Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Album Review | Foo Fighters | Concrete and Gold (2017)

Foo Fighters consistently harbor an insane drive to better their craft. To say with each album, they aim to reinvent themselves as a band is futile. Rather, with each release, they need a change of pace. Not for fans, not for critics, but for themselves and their creativity. Foo Fighters comprises of six musicians who pour their individual influences and shared adoration of music into a melting pot that is constantly burning but is inevitably burdened with a flame that can flicker and nearly burn out. Unless they can find a way to shake things up to propel themselves out of their comfort zone.

All that said and done, what could Foo Fighters possibly do for their ninth record to broaden their creative minds even further?

In Dave Grohl’s words, “… to go into the studio and make a fucking album like a normal band.”

Although, it wasn’t that straightforward. During the Sonic Highways tour in 2015, Grohl took the ultimate stage dive and fell off the stage, resulting in a severely (albeit gnarly) broken leg. After the tour, the band stepped into an indefinite hiatus due to Grohl’s recovery, which lasted around six months before Grohl began writing material for Concrete and Gold.

The physical copies of Concrete and Gold are adorned with a sticker stating how Foo Fighters wanted to test the limits of speakers everywhere. The band aimed to sonically expand their already deafeningly colossal sound to create an album where “hard rock extremes and pop sensibilities collide”.

Produced by Greg Kurstin (Sia, Adele, Lily Allen) and host to a variety of musicians, Concrete and Gold allows Foo Fighters to stray from their usual sound to a collection of songs louder, bigger and heavier than the band has ever produced. Kurstin’s jazz musicianship and understanding of complex, melodic hooks enabled the band to harness their sound and amp it up to eleven.

Concrete and Gold begins with the soft, soothing vocals of Grohl before exploding into what can only be described as a colossal taster of things to come, immediately fading into the first single ‘Run’. Back in June, this track was the first inclination of the sonically expansive tone that the band were taking, surprising listeners with one of their heaviest riffs to date combined with a beautifully melodic opening and chorus; this is where Foo Fighters began to challenge their preconceived routine, flipping their usual quiet-loud-quiet composition style on its head and cutting loose.

‘Make It Right’ is a complete turn. Enhanced by a wickedly weird beat and guitar pattern, ‘Make It Right’ is vastly different to anything that the band has produced before. The descending melody which Grohl’s vocals follow creates one of Foo Fighters most infectious choruses to date. The excitement and intensity of ‘Make It Right’ is cut a little too short its follow-up track, ‘The Sky is a Neighborhood’.

The track is definitely one of the band’s most advantageous and sonically expansive, although the way it’s positioned between two of the heaviest tracks on the album messes with the continuity. If ‘The Sky is a Neighborhood’ and ‘La Dee Da’ were switched in the track-listing, it would have made for a smoother transition into the Bossa nova-esce ballad ‘Dirty Water’.  What ‘The Sky is a Neighborhood’ does bring to the table, however, is another irresistible chorus – a common theme with this record.

A face-melting, gut-punching endeavor that has long been missing in the band's canon, ‘La Dee Da’ is the heaviest track on Concrete and Gold. If one were to find a slower, lower and hardcore rendition of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Crunge’ and combine it with Motorhead and Girlschool’s ‘Please Don’t Touch’, you’d end up with ‘La Dee Da’. Engulfed in fuzz and a flanger pedal, the distortion runs deep throughout the track even so far as Nate Mendel’s captivating bassline. An abrupt end is met with someone – most probably Grohl – yelling ‘too much!’

An encapsulating, delicate intro then comes out of nowhere, smoothly moving into the highlight of Concrete and Gold, ‘Dirty Water’. Somewhat psychedelic, the track treads the line between acoustic and flat-out hard rock when it explodes into a euphonious guitar riff and equally heavy repetition of ‘Bleed dirty water / Breathe dirty sky’. ‘Dirty Water’ also captures beautifully haunting harmonies between Grohl and Inara George; one half of her and Kurstin’s band The Bird and the Bee.

Chris Shiflett comes to the fore in ‘Arrows’, embellishing the choruses with a gorgeous riff above the choruses and instrumental break in an otherwise bleak narrative of America’s political landscape; a fear of the future is blatant here in the narrative, which is transferred into the next track, ‘Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)’. Both tracks explore this bleakness in their own ways, ‘Happy Ever After’ doing so in a weirdly upbeat way – in comparison to the foreboding ‘Arrows’.

Taylor Hawkins takes the reigns on ‘Sunday Rain’, allowing Sir Paul McCartney to sit in the drummer’s seat and provide a distinctly Wings-esce groove. The flanger pedal makes a reappearance, producing such a unique vibe that only a 70s-obsessed Hawkins can provide on a Foo Fighters track. After a strange, piano ditty in the outro, the melancholic anthem ‘The Line’ sways into audio-sphere leaving a call to arms in the face of political adversity in a similar fashion to ‘Arrows’ and ‘Happy Ever After’.

The album ends with its title track; an epic, strung-out trippy progressive rock ballad embellished by multi-track vocals by Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman. Encompassing vibes of Pink Floyd in the verses and Genesis in the choruses, ‘Concrete and Gold’ is a mind-bending yet mellow composition that fully envelops the sonic soundscape that Foo Fighters aimed to create, whilst wearing their inspirations so evidently on their sleeves.

And that’s what Concrete and Gold is all about. Foo Fighters are known to be a band that is in love with music. They’re not in it for the fame or money, they adore creating, playing, and siphoning their influences into every corner of every song. Concrete and Gold doesn’t just test the limits of speakers everywhere; it oozes a collective love of rock and roll.

Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold is out now via RCA/Roswell


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