Saturday, September 16, 2017
SOLID GOLD: "CONCRETE AND GOLD" FOO FIGHTERS
Dave Grohl: Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars, Percussion
Taylor Hawkins: Drums, Backing Vocals, Lead Vocals on "Sunday Rain"
Nate Mendel: Bass Guitar
Pat Smear: Guitars
Chris Shiflett: Guitars
Remi Jaffe: Piano, Keyboards, Synthesizers
All music and lyrics by Foo Fighters
Produced by Greg Kurstin and Foo Fighters
Released September 15, 2017
I think this is the Foo Fighters album that I had always wished that they woud make. Well...just about..let me explain.
When we last left Foo Fighters at the time of their eighth album, "Sonic Highways" (released November 10, 2014), itself the companion/soundtrack to bandleader/songwriter/guitarist/drummer Dave Grohl's superlative HBO series of the same name, I praised the album as being the band's finest release due to there being not one wasted moment in a collection of songs that did indeed represent the band's songwriting at its leanest and tightest as well as showcasing a natural creative progression, beginning with the acoustic based half of the double album "In Your Honor" (released June 14, 2005), which was then followed by "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace" (released September 25, 2007), and culminating with Grohl's beautiful, brilliant documentary film and accompanying album for "Sound City" (released March 12, 2013), the album that indeed gave birth to "Sonic Highways."
All of that being said, and with no disrespect to Grohl and his bandmates for their consistently driven work ethic and hefty flag waving for American heavy rock and roll and for music itself overall, I did wish for Grohl to allow himself to perhaps take some more creative risks as he has more than earned the right to roll the dice on the massive good will that he has earned over the years. On this site, and within my posting for "Sonic Highways," I wrote the following words, which I then published on November 15, 2014:
"I would urge them to completely get outside (ha ha) of their own comfort zone and make an album unlike they have ever made before...
...Record to analog tape again certainly, even use Butch Vig again if you wish and definitely keep collaborating with your heroes and other musical figures. But that's it. Don't record in Grohl's home. Go out into the desert perhaps or any unfamiliar location and just let your freak flags fly. Create nine minute epics to crash alongside one minute punk rock thrashes and then zig-zag into pop songs and hard rock slammers. Do a full on country song. Do a song with no guitars at all. How about instrumentals or even songs that are built from completely different recordings a la Frank Zappa (i.e. take Grohl's guitars from one source and marry them with Hawkins' drums from a completely different recording regardless of tempo) and see what magic arrives. Dabble even further with vocal interplay and stacked harmonies. Allow Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett and Nate Mendel to also create tracks that showcase their respective talents like on Yes' "Fragile" (released January 4, 1972) or Living Colour's "Time's Up" (released August 20, 1990). Trade instruments and even lead vocals as well. Do anything that really shakes you up and then carve it all into a double album, a truly '70s era double album full of color and flash, vision and massive volume. Don't worry if the fans will "get it." Don't worry abut becoming Radiohead. Just be the Foo Fighters and go for it! We've been with you for 20 years, we'll still be here."
As much as I still stand by those words (and still wish the band would indeed make this sort of a album), "Concrete And Gold, " the ninth album from Foo Fighters is an album of such vibrancy, unabashed enthusiasm, creativity and studio driven imagination that it did feel and sound to match the very album that perhaps, I had always wished for them to make. It is a speaker shaking work, packed with sonic delights so fully that even your headphones would be unable to contain them all. The melodies feel as if they have all been shot from canons and the rock and roll fireworks completely live up to their description and then some. Foo Fighters' "Concrete And Gold" is the album that is ready made for the stadium and should be an ultimate blast to hear performed live and even so, it works on its own powerfully well as an artistic statement and testament that in the dwindling rock scene, the mountain that Dave Grohl and his bandmates have constructed is in no danger of falling into the sea. In fact, other mountains should graciously move to the sides because the Foos latest release needs more than enough ample room to swagger!!
"I don't want to be King
I just want to sing love songs
Pretend there's nothing wrong
You can sing along with me..."
Those are the opening lyrics to "T-Shirt," the inaugural track to "Concrete And Gold." More than serving as an invitation to the album itself, it is a statement of purpose that is as overtly political and philosophically probing as any other musical protest statement released this year from LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire to Living Colour, Father John Misty and Kendrick Lamar. With his plaintive, solo acoustic guitar and Grohl's raspy, tender vocal, he certainly is speaking for a nation painfully fatigued with the turbulence of the United States post-election season and current Trump era without ever mentioning names or events. At this time, we know the state of the world is terrifying with no less than uncertainties of potential nuclear war with North Korea looming dangerously overhead. And yet, Dave Grohl soothes and invites, just as much for himself as he achieves for all of us and then...let the s how begin!!!
"T-Shirt," in only less than 90 seconds of duration, EXPLODES into choirs of stacked harmony vocals and wide open skies of guitars. You can almost see the clouds parting, with massive beams of sunrays shining downwards, gracing the Earth in warmth and release before settling down back to Grohl and his quiet acoustic guitar before the floodgates seriously open.
"Run," the album's second track, is a dynamic, pummeling tour de force of rhythm and propulsive force that feels to only increase in velocity (hence the song's title) although in actuality, the band is superbly locked into a tight, fighting precision and the effect is positively breathless, ensuring that we are caught in a whirlwind of what sounds like a thrash metal carnival.
Instead of allowing us to settle down, we are encouraged to keep pace with the band as they launch into the speed racer/percolating drum propelling "Make It Right" (complete with uncredited album guest Justin Timberlake's background chorus of vocal "la la las") and even then, we find ourselves launched into the wild, swirling, downright monolithic "The Sky Is A Neighborhood," during which Grohl suggests his, and our, inner turbulence again as he sings, "Mind is a battlefield/All hope is gone/Trouble to the right and the left/Whose side you're on?"
Delving back into a more autobiographical window, Foo Fighters take us back to Dave Grohl's teen years and his feelings of alienation in an encroaching conservative landscape in the pile driving "La Dee Da," a track that finds the band exploring subtle synthetic textures that doubles with Nate Mendel's bass guitar, therefore deepening the impact.
By the album's midpoint, Foo Fighters are finally allowing us to catch our collective breaths with the more acoustic based "Dirty Water," a selection that features a full summer's wind of gorgeous backing vocals from Inara George of The Bird And The Bee. The aural surprises continue as this song is one that is in no hurry, breezily soaring for nearly three minutes before the full attack arrives and even then, keyboardist Remi Jeffe's synths doubles with Mendel's bass guitar, making the two sounds beautifully inseparable and again providing a bottom end that carries more weight while also becoming hypnotic.
The more classic Foo Fighters sound returns triumphantly with the roar of the blinding white light of "Arrows," as power chords upon power chords scorch the Earth and spiral upwards splitting the sky with Grohl's battle cry of "Fire away!!!!!!" at the forefront. As the smoke clears and the dust settles, the band bring us to "Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)," a song of Beatle-esque "White Album" pastoral quality that sits very well within the Foo aesthetic, as Grohl's excellent vocals suggest a gentle campfire with those elegant harmony vocals backing him lovingly.
Speaking of The Beatles, with the astounding "Sunday Rain," Foo Fighters welcome a special guest contributor in an audacious fashion: Sir Paul McCartney, who does not sing or contribute to the writing of the song but participates as the band's drummer!! Surrounding McCartney's expert shuffle groove, Grohl takes a back set vocally to allow drummer Taylor Hawkins to grace the microphone with his raspy soul that suggests 70's era Don Henley, making the six minute track sound sort of like an update of the Eagles' "Victim Of Love."
"Concrete And Gold" reaches its home stretch with the glorious melodic metal of "The Line," and the five and a half minute title track, a brooding, booming Pink Floyd-ian epic featuring the unlikely yet powerfully effective presence of Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman who contributes a reportedly 40 vocal track choir, further cementing the societal angst and struggle inherent within the words of hope that conclude the album. Grohl has mentioned that he wants this album to sort of serve as "Motorhead meets 'Sgt. Pepper'." Utilizing that analogy, then the title track is essentially the Foo Fighters' version of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life," with a massive power chord being struck and fading into infinity.
Foo Fighters' "Concrete And Gold" not only marks the perfect next step for the veteran band, it is a work that represents them at the finest and flashiest they have ever been. Now officially six members strong, the band is a well oiled machine to be true but not one that is happy to lazily rest upon its collective laurels, which they ore than have earned the right to do. Yet, what remains so endearing about Dave Grohl and his bandmates is you can always, without question, feel the strength behind their collective efforts. Nothing is ever phoned in. No song ever feels like a lazy re-write. On the contrary, they are a band that has consistently found ways to craft better songs, which then translate into making better albums with this one being the very best, and most addictive, they have made thus far.
Contributing to their growth, I deeply appreciate how they have taken whatever lessons learned from the previous album and apply them to the current one, therefore we can hear the progression and evolution of a band who has created a signature sound but always finds new ways to try and present that sound, gladly removing themselves from certain comfort zones in order to inspire creation. With "Concrete And Gold," the band made the head scratching decision to work with producer Greg Kurstin of The Bird and The Bee and who has worked the boards for the likes of Adele, Sia, Kelly Clarkson and will soon be heard working directly alongside Beck on his upcoming album--and of course, none of these artists remotely suggest the hard stadium rock and roll that is the Foo Fighters' trademark.
Yet, Dave Grohl remains a fearless and restlessly curious artist as he continues to utilize the sense of camaraderie and musical companionship that has now become a crucial element of the band's work since the "Sound City" documentary and soundtrack album, It may not sound right on paper but once seemingly disparate forces come together in the Foo Fighters' world, great things have the potential of happening, Working with Kurstin, on what is clearly their most produced album to date, has in actuality brought out the very best of the entire band as Grohl's pop sensibilities with songcraft are at their tightest while not sacrificing any rock shock and awe whatsoever. In fact. the band sounds even more bombastic and to an outstanding effect. The melodies, vocals and guitars all feel as if they are in surround sound while the drums and bottom end rumble, rattle, bam and boom with that Zeppelin-esque stomp and yet, almost every song on the album could be released as a hit single.
In fact, if this album reminded me of anything, it just feels more than fitting that Foo Fighters' "Concrete And Gold" is arriving upon the 30th anniversary of Def Leppard's titanic, towering album "Hysteria" (released August 3, 1987), a tremendously HUGE and glisteningly pristine sounding album that blended the world of glam rock, heavy metal and top 40 pop into a magical stew and scoring critical acclaim and stratospheric album sales. Whether Foo Fighters are able to achieve similar goals, especially as the music industry has changed so drastically over the past 30 years, remains to be seen. But, as the musical, artistic statement that it is, it is a perfect album for 2017 that showcases passionately that guitar driven rock and roll remains vibrantly alive and Foo Fighters are one of the best.
And still, it is very easy to take the band for granted as Grohl's easy going, everybody's best friend persona downplays his actual ferocious skill as well as those of his bandmates. In some ways, he is kind of like modern rock's version of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, because they do make it all look so easy and that Foo Fighters have been so dependable throughout the entirety of their 20 year plus career. A bad album has never been made. Their sound has never undergone any radical changes. Their quality control has remained consistent. All qualities that could make it easy to overlook or even ignore the strength of their craft and presentation, especially now as Grohl has peppered many of the tracks with political references that feel purposefully veiled, so to as not upset his populist, inclusive stance with any and all listeners.
But really read and listen closely, as Dave Grohl's social/political views can be easily inferred but they are all presented for each listener to read into them whatever they wish and then, Grohl is able to continue presenting himself as being just like any one of us in the audience as he is struggling with the same fears that we are in a vicious Trump world. As Grohl sings in "T-Shirt":
"There's one thing that I have learned
If it gets much better, it's only going to get worse
And you get what you deserve"
I know what those words mean to me but they may not mean the same to you and it is in that certain ambiguity that saves the band from becoming politicized even when concerns about the state of the world rear their heads in their songs.
Yet, never fear as Foo Fighters are not preaching to us or creating musical diatribes. Like us, it feels as if they are also just trying to figure everything out while pumping their fists in the air to great, electric rock and roll in the process. And as Grohl sings in the album's opening song, we can pump our fists in the air right alongside them in blissful unity.
Foo Fighters' "Concrete And Gold" is one of my favorite albums of 2017.