Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wasting Light - Foo Fighters - 2011

I cannot pretend to be one of the Foo faithful.  Or even a part-time fan. Almost exactly 16 years ago I made a deal with a college neighbor. I had a car, he had tickets to a show. I had never heard of Mike Watt, he promised I would dig it and offered me a ticket for the ride. Once we arrived at Bogart's in Cincinnati it was bedlam.  Apparently Eddie Vedder was in on this tour and opening with his ultra-secret Hovercraft project. That, and Nirvana's drummer was there with his band, too. Desperate fans outside were offering many times the face value of the tickets (which I seem to remember being under ten bucks) and, sensing this was something bigger than we expected, we opted to go to the show. I remember the Foo Fighters.  I remember they had a t-shirt for sale but no record. Apparently it wasn't out yet. I cannot honestly claim that I was overly awed (in fact, I know I spent a lot more time after the show seeking out Hovercraft's Zero Zero Zero One 7"/VHS combo hoping to replicate the Floydian sound and vision effect of their set). Watt's set, with Vedder and Pat Smear on guitars and Dave Grohl on drums was much more memorable. I became a Mike Watt devotee and pretty quickly forgot the Foo Fighters.

I have happily noted the Foo Fighters as their singles have come across over the years.  It has always been solid rock and roll. Still, I never took the plunge and bought a record. Then, last Friday, watching one of VH1's addictive "100 Best" shows (was it Hard Rock Songs?), I stayed on the channel and was caught unaware by the premiere of the Foo Fighters documentary, Back and Forth. Add to that a quick trip online a little later to check out a new video with Lemmy ("White Limo") and I got hooked.

I didn't wait under the fluorescent lights at midnight, I didn't stream the free tracks online, but I did walk into a shop this morning and buy a brand-spanking new copy of Wasting Light (complete with a small piece of the master tape, it claims - hope they kept a copy). And I've been playing it all day.

This is about as straightforward, non-retro rock and roll as you can get.  It doesn't try to be tongue in cheek. It doesn't try to be ironic. It doesn't show off. It plugs in and plays.  How does this even get categorized as "alternative rock" any more?  Alternative to what other rock?  Looking at the charts and top downloads, I thank God that Rock and Roll in general is still an alternative to everything else.

Wasting Light is a hook monster yet doesn't come across as contrived. "Bridge Burning" comes out in a fury, stepping into metal territory with its fast-as-hell riffs and sprinkling of screamed verses. The melody kicks in and the chorus soars, announcing that this is going to be loud. "Rope" follows second and stands as the first great track on the album. It snowballs, building momentum throughout and goes freaking wild at the three-minute mark before returning to the chorus and letting you catch your breath as the band eases up on the accelerator. It may be an odd comparison, but "Dear Rosemary" (featuring Bob Mould) comes across as harmonious, catchy and brooding as the very best work of the Smithereens.

"White Limo" is flat-out punk.  Closing your eyes and imagining Smear in his Germs heyday thrashing about is not too difficult. This recalls for me some of the material from Nevermind that never made MTV ("Territorial Pissings," in particular). "Arlandria"'s strum-strum-strum and simple drums give way to fist-pumping as the bass and vocals ratchet up the intensity and you'll be singing along even if you're not sure if Arlandria is a girl or Grohl's hometown. "These Days" is one of the pair of more laid back melodic numbers featured on the album (the other,"A Matter of Time," coming two tracks later though its chorus does come through with some earnest rock urgency). They may not rock as hard but, to put it bluntly, they don't suck. This is just that good. "Back & Forth" separates the two aforementioned tracks and, if there is a prototypical Foo Fighters sound, this is it. It's a good track but, more than any other, reminiscent of the other work of theirs I've heard on the radio.

"Miss the Misery" is the first stumble and comes across as a less-than-focused mess trying for anthem status. It is unfortunate that it is followed, then, by what I consider the album's low point, despite its significance as reunion of Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl with Butch Vig. "I Should Have Known" is supposedly the Nirvana/Cobain-themed number and, regardless of its inspiration, meanders a bit too long through the angst for me and recalls the heavy-handed, almost forcedly unhappy side of the grunge era. It undoubtedly exorcises some demons (I hope) but, in the end, it's a depressing interlude when I had already roledl the windows down and turned the volume up.  "Walk" closes the album out strong with that great Pixies dynamic (which, at this point, really belongs to Grohl and Company) of gentle opening lines crescendoing to blazing guitars and a solid beat behind earnest harmonies finally leading to a head-nodding, air-drumming, shout-along chorus.

All in all, this is really good stuff bordering on great. Seven albums in, Wasting Light finally reintroduced me to the Foo Fighters. I almost feel lucky not having really known them well all along as now I have six more records, all new to me, to discover this summer.

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