Hot on the heels of insightful and heartfelt Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth, Wasting Light is arguably one of the most hotly anticipated mainstream rock albums so far this year—next to the Strokes’ Angles. Thanks to participation from fellow ex-Nirvana member Krist Novoselic, Nevermind’s producer Butch Vig and once again full-fledged Foo Pat Smear, some are calling this a “return to form,” “back to basics record” or “the best Foo album since The Colour and the Shape.” Does it live up to the extensive hype? Yes and no.
In usual latter-day Foo Fighters fashion, the album is front-loaded with hard-hitting, immediately infectious hooks and fist-pumping choruses courtesy of the one-two punch of fantastic opener “Bridges Burning” and brilliant first single “Rope.” This single is the encapsulation of everything a fan of Foo Fighters could hope for at this stage of their career—skull buzzing guitar riffs that sink into your body like meat hooks (intricately executed thanks to their new three guitar attack), interesting time signature changes, and a soaring chorus that blends Dave Grohl’s and drummer Taylor Hawkins’ vocals beautifully. The way it feels refreshing yet somehow familiar easily make it a candidate for single of the year.
Things slow down in tempo (but only a fraction) for the emotional “Dear Rosemary,” a song given extra impact thanks to a guest spot from underground legend Bob Mould. His vocals and guitar add extra texture and feeling; the only unfortunate thing is the vocals don’t become discernable until about 2/3 through the track. That aside, it finds Grohl in an even more desperate emotional state than “Rope” and shows his more vulnerable side. Almost as a knee-jerk reaction to this level of emoting, Grohl fires on all cylinders and spits acid in the heaviest Foo Fighters track to date, “White Limo.” While some point to “Watershed” as its next of kin, it most closely resembles Queens of the Stone Age track “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire,” and Grohl should send a thank you note to Nick Oliveri for the vocal inspiration.
With that show of punk/metal grit out of his system, Grohl returns to lamenting a failed relationship. Everyone can sigh a big sigh of relief though, because Foo Fighters manage to show a tender side on this album, yet still maintain a solidly rocking tune. There wasn’t a need to bust out the acoustic guitar, pipe in female backing vocals or even sound like he’s on the verge of tears. The ability to channel emotions into whatever vehicle he chooses instead of going for the tropes of “sad songs” shows a matured songwriter in Grohl.
At this point the listener is probably thinking, “Wow, the hype is true, this is fantastic!” Much to this writer’s chagrin, this is where things start to float by on cruise control, watching Grohl and company retread all-too-familiar territory. “These Days” is pleasant enough, but fails to leave any sort of lasting impression. “Back and Forth” is the weakest track of the bunch, sporting some annoying vocals and sophomoric at best lyrics. It seems to serve little purpose other than to give their documentary a title, because it certainly does nothing but drag this album down, almost to the depths of latter-day Weezer. “A Matter Of Time” is another Foo Fighters-by-numbers track that isn’t bad per se, but it just reeks of “been there, done that” in its execution.
Just when the finger hovers over the stop button, ready to abandon all hope, the boys redeem themselves. “Miss The Misery” comes to the rescue with a memorable guitar riff and some of the catchiest vocals on the album, matched with evocative lyrics full of longing and conflicting feelings (also the source of the album title). Now that they’ve hooked you again, the emotional tone gets darker and the tempo slows to what is the closest thing to a ballad on this record with “I Should Have Known,” addressing his sadness and guilt over the passing of loved ones. Most immediately it’s about a friend of Grohl’s who died in 2008 of drug overdose, but also works beautifully as a tribute to his friend and former bandmate Kurt Cobain. For the Foos, it’s nearly a tearjerker and a completely sincere outpouring of feelings, especially since it is Novoselic’s bass thumping through the track. It has heft, but isn’t heavy-handed in the least. As the bright epilogue to a dark tale, “Walk” closes the album in full-on life affirming vibrancy. This would be the perfect way to end this album if it didn’t feel too perfect. Where the previous track conveyed its emotional core without being ham-fisted, this song seems ready-made for special episodes of House or Law & Order: SVU. One can practically see the scenes of the recovering patient/victim overcoming obstacles with a smile on their face as this song trumpets their recovery. Which means the cheese factor is too high to be able to take it as the logical conclusion of the record. Foo Fighters get points for trying, but as already stated about earlier songs, it feels too safe and rote when compared to some of the highlights on Wasting Light.
So, is this the best Foo Fighters album since “The Colour and The Shape?” No, it doesn’t compare to the effortlessly melodic and loving album “There’s Nothing Left To Lose.” But it is certainly the strongest effort since the first three. The band needs to figure out their strengths and use them more wisely—analyze a song like “Rope” and or their earlier albums and discover what makes them stand out and decide to go easy on the stadium-ready fodder. Hopefully they’ll remember that it wasn’t just that “Monkey Wrench” was a good single, it was the juxtaposition of having it follow “Doll,” or the way “Enough Space’s” raw energy fades away to become the serene beauty of “February Stars.” It’s that sense of quirkiness s and of ebb and flow that made those early albums so memorable. If Grohl can manage to marry some of the raw energy and fantastic songwriting on Wasting Light with the dynamics of his early material Foo Fighters will have a formula that will truly stand the test of time, no matter the level of back and forth with their audience.
Written by Jarad Matula