What year is it? It certainly can’t be 2011 because the Foo Fighters have Pat Smear in their line-up. And they made a record, Wasting Light, that’s loud as hell. And they tapped Butch Vig as a producer. And they had Alan Moulder mix the album. And both Bob Mould and Kris Novoselic appear as guests. And they recorded it to analog tape.
So when the hell are we? That Light, the Foo’s seventh record, rocks harder and features a focused intensity that hasn’t been seen since The Colour And The Shape suggests the band has gone back in time for this set – not to mention the above list of items, any one of which argues this by itself, would indicate the same. Cynics have appeared to argue that Dave Grohl and company have gone to a “back to basics” mentality either because they’ve run outta ideas on how to evolve or because they wanna return to an era where arena rock was OK. Hence the old-school everything about the record.
Which, of course, misses the goddamn point. Hell, detractors of the band have been missing the point since One By One. The whole reason behind the Foo Fighters’ existence is simply an excuse for Dave get his rocks off, whether in his garage or on stage (preferably the latter, of course). Sure, he wanted to write songs beloved by many, but he’s always wanted to simply shake the earth with a power chord or a crash cymbal. Witness him play if you’re skeptical. Yet, I’ve watched a band be torn apart in the critical community for writing simple, melody-based rockers that deserve to be shouted along to by tens of thousands. Really? That was the goal for them from the outset.
Rocking out, then, is the entire object of this record – much more so than any record since Colour. The previous outing, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, was just a condensed version of its predecessor, In Your Honor. That is to say, a combination of hard rock and muted, acoustic lullabies. After the melody-driven There Is Nothing Left To Lose and the mature-rock (alright, dad-rock) of One By One, it was clear that the Foos wanted to be more than irate twentysomethings or trying-t0-be-irate-twentysomething thirtysomethings. After all, Dave couldn’t be pissed at Courtney or be going through a breakup forever. Not that the Foos have lost their melodic sense here. It’s just that Light doesn’t have the intention of luring new fans in with piano ballads, an entire disc of acoustic songs and sugar-coated production. Instead, the band did what they do best: writing a collection of ridiculously catchy songs while continuing the legacy of Best Modern Rock Band.
To this end, then, you know basically what you’re getting from this Foo record: riff-based hard rock; Dave singing, yelling and screaming; Taylor Hawkins attempting his best Dave impression (I mean that in the nicest way possible manner); and melodies guaranteed to be stuck in your head for a week. This time, however, there won’t be Josh Homme showing up to strum along with the band. There won’t be a quasi-concept album. There won’t be a bid for pop radio. And there certainly won’t be an unplugged version of “My Hero” (thank god!). Not that any of these things – save for the last – were bad. Simply put, the Foos are most consistently at their best when they’re blasting outta your speakers.
The start to any given track here will give you an idea of what it will sound like for the duration. That said, they manage to make each track work because Dave and company are so focused on writing great songs instead of just great riffs (One By One), just great melodies (There Is Nothing) or going balls-out rockstar (Colour and Foo Fighters). No, it’s clear this time around that the band wanted to write great songs. And that’s the key difference between Light and its last couple predecessors: Light has every element that makes (and has made) the Foo Fighters great since the Clinton Administration. From the opening riff to “Bridge Burning” to the Cheap Trick-esque “Walk” to the pop-punk chorus of “Back & Forth,” this album serves as a reminder of why you love this band in the first place: they do what they do so damn well it’s disgusting.
Sure, the album has its flaws – as every Foo album has had – but they’re nitpicking when considered from afar. Yes, some of the lyrics are clunkers. The lame line “You’re one to talk, the heart is a clock/ Just like a bomb that keeps on ticking away” from “A Matter of Time” is a great example. Then there’s that one song every once in a while that makes no sense at all. This time around, it’s “White Limo.” If there is a meaning to be found, you might have to consult David Lynch. But the worst lyrical moment comes from the almost-cringe-worthy opening lines to “Arlandria”: “Ain’t that the way it always starts/ A simple round of conversation/ Became a shameful equation/ I flipped you station to station.” Aside from the lyrics, the guests here serve no purpose other than to satisfy Dave misguided attempts to live out his dream of playing with one of his rock heroes (Bob Mould on “Dear Rosemary”) or former bandmates (“Kris Novoselic on “I Should Have Known”). Neither adds anything necessary to their respective songs: You can barely hear Bob’s backing vocals (aside from the bridge and final chorus), and, honestly, who cares if Kris or Nate played bass on a particular Foo Fighters song? Not to mention the accordion.
People who criticize the Foo Fighters for apparent lazy songwriting and using abusing clean melodies grasp not the aim of the band. The fact that they make songs easy to learn and sing along to is what makes them so entertaining. The Foos have become kinda like a Michael Bay film: big, dumb fun used almost solely for the purpose of escaping reality for a short time. You can’t expect Dave and company to write the next perfect modern rock song – for two reasons: 1.) He already did that, and 2.) All they wanna do now is put on the most ass-kickingist rock show on Earth.
It is with notion that Wasting Light must be understood: the album is a victory lap for a band that’s not only been at the forefront of modern rock since the ’90s, but also written some of its most endearing songs. The same goes for Foo concerts. Dave Grohl has always and will always be rock’s youngest hero. It’s obvious from his influences – his Scream and Nirvana days, his fuck-around side-project Probot – and especially during Foo Fighters concerts that the man just wants to front a rock band playing to millions of adoring fans. Maybe that’s why the album is so much goddamn fun. So if the band didn’t put out a set that’s better than anything they’ve done – and they certainly didn’t and probably won’t ever again – then what’s the point of putting a new record out at all? Because Dave needs a new excuse to rock the fuck out, and he wants you to join him. Isn’t he great?