After years of bobbing in and out of the Queens of the Stone Age community, it would appear that Josh Homme’s idiosyncratic desert rock and collaborative nature has rubbed off on Dave Grohl for the better. Now on album nine with Foo Fighters, a group whose live shows have frequently surpassed their studio work, this latest offering Concrete and Gold is without much doubt among their strongest works to date. Drawing parallels with the likes of Songs for the Deaf and Like Clockwork… era QOTSA, while the overall rich tone stems from Grohl’s decision to get on board producer Greg Kurstin, whose previous credits include Sia, Adele and Beck, what you get in is a work of solid songwriting cranked up to monstrous levels.
Concrete and Gold is an album of genuinely high-quality music, which to the band’s only detriment does not necessarily function smoothly as a whole, or at least cannot sustain itself entirely for the duration. Starting soft on ‘T-Shirt’, a track that initially captures the humble public persona of Grohl nicely before exploding out of nowhere into a Bends-era Radiohead stadium anthem, the transition into the album’s lead single ‘Run’ is relatively seamless inasmuch as they come across as two versions of the same idea.
‘Run’ however pulls out one major surprise early on, when the band unleashes a scuzzy set of guitars matched by Grohl doing his best Nick Oliveri impression. High on life and trashing about in a gutter simultaneously, at times it can be clichéd, but that doesn’t detract from the sincere warmth and exhilarating aggression captured in the grooves. Holding onto the raucous rock ‘n’ roll style as they lead into ‘Make It Right’, with Justin Timberlake providing backing vocals, the dive-bar tone there is messy, but cheesy fun, which works because it is completely without pretensions.
Throwing a small dash of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and a turgid gospel chorus into the mix on ‘The Sky is a Neighbourhood’, this is the track that steals the show by merging the best parts of each previous song into one single entity. To some extent though, it marks the end of the stellar run that the album initially has. This is not to say that what succeeds it is flawed, but it certainly marks the moment when the sequencing loses its cohesion and the magic is lost, even as they attempt to recreate it over and over.
As the album progresses, what Concrete and Gold morphs into is a really good Paul McCartney and Wings album, which feels like a nice coincidence especially once you learn that McCartney plays drums on ‘Sunday Rain’. This song however seems like an error, whose only reason for being is to defy all logic, primarily because the Foo Fighters took a legendary bass player and had him pound the drums. At the same time getting drummer Taylor Hawkins out from behind his kit, after having given the strongest performance on the album just to sing on the only Beatles rip-off track feels perverse, more than intelligent. Ending up with an amusing misstep, which kills the mood like sticking ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ on a sexual intercourse mixtape, the damage is slight, but the buzz is kiiled and so, ‘The Line’ has a lot of ground to make up thereafter. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, the third single from the album in an effort to recapture the power of ‘The Sky is a Neighbourhood’ falters somewhat and only manages to come across as a formulaic Foo Fighters anthem.
Concrete and Gold is an energetic juggernaut, which sadly cannot pace itself. Still, once the steam runs out, it does not take anything away from the initial rush of adrenaline. You just end up with a fine record overall, which saves itself by putting on display at least a handful of songs that prove while standard rock groups are on the wane they are always capable of churning out a few belters. Foo Fighters might not be ground breaking, nor are they putting out music that is wildly different from what they have done before. To their credit though, they have managed to release an album with enough anthems that nobody would be disappointed if a lot of what is contained herein ended up on their live setlist.