The biggest rock band in the world return with their ninth album. Unsure as to that claim? Look at the profile of mainman Dave Grohl; he’s everywhere, not just in the rock press, but in all the gossip columns. He has all the high-falutin’ friends (no less than Paul McCartney appears on this album, for instance) and it wasn’t that long ago that the Foo Fighters played alongside Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – at a huge stadium gig that has been their domain for several years now. This is one rock band that your friends, work colleagues, family has heard of – if you’re a dedicated gig-goer you’ll know all too well how often people dismiss the band you have a ticket for with those words: ‘never heard of ’em’, as though that renders the band non-existent. No problem here, even your ordinary average Heart FM listener knows who the Foo Fighters are, and when they do play their huge stadium gigs, they attract the sort of crowd who wouldn’t normally have anything at all to do with ‘rock’. In short, they’re the one rock group it’s ‘OK’ to like. So, this is surely the sort of release that is an ‘event’, one which will see folk flocking back in their droves to the much-maligned record stores to grab their copies, yes?
Well, possibly. They are of such stature now that they’re ‘critic-proof’; no matter what is said or written about this record, it will indeed likely fly out of the stores (or down the superhighway, if it is downloaded). At the time of this post, it is the number one album in the UK charts, and looks set to stick around for a while. But is it any good? Thanks to the (also much-maligned) Spotify, I decided to give it a listen or two and find out for myself. I’ve not stayed in close touch with the Foos since they attained megastar status (the last time I actually saw them live was in 2002); I’ve liked a few tracks from their more recent output but to these ears, they’ve never really bettered ‘The Colour And The Shape’, now a staggering twenty years old.
For this record, the band recruited some major names, starting with producer Greg Kurstin (who has worked with Adele, and written for many other big names in the pop world), and the aforementioned Paul McCartney contributes drums on one song (‘Sunday Rain’). That in itself raised eyebrows, since this band contains two accomplished drummers already. Other guests include pop stars Justin Timberlake and (Boys II Men singer) Shawn Stockman, although you won’t find much influence from that sphere in this record. It’s still recognisably Foo Fighters, with plenty of guitar wallop, and both Grohl’s familiar roar and more melodic singing voice are present and correct.
What there isn’t, is a song that sticks in the mind the way previous numbers such as ‘Times Like These’, ‘Everlong’, or ‘Learn To Fly’ did. I could go through the previous albums and come across at least one title on each, and have the tune instantly pop into my head. Grohl & Co. always had a knack of writing a pop song with enough rock punch to appeal to those of us who prefer a fist in the air to a waving lighter. That isn’t the case here, none of these songs have that hook. Even after a few playthroughs, not even lead-off single ‘Run’ lingers in the mind for long. It does have its moments; the McCartney-driven ‘Sunday Rain’ is a fine late-era Beatles pastiche, with Taylor Hawkins coming out from his drumkit to take lead vocal to good effect. The slower ‘Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)’ also provides a change of style from the rest of the album, reminiscent of ‘Blackbird’ (by The Beatles, not Alter Bridge!) It all sounds big; ‘The Line’ creeps close to Killers territory for instance. It all sounds mighty and impressive, but half an hour later you won’t find yourself humming much of this. The title track closes things; it is meant to be a brooding epic, but merely plods along to its concluding powerchord. (There is an extra ‘bit’ after the track concludes, but not much to get excited about).
It isn’t a BAD album, but it isn’t a great one either. When we are talking about the biggest rock band in the world, it isn’t enough to listen and think, mmm, that wasn’t bad. The Foo Fighters are now heading up the very same rock establishment that Grohl’s previous band was credited with dismantling, and sadly this record does come across as a bit too ‘establishment’. Not one I’ll be rushing out to grab on any physical format, for my Foos fix it’s still the first three or four albums that I’ll be reaching for.
A Spotify link is provided below should you wish to listen for yourself:
3 – Decent