The Foo Fighters ascent from Dave Grohl’s one-man-band to the biggest arena rock band of their time is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend. Certified modern rock gods, Foo Fighters’ career has been built on stadium-sized foundations, powered by anthemic choruses and Grohl’s ‘everyman rock god’ personality. From ‘Everlong’ to ‘Monkey Wrench’ to ‘Generator’ to ‘All My Life’ to ‘The Best of You’ and the Pretender’, Foo Fighters’ biggest hits have always offered a slight twist on a tried and tested rock formula.
27 years, 9 albums and over 30 million record sales into their career journey, it is fair to say that they’ve become esteemed purveyors of meat and potatoes rock. It’s also fair to say that their electric live shows aside, they’ve also become a little stale, with 2011’s fantastic Wasting Light standing as the Fooey’s only truly memorable artistic output of the last decade. With this in mind, one could be forgiven for greeting the release of their 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight with a degree of respectful trepidation. Thankfully the nine songs on Medicine at Midnight are the shot in the arm that the Foo Fighters and their many millions of fans needed.
Inspired by David Bowie’s oddball Let’s Dance, Medicine at Midnight finds the Foo Fighters embracing groove in a way they never have before, injecting their trademark bangers with a new lease of energy and life. It is at once the most accomplished, innovative and enjoyable Foo Fighters record in a decade. Finished in February of last year, before the virus that shall not be named ruined life for everyone, Medicine at Midnight sounds positively optimistic, with producer Greg Kurstin, borrowing and absolutely nailing Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers’ polished-pop soundscapes, as the Foos let it all hang out in a way they haven’t in years, or in the case of the likes of ‘Shame Shame’ simply haven’t ever before.
The toe-tapping ‘Making a Fire’ opens proceedings, with Taylor Hawkins hat-heavy beat and some delightful gospel-inspired “na, na, nas” blending with a ’90s alt-rock riff to create a surprisingly bright backdrop for Grohl to do some cleansing of his soul via his trademark howl. The song’s climax features three guitars and Nate Mendell’s bass locking in with Hawkin’s beat, as handclaps, finger clicks and the aforementioned “na, na, na” sit on the off-beats and Grohl sings, “I’ve waited a lifetime to live, it’s time to ignite, I’m making a fire.” It sounds like a rebirth. Learning that the “na, na, nas” are the debut recordings of Grohl’s daughter, Violet only added to the feel-good-vibe. Why the equally inspired but rather moody ‘Shame Shame’ that follows was chosen as the first single and not this earworm, we’ll never know. Where ‘Making a Fire’ burns with brightness and life, ‘Shame Shame’ takes a more sinister, or dare I say it, sexy, approach to groove rock, with Grohl’s rhythmic vocal delivery backed by falsetto harmonies, that sound like something his former bandmates Queens of the Stone Age might dabble in.
Every Foo Fighters album has a big ol’ rock ballad, and Medicine at Midnight is no different, even if the song itself, ‘Waiting on a War’ is. A refreshing update of the Fooey’s radio ballad formula, ‘Waiting on a War’ starts out as a reflection on life, dedicated to Grohl’s daughter Harper, before exploding to life as a four-to-the-floor rocker. A showcase of both Grohl’s songwriting nous and sincere delivery and his bandmates’ sheer talent for this type of thing, ‘Waiting on a War’ will be being sung by drivers listening to Triple M nationwide in no time.
The title track dares you to dance with funky rhythms, as Grohl lets rip on some soulful verses and a soaring hopeful chorus. Some tasty guitar licks, group backing vocals and warm production give this one an old-world feel, making it a perfect bedfellow for the Lemmy tribute and recent single ‘No Son of Mine’ that follows. An unapologetic and unrelenting rocker, ‘No Son of Mine’ is an absolute thrasher. The riffs are huge, the drums frantic and Grohl’s voice positively unhinged. It’s the perfect tribute to Lemmy and the Fooey’s sound like they had an absolute blast tracking it.
In news that’ll please millions, ‘Holding the Poison’ sounds like a tribute to early Foo Fighters and would not have been out of place on The Colour and The Shape or There Is Nothing Left To Lose. It’s a delightful throwback romp and it absolutely would have made the Hottest 100 of 1999. ‘Chasing Birds’ offers up nostalgic vibes of a different kind. Total chillout music, Grohl and co serve up some unexpectedly spacious rock here. Sounding like Bowie meets The Flaming Lips, it has a welcoming sense of warmth, acting as a sonic blanket. It’s a fine enough song, but it feels out of place on a record full of so much frantic creative energy. Closer ‘Love Dies Young’ flips the switch back to peak good times, dealing up a feel-great radio rock classic in waiting. All shimmering guitars, pop-rock harmonies and cinematic production, it’s the Foo Fighters doing what the Foo Fighters do better than anyone else on the planet. Which is a pretty accurate description of the record as a whole.
Medicine at Midnight is a genuinely refreshing return to form for the Foo Fighters, one that challenges the conventions of their signature sound by broadening the scope of their stadium rock ambitions. By injecting new elements and influences, the Fooey’s have reinvigorated rather than reinvented their signature sound. The result is a record that succeeds in putting the thing that made them the biggest band of their generation, their rock songwriting nous, on full display. Medicine at Midnight is the antidote for the Foo Fighters late carer malaise, it is for want of a better term, just what the rock doctor ordered.
‘Medicine at Midnight’ is out now. Download or stream here.