Somewhere within the depths of my musical soul, I truly believe the majestic essence of rock n’ roll has been reawakened at the mainstream level. In 2017, there is no bigger rock band in the world than Foo Fighters and I feel a tremendous sense of pride in saying that since the character of this band is equal to their 22-years worth of iconic songwriting.
Foo Fighters just released their ninth-studio LP Concrete and Gold on September 15. This LP follows up the band’s A-Plus effort on their 2015 EP Saint Cecilia, which I reviewed and proclaimed to be the definitive rock record of that year. Saint Cecilia recalled the brightest memories of discovering the group’s first two records – it was like reacquainting with an old friend and noticing how much they matured yet their personality remained completely intact. This time around, Concrete and Gold harkens back to the heyday of classic rock, much like the group’s 2014 LP Sonic Highways, and blends together the hook-laden dynamics of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Rush, and Black Sabbath with the Foo Fighters’ grungier DNA.
From a musical standpoint, Concrete and Gold is the most experimental effort of the band’s career thus far as they explore uncharted progressive territories, which will challenge the casual rock listener who enjoys classics such as “Learn To Fly” and “Best of You.” Opening track “T-Shirt” merges Beatles worthy delicacy with Grohl’s soft-spoken delivery and acoustic strumming before the distorted chord progressions and Queen-style vocal harmonies hit the listener like another brick in the wall.
Modern classic “Run” is astonishing in the gnarliest fashion, listeners should feel the momentum continuously build before the track kicks into one of the meanest riffs ever composed by Dave Grohl, Pat Smear, and Chris Shiflett. This song feels like the perfect combination of Foo Fighters and Rush – drummer Taylor Hawkins summons a level of virtuosity through his snare hits and unorthodox drum fills, which are reminiscent of his hero Neil Peart. The heavier riffs recall the picking techniques of Alex Lifeson and the glorious last two minutes of “Run” capture the upbeat energy, melodic sensibilities, progressive grooves, and crisp song structure of Rush’s 2112.
“Make It Right,” showcases some highly impressive engineering efforts by the band’s new producer Greg Kurstin – an accomplished musician but someone who had never previously ventured into the hard rock landscape and has collaborated with mainstream A lister’s such as Adele, Sia, and Pink. If longtime fans had any qualms or reservations about the overall tones or sounds of this album, rest assured that Kurstin and company did not produce a modern pop record. Listener’s should plug in their best headphones or play this track through their best speakers: it will sound like one is sitting in the studio while the band pummels them with a barrage of evil sounding bendy riffs. The vocal harmonies within the chorus incorporate spacey and atmospheric melodies worthy of Roger Waters and David Gilmour. “Make It Right,” proves to be an unlikely matrimony of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd: polar opposite walls of sound that come together like a match made in heaven.
Early in the recording process, as Dave Grohl began to conceptualize and approach the musical direction of Concrete and Gold, he relayed the following mission statement to BBC Radio, “I wanted it to be the biggest sounding Foo Fighters record ever. To make a gigantic rock record but with Greg Kurstin’s sense of melody and arrangement… Motorhead’s version of ‘Sgt. Pepper’… or something like that.” During “The Sky Is A Neighborhood,” Grohl’s blueprint comes to fruition as the band resurrects the psychedelic pop wizardry of Sgt. Pepper. Imagine if “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” merged with Soundgarden’s “Blow Up The Outside World.” “The Sky Is A Neighborhood,” allows Grohl to maximize his uncanny ability to compose timeless anthems and honor the uplifting beauty of Paul McCartney and dark elegance of Chris Cornell. This track should become a staple in a live setting: it is truly one of the most alluring compositions in the band’s entire catalog.
“La Dee Da” starts off with a ‘70s style funky bass line from Nate Mendel: his signature moment on the record. From a sonic standpoint, the entire band transitions into a groovy rhythm that resembles Grohl’s work with Queens of the Stone Age. Grohl’s vicious screams in the chorus reignites the spirit of “Monkey Wrench” but the dance-driven vibes within the melodies would fit alongside Songs For The Deaf more so than The Colour and the Shape. “Dirty Water,” is one of the premier tracks of Concrete and Gold, the acoustic interlude and Beach Boys inspired clean electric guitars allow Chris Shiflett to provide some well-crafted guitar leads atop of a wonderful Dave Grohl vocal melody. At the 2:44 mark, Pat Smear’s wall of distortion takes over in the most dynamic fashion possible with a knockout riff that maintains a high level of momentum till the very last note.
“Arrows” continues down the Sg. Peppers psychedelic path as the phaser effects within the guitar introduction are new territory for Foo Fighters. Eventually, “Arrows” transitions in a power-pop chorus – Cheap Trick influenced – and the band fires away with a punchy synchronicity reminiscent of Wasting Light’s “Arlandria.” Once again, Shiflett bends the hell out his guitar strings and I only wish he was able to unleash more solo’s. This track screamed for some epic shreds, which he has accomplished on the last few records but not so much on this album. “Happily Ever After (Zero Hour)” explores the acoustic and folkier side of Grohl’s songwriting: somewhat reminiscent yet very much different from the acoustic material on 2005’s In Your Honor. The lyrics standout for their sheer darkness: this feels like an internal confession and universal metaphor about dealing with mental anguish and personal accountability.
I mentioned The Beatles multiple times throughout this review and “Sunday Rain” actually features Paul McCartney on drums and Taylor Hawkins on vocals. How cool is that? The chorus evokes the spirit of King’s X: a criminally underrated band that combined Beatles esque harmonies with the heaviest of riffs. I expect this song to become a chart topping single in the near future as it contains a nonstop arsenal of grungy hooks, very much in the vein of Foo Fighters’ earliest work – an impressive balance of vintage Beatles and modern Foo Fighters.
“The Line” falls into the territory of being somewhat forgettable: it is certainly well composed and doesn’t lack in passion but there is a certain charm and energy congruent with Foo Fighters that is non-existent, which could have heightened its dramatic flair. The album’s final track “Concrete and Gold,” features background harmonies from Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, which is quite the badass guest appearance. However, I expected something more immediate and uptempo to conclude this record. As a whole, this album lacks a maniacal Foo Fighters thrasher in the vein of “White Limo” and “This Is A Call,” which it desperately needed. On a scale ranging from Pink Floyd to Motörhead, the title-track “Concrete and Gold” heavily leans in the Pink Floyd direction and Foo Fighters tend to write all-time classics when they clearly have a chip on their shoulder – “All My Life.”
Overall, Concrete and Gold is a very nice addition to Foo Fighters’ catalog and they deserve to be commended for exploring uncharted landscapes without compromising the fundamental core of their sound. Quite frankly, they deserve to have an open palette of artistic freedom and trust from their fanbase to do whatever they want and whenever they want. Considering the chaotic state of the world, perhaps the band made a wise decision to produce a record that revisits the magic of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Concrete and Gold serves as a nice escape from the never-ending anxieties within the modern political environment – much like The Beatles accomplished during the tail end of their run.
Yet having absorbed this record, when I watched those recent videos of the band covering AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock,” I only wish they composed a few more tracks with that unforgiving sense of rebellion. In their 2011 documentary Back and Forth, Dave Grohl spoke about the core essence of Foo Fighters’ sound and said, “What do you mean? Loud rock guitars, melodies, cymbals crashing, and big ass drums? Cause that’s what I do.” That is one of my all-time favorite quotes and I hope to see Foo Fighters revisit the Motörhead influence in Dave’s original Concrete and Gold blueprint on their next album. In the meantime, the king’s have returned to reclaim their guitar thrones (catch my reference). Without question, there are numerous gems throughout Concrete and Gold, which will create wide-scale mainstream exposure and be a tremendous boost for a genre that is determined to break through with a new generation of bands (Crobot, Greta Van Fleet, The Pretty Reckless) and overcome a disgusting lack of mainstream appeal over the last two decades.
Foo Fighters Concrete and Gold is currently available online and at record stores everywhere.