Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Grrr. How much do you hate that Dave Grohl? ‘Nicest Man in Rock’ my backside. Look at him. Bounding around the globe in his ‘Rock Star as Unshaven Tramp’ guise, demonstrating consummate good manners and indulging fools – witness his continuing enthusiasm for appearing on 1FM and the fawning likes of Moyles and Cotton - with endless good grace. And always the smile! That cave of the whitest, day-glo teeth on the planet, seemingly always on f***ing show. And no-one – bar Courtney Love, obviously - has a bad word to say about him! His band love him, his peers love him; word is he manages the difficult task of captaining one of the world’s biggest acts with something approaching humility and decency. And so this summer, in support of their seventh album, 17 years since they started, two sold-out-in-seconds nights at the freakin’ Milton Keynes Bowl give ample indication of the Foo Fighters’ continuing popularity.
Seven albums. 17 years. Whoa. Aside from a release-day purchase of debut single ‘This is a Call’ (12” luminous vinyl, no less) me and the Foos went very separate ways. I’m not entirely sure why but I recall someone played me their first album and it made me yawn for England. And from that moment on, I recall a few album titles, an array of festival headline performances on the telly and an instance or ten of Courtney slagging off the Maharishi of Good Manners. Oh, and a slew of singles: the one that sounds like REM; the one with the slow, moody intro; the one that starts with Dave growling “I got another confession to make” or some such. Foo Fighters were offering up a wholly serviceable brand of muscular, radio-friendly rawk but it all seemed just too chunky and resolutely beefed up to warrant investigation. So I didn’t bother. Mmm. So where does that leave us?
Okay. I’ll whisper it and run. Wasting Light is f***ing tremendous. It’s an absolute, blinding joy. Eleven songs and apart from an ill-advised shriek out (‘White Limo’) that scalds the paint from the walls but pales beside a broader demonstration of on-the-money song craft, quality levels never dip. Opener ‘Bridge Burning’ and first single ‘Rope’ set the tone with galloping intro, pounding verse and choruses destined for, built for, the stadiums of the world. The first five or six songs are tooled up with the sharpest hooks; you presume it’s all gonna just tail off in the home straight but it stays resolutely strong and dips for the line. Yeah, they got their chops but boy do they know how to use ‘em. The likes of ‘Arlandria’ and the glorious ‘Dear Rosemary’ go one step further and go BOGOF with searing bridge/pre-choruses that power you to the dizzying peak…and over we go! It’s rollercoaster stuff. (The latter sees Bob Mould pop up on backing vocals and despite being disappointingly low in the mix, we applaud his presence, as always.)
‘These Days’ and ‘Back and Forth’ continue in much the same vein but the approach keeps it gripping. It’s not heads-down bombast and bluster but something altogether sleeker – the Foos sound match fit and hungry. There is light and shade. This album, recorded in Dave’s garage, is beautifully produced; harmonies shimmer and the guitars are multi-tracked to perfection. (That’ll be that Butch Vig chap then, reunited with Grohl for the first time since you know what.) Someone will no doubt confirm for me whether this is par for the course Foos or one of their stronger efforts, but I suspect Grohl’s talking up of Wasting Light as something of a rebirth for his band has some substance. Another layer of heritage sees Krist Novoselic playing accordion on the mournful ‘I Should Have Known’. It’s an immensely affecting piece, Grohl peering into he darkest corners of his soul, hindsight the ultimate luxury when two of your close friends have unexpectedly taken their lives.
Let’s be clear. There is nothing vaguely radical or other-worldly about this rollicking, rocking record. It is, make no mistake, an extremely commercial offering despite its intensity and volume. Everywhere you turn, songs that glimmer, hooks dangerously barbed, assail you. One hesitates to come over all Jeremy Clarkson but my half dozen or so plays have all been in the car. Wasting Light is surely, ahem, Good Driving Music. As much as I would have staked my house and the people who live in it on this being just so much flabby, floundering punch-the-air product, it’s far smarter. I can’t imagine anyone springing a surprise like this again in 2011. I’ll be damned if I’m going back and exploring its half dozen predecessors, obviously, but here’s an album that ensures this miserable cynic sticks around for what comes next. No doubt about it. Dismiss this one and you’re a bigger fool than I am.