The tale of the new Foo Fighters album Wasting Light has been branded into our minds these past few months: produced by old friend Butch Vig and recorded on analog tape in Grohl's makeshift garage studio, it marks the band's attempt to scrap their trajectory of studio progress and go back to doing things the hard way, more organically and as raw as possible.
It's a classic tale, but does the work match the narrative? In short, the answer is yes and then some. Nucleus Dave Grohl, lead guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and on-again guitarist Pat Smear have written & recorded the best Foo Fighters album since 1997's The Colour And The Shape. A riff-rich tapestry of snarling guitars and punch-rock drums accentuates a songwriting maturity and fluency that stands on two decades' worth of trial by fire in an ever-shifting and treacherous industry. Grohl & company, no strangers to the mega-hit Rock anthems, have doubled down on the fire that made Monkeywrench such a buoyant thrill, with a concentrated emphasis on songwriting that constantly strives to go bigger, hit harder and add more color.
Grohl screaming "These are my famous last words!!!" introduces the album, after the rising pressure of "Bridge Burning"'s circular, explosive chopping-riff intro. Though the song takes a quick-snap transition to pop-rock jubilation through the verse, the pre-chorus ("Whatever keeps you warm at night…. whatever keeps you warm inside…" ) would've made a fine chorus on previous Foo releases. Grohl had far more ambitious plans for the entire production, however, stating in a previous interview that "Whenever I thought I had a big enough chorus for a song, I would use that as the pre-chorus and then I would try and write something even bigger."
Bigger he goes, particularly in the furious follow-up of "Rope," an echoing intro ushering in jagged guitar blasts. The track's core adhesive is a slow-building melody, punctuated by howls, before a guitar/drum volley breakdown and the testicular equivalent of a herd of rabid mastodons in the rhythm riff leading into the final chorus.
"Dear Rosemary" follows, a gorgeous, clean-toned mid-tempo rocker duet with Hüsker Dü legend Bob Mould (just listen to that chorus harmony on "Truth aint gonna change the way you lie / Youth aint gonna change the way you die"!). It's a grand slam track with classic-rock heart & impeccable design that borders on perfection, and we're reminded here that this isn't a digital collage of sounds processed and meticulously corrected – this is on tape.
After the blunt rejection of “Now get away, get away, get away from me” throws us out the door, we're given no quarter before "White Limo," the snarling black sheep of the album, hits the ground in a crushing sprint.
Barking maniacally through what may as well be a megaphone, Grohl rides the spaz-train right off the rails with a pace that gives Pearl Jam's "Lukin" a run for its money. It's a pulverizing flurry of riffage and roaring that could've been a highlight on The Colour And The Shape.
The shamelessly rock-radio-leaning "These Days" is an accusatory revenge anthem that demands a little empathy, its concluding percussive flurry leading into the comedy-movie soundtrack candidate Back & Forth, the single true weak spot of the album. "I'm lookin' for some back & forth with you / To feel the same things you do" …we love you Dave, but no thanks.
Oh, you want huge guitar-rock stadium anthems with balls & brawn? "Miss The Misery"'s got your fix. Butch Vig has been accused of many things, but the man's indisputable signature is lathered on this choral-glory shiner. The curveball and conversation point of Wasting Light, however, is without question "I Should've Known," a harrowing hindsight testimony roller-coaster of sadness and frustrated anger. It's hardly a stretch of the imagination to grasp why a portion of the song is used in the band's Back and Forth docu-film to accompany the tale of Kurt Cobain's tragic demise.
"Lay your hands in mine, feel me one last time," Dave pleads, but concludes that he's irrevocably scarred by the infliction, screaming "I cannot forgive you yet" in agonizing repetition. The song builds to a slamming close, accusatory and bitterly screaming at the void left behind.
Then, as genuine heartbreak's full midnight grasp takes hold, dawn appears in "Walk," an anthem of healing optimism that's nakedly vulnerable and optimistic, vaporizing the scarred negativity. As Grohl screams "I never wanna DIE!!" it's not difficult to envision the mountains of fan mail praising the encouraging message, with tales of miraculous recovery and accomplishment. The empathizers will weep openly at their concerts, singing along to a message every one of us is going to feel to the core at some point in our lives. The song's gripping power is designed specifically for this, of course, and to crush radio.
A fantastically searing accomplishment, Wasting Light finally sees the Foo Fighters reaching a balance between the raw power of their first two albums with the consistently evolving songwriting of their latter releases. It's unquestionably Grohl's finest work as a songwriter and frontman, showcasing a relentless pursuit of peak potential. As the awards and sales will undoubtedly confirm in the coming months, he's found it.
CraveOnline's Rating: 9 out of 10