Few musicians ever reach the point in their career where they truly become icons of the period they live in. And even fewer musicians do it twice.
Dave Grohl casts a long shadow in the music business; one that even he had to find a way out from under. After Kurt Cobain’s death and the end of Nirvana, Grohl decided he wanted to transfer out of the back office and try his luck up front. Seventeen years later, things have gone well.
But for the second time around, Grohl did things differently. Nirvana fans had been sceptical that Grohl was one dimensional and that the Foo Fighters would merely rehash a less-successful Nirvana. The ones that did show their support did so in hopes of hearing Nirvana classics that Grohl refused to play. What he did play was hard-hitting, head-banging modern rock with unforgettable melodies that consistently topped the singles’ charts.
After the better part of two decades, the Foo Fighters are back with their seventh studio album, Wasting Light. But Wasting Light doesn’t pick up where the Foo Fighters last left off. In fact, it goes back much further. Produced by Nevermind’s Butch Vig, recorded in Dave Grohl’s garage, and with former Nirvana member Pat Smear permanently back in the mix; Wasting Light seemed like it was off to an awfully retro start. Even Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic guests on a few tracks.
The product is still recognizably Foo Fighters. The opening track, “Bridge Burning” comes fast and hard, relying on the brute strength of the instruments to get fans’ blood pumping all over again. Grohl’s signature quiet-loud mixing is in full form, even more so than previous albums, which gives the album opener a Dinosaur Jr vibe that stays unique and never feels mimicked.
“White Limo” is a page out of The Raconteurs playbook; fast-paced rhythm and distorted mics water down Grohl’s shrieks and screams as he mashes along to a heavy track with a healthy dose of gain.
All of this works, and works quite well. But after the third or fourth track on Wasting Light, it becomes hard to ignore the sense that something’s missing. It’s clear that Grohl and his bandmates have taken lengths to help their music evolve and make a rock album that reaches new depths. Unfortunately, somewhere in this process, Grohl’s signature hooks and melodies get left behind.
There’s a reason that the Foo Fighters consistently top the singles’ charts; that being Grohl’s talent for balancing melody with punch. Wasting Light is dripping with punch, but no melody. No catch. The result is an album that really only begs one listen, despite the fact that there’s so much more to it.
Dave Grohl seems to be heading towards new – or rather, old – directions. And as happy as fans will surely be to see the Foo Fighters including Pat Smear and rehashing old tricks, they need to be coupled with what’s made the band so successful for so long; the hooks. Without them, Wasting Light might be wasted effort.
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