While the songs that comprise Foo Fighters’ 10th album may well be among the glossiest AOR that the band have ever put their name to, this is a record with old bones.
Drummer Taylor Hawkins has previously described ‘Medicine at Midnight’ as more “pop-orientated” than previous Foos releases, and he’s not wrong. But the record is more than that – it suggests the future of the Foo Fighters is more interesting than you might have anticipated. Thanks to the ongoing menace of COVID, the chassis of the record – its innards, its celebratory themes – are of the old world, the Before Times. Band main man Dave Grohl started demoing these songs as long ago as 2019; the record was meant to be released almost a year ago. Its emergence in 2021 feels a bit like finding a tenner in your jeans pocket after putting them through the wash: a nice surprise that’ll put a smile on your face.
A lot can happen in a year, as they say. Tonally, and through no fault of its creators, this is a record that has little in common with the era into which it finally enters – and if you know anything about the last 12 months, you’ll know what a blessed relief that is. Opener ‘Making A Fire’ is joyous stuff, a marriage of pop quirk and punchy barre chords, with a chorus that has as much in common as The Eagles as the alternative rock scene from which Foo Fighters emerged. There’s a universe somewhere where the song soundtracks a summer that never happened. You might read it as a reminder of what has been lost – or a NutriBullet of hope for a hopefully brighter future.
Grohl’s – and thereby the Foos’ – PMA continues throughout ‘Medicine At Midnight’: it’s a celebration of almost three decades of good times (and was meant to accompany a 25th anniversary world tour). The frontman’s songwriting template – essentially the soundtrack to trying to find your tent on the last night of Reading Festival – has served the band extremely well over the last decade. Grohl’s status as an everyman rock hero has grown with each Foo Fighters release.
Speaking to NME for this week’s digital cover story, Grohl emphasised the importance of the small venues that COVID has put in jeopardy. He’s the perfect spokesperson for the cause. “Those places are much more important than most people would imagine,” he said. “A lot of people will just look at them as watering holes, but those places are training grounds for the next generation of musicians that need somewhere to cut their teeth before they hit the next stage.”
What Drives Us, his documentary-cum-love-letter to touring in vans – subject matter as on-brand as flannel shirts and beard shampoo – was also curtailed by COVID, with a release date still pending. Everyman rock status aside, though, no-one expects a musical reinvention from the Foos at this stage.
And yet ‘Medicine at Midnight’ features a generous smattering of ingenuity throughout. Early single ‘Shame Shame’, is a slinky earworm of a tune; a song that – from mournful cello to a stuttering, awkward beat that is dying to have bars dropped atop – does everything you don’t expect it to, and at every turn. Elsewhere, ‘Cloudspotter’ recalls Queens of The Stone Age, a band Grohl formally thumped tubs for, at their most interesting. Later on, the title track recalls one of those shiny, colossal rock songs that big rock bands started making at their height of their ‘80s cocaine intake. David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ is an obvious reference point for a song that is rarely obvious.
‘Waiting On A War’, a soft-rock plodder, is perhaps what your mate who doesn’t like Foos thinks the band sounds like (“Never really wanted to be number one”, Grohl croons, “Just wanted to love everyone”), but even this would likely hit different if sang in unison with thousands more voices at a music festival. And then along comes ‘No Son Of Mine’, a shuffling psychobilly-influenced stomper that explodes out of nowhere into a wild cacophony of breakneck guitar, psych-jam breakdown and – hold me – gospel backing vocals.
After a year that took so much, the return of the Foos feels like the culture getting back in credit. Consider the record’s closing track, ‘Love Dies Young’, which sparkles with effervescence that the last 12 months have lacked – it’s one of the best songs the band have ever put their name to.
Those who have followed Grohl through his days in DC hardcore – through Nirvana, the metallic ingenuity of Probot, his drumming to the stars and the rise and rise of the band that brings forth this record – will be enthused by the suggestion that this great songwriter is looking to expand his playbook. Even more will be delighted that an enduring force for good has returned.
Release date: February 5
Record label: RCA Records