ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FOO FIGHTERS – MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT | 2021-02-06

It’s Foos season all over again—after skipping a whole year and seeing their original roll out plans affected by the public health crisis bought upon by COVID-19 alongside the rest of the entertainment industries, the beloved, accomplished, and marquee alternative rock group saw fit to pick February’s first eligible new music Friday to unveil their tenth studio LP Medicine at Midnight. Following up on 2017’s slept-on and widely ignored Concrete & Gold, the post-grunge sextet currently composed of frontman and principal songwriter Dave Grohl, drummer and background vocalist Taylor Hawkins, bassist Nate Mendel, lead and rhythm guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, as well as keys wizard Rami Jaffee reportedly chose to go into a fully groovy, dancey, and rhythmic power pop direction on their latest offering. Premiered in early November last year by something fairly faithful to said instruction coming in (the colour and) the shape of “Shame, Shame“, the record is out on RCA Records and sees the renewed inclusion of mainstream hit pop producer Greg Kurstin on production duties, after his work on Concrete & Gold four years ago.

With the exception made of 2014’s ambitious and only ever so slightly pretentious HBO-earmarked Sonic Highways project, which from a tracklist-length perspective sports a mere eight tracks on its sequencing, Medicine’s similarly scant nine cuts make for the Foo Fighters’ shortest studio album to date, with just 35 minutes and change of runtime. For as weird and zany as it sounds, Dave Grohl and band attribute the concise and efficient recording sessions, as well as their meagre output, to spooky ghosts and paranormal activity experienced in the Californian house-turned-studio they recorded the album in. The former Nirvana stickman is widely known as the earnest nicest man in rock n roll, so there should be no reason for one to doubt this—but one’s gotta hand it to them, if that is not entirely true, at least it’s a pretty darn good promo stunt. The aforementioned first lead single “Shame, Shame” had enough percussive intricacies and instrumental experimentation to have listeners both attentive and salivating over more teasers. Too bad these would be misguided shortly thereafter by second single “No Son of Mine“, a subsequent abrasive red herring dropped on New Year’s Day 2021, packing a by-the-numbers Lemmy and Motörhead worship, going as far as retooling and reverse-engineering his iconic and seminal hit “Ace of Spades“.

Whilst “No Son of Mine” is this album’s “White Limo“—therefore a trademark and formulaic MO project inclusion for the outfit at this point—third and final single in anticipation to the full length “Waiting on a War“, released in mid January just weeks prior to the official street date, is instead a true blue encapsulation of Dave Grohl’s elemental songbook down to a T: relatable universality in its lyrics, lush and climactic six-string arrangements culminating in fan-favourite, stadiums-ready sing-along choruses topped with epic outros, as well as that old familiar dash of conscientious je ne sais quoi typical of Dave’s best work hitherto. It’s predictive, run-of-the-mill, and terribly safe territory for Foo Fighters, but it’s amongst the best tunes on this thing: “Every day waiting for the sky to fall / Big crash on a world that’s so small / Just a boy with nowhere left to go / Fell in love with a voice on the radio“. Furthermore, the song is indicative of a counterintuitive pattern emerging inherent to Medicine at Midnight, where its most tasteful and effective moments might just be found in slower ballads and their acoustic compositional manifestation. Take penultimate cut “Chasing Birds” for instance, a gorgeously orchestrated Bowie-esque chanson with unplugged guitar ornaments to die for. A record that somehow manages to transcend this album’s dance floor flair and rise to a whole other life of its own above the clouds of rock and roll pantheon.

Incidentally, the latter would have made for a much more memorable and compelling closing chapter than the manic and jovial “Love Dies Young” sequenced at number nine, which despite its glossy reverb and chorus-soaked guitars set against the greasy palm muted distortion sounds just like “No Son of Mine”s illegitimate sister song, as if it were gestated from the same writing session, but after two more drinks and a puff of marijuana for all intents and purposes (the BVs on the refrain are irresistibly angelic and ethereal though). It is not a bad song and there is nothing inherently wrong in ending a consciously sought after dance rock record with the uplifting and cinematic sound design of “Love Dies Young”s back-end, though perhaps morphing this tune with its ancillary Lemmy-obituary hymn could have made for less lukewarm fillers overall. Speaking of fillers—a word that should ideally not come up in a nine-track album review—”Holding Poison” at number seven on the tracklist has got to be amongst the most underwhelming, subpar, and one-dimensional material the Seattle group has issued in years. What was probably intended to be a premiere arena rock fist-bumper and foot-stomper joint in Dave’s mind and intent, actually comes off sounding like the 101 of a hard rock tune one would teach a group of pimple-adorned pre-teens as they’re learning their analogue instruments coalesced in a world tainted by DJs and TikTok (and it’s the longest tune on the album, no less).

Need not worry too much dear readers, as there are musical reasons to rejoice aplenty to be found on the Foo Fighters’ tenth body of work. Start by hitting play on album opener “Making a Fire“; if one can make it past the cringeworthy and gentrified “na na na nas” cheaply leading up to each of the verses, the tune goes on to reveal both enthralling compositional prowess and topical meritocracy: “But if this is our last time / Make up your mind / I’ve waited a lifetime to live / It’s time to ignite, I’m making a fire“. Track number three “Cloudspotter“, with its greasy and fat guitar riffs shredding, rhythmic swagger, and catchiness in spades, is potentially the best representation of what the band set out to do from the jump when it affirmed that it went into production aiming to capture its “love of rock bands that make these upbeat, up-tempo, almost danceable records”. A similar flavoursome balance is to be experienced on the title track here, where sampled drum machines effortlessly complement slick basses and lush choral arrangements, all the while being enveloped in sticky refrains and bouncy grooves. Truth be told, such a somewhat successful creative heist at this point in the band’s career should at least be getting an ‘A for effort’. However, whether Dave Grohl likes it or not, the songs we’ll be remembering most fondly from Medicine at Midnight years down the line will still be those pulled from his diamond-in-the-rough punk rock lore—something that no matter how hard he tries to tame or shoehorn away into a focus group-ed thematic north star, still tips the scale in his favour.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

FOO FIGHTERS

MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT

2021, RCA Records

https://www.foofighters.com

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