Light (Roswell/RCA)
If Grohl’s gang were searching for their identity after nailing their stadium shows, they found it by heading back to the garage
The victory lap is almost as important for the soul as crossing the line first. Getting back to the base elements of what makes you you is the only way to stay sane and rein shit in; trying to rebottle the lightning is only going to end badly. You know who tries to do stuff like that? Johnny Borrell. And no-one likes that guy.
[b]‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’[/b] saw the Foos tip their grandest scale yet. A widescreen rock album embraced by mortals and gods alike (the 180,000 souls who crammed themselves into Wembley Stadium in June ’08 represent the popular vote; Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones coming out to jam on old Zep tunes on the second night demonstrates the extent to which the very architects of the genre smile upon them), it confirmed beyond any doubt their status as one of the biggest bands in the world.
But what next, after the hugeness of those shows? Wake up hungover after a monstrous night – the sort of night that lasts for three days – and what do you most want to do? Take comfort: in food, in hot drinks, in warmth, in company. The Foos went back to what they know, taking comfort in familiarity. And what’s more familiar than your own house? “Back in the garage with my bullshit detector” goes [b]‘Garageland’[/b], the last song on [a]The Clash[/a]’s first album, and if [b]‘Wasting Light’[/b] had a mantra, it’d be that. Everything about the Foos’ seventh album – at this point they’ve released as many as or more records than [a]Oasis[/a], [a]Fugazi[/a], [a]Nirvana[/a], [a]The Clash[/a], [a]Black Flag[/a], QOTSA, [a]Soundgarden[/a] and [a]Faith No More[/a], among others, which is a quite staggering achievement – smacks of decisions made with the question ‘Hey guys, does this suck?’ used as the ultimate yardstick.
And it’s something of a pleasure to report that [b]‘Wasting Light’[/b] does not suck, not even a little bit – it’s both broad and focused enough to appeal to casuals and longhairs alike, and it’s doubtless their best record since [b]‘The Colour And The Shape’[/b]. And, because they’re answering to no-one except their own consciences, it makes perfect sense for the [a]Foo Fighters[/a] to beat a partial retreat of sorts. That they committed it all to analogue tape in Grohl’s own garage in Virginia with Butch Vig producing, the first time the two had worked together since Vig produced [b]‘Nevermind’[/b] in ’91, suggests a more casual, relaxed atmosphere (one imagines Grohl wandering around in a towel, scratching his balls and offering casual high fives while guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear lay down takes).
That doesn’t tell the full story, though. A setup like that would have been phenomenally expensive, and working in this way all five Foos – bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins completing the set – would have had to have been strictly on point: no fixing fluffed solos or squeaky strings on this one. It’s a joy to report that it worked, gloriously. [b]‘Wasting Light’[/b] is the pure sound of the band being the band, and through headphones or a decent system it sounds phenomenal. Yeah, they know everyone’s going to be listening to it on shitty iPod earbuds or laptop speakers, but the point isn’t to cater to the masses. The point is to make a rock album and let the masses subsequently bellow their approval.
It’s testament to how comprehensively they succeeded that while Krist Novoselic’s appearance on [b]‘I Should Have Known’[/b] is, y’know, interesting, because it’s Vig, Novoselic and Grohl all making music in a room together for the first time since, y’know, that other album, the abiding feeling after hearing it is admiration at what a great, old-fashioned torch song it is, rather than the calibre or backstory of the performers. It’s the same deal with the quasi-duet with Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü/Sugar, [b]‘Dear Rosemary’[/b], which is a brilliantly chiming, anthemic song of real restraint and grace that shows the parts themselves to be very much secondary to their sum.
Moreover, Pat Smear makes a full-time return to the band for the first time since [b]‘The Colour…’[/b] and it’s conceivable that he’s the fuel behind [b]‘White Limo’[/b]’s exhilarating thrash-punk fire (a digression: considering his CV contains stints with the Germs, Adolescents and [a]Nirvana[/a], a case could be made for Smear being one of the most badass of punk rock journeymen, second only to Brian Baker). Again, however, the song’s so good, will anyone wipe the sweat from their eyes to even check the liner notes?
Elsewhere, [b]‘Bridge Burning’[/b] is the sort of gutsy fist-pumper that will – will, no doubt about it – sound majestic ringing out over Milton Keynes at a million decibels. More than that, it’s one of the best opening tracks on a mainstream rock album in years, while the likes of [b]‘These Days’[/b] and [b]‘A Matter Of Time’[/b] are more melodic but no less invigorating. The former in particular benefits from the painstaking production: you can hear fingertips brushing strings as the fretboard gently buzzes, before all manner of mahogany-rich guitars come crashing in and, as with [b]‘Rope’[/b], it blossoms into the sort of song that will make people drive just that little bit faster the world over. And, uniquely for late-period Foos albums, there’s no real downtime, as [b]‘Arlandria’[/b] and [b]‘Miss The Misery’[/b] are big rock of the arms-aloft variety without losing any of the subtlety of the band’s best work.
And no, ‘subtlety’ isn’t a typo – the best guitar music is a conflagration of worn clichés revitalised and re-energised by the deft touch of inventive, exciting musicians, and that’s exactly what this album does. [b]‘Wasting Light’[/b], and the mindset of 2011-era Foos, is effectively summed up by Grohl himself on closer ‘Walk’: “I never wanna die! I never wanna die!” he yells, and why would he? Sounds like his band are having too much fun.