As the opening, muted guitar line screeches in my headphones, I realize “Holy shit, I’ve missed the Foo Fighters.”
It’s been a long four years since their last release, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. While the album solidified them as one of the biggest bands in the world, it didn’t stand up to the quality fans have come to expect. It seemed even the band might have been disappointed, as many of the members embarked on side projects as they did after 2002’s unsatisfactory One by One. However, the band that created The Colour and the Shape has returned and made their best album in over a decade.
Wasting Light, the band’s seventh album, begins with “Bridge Burning,” which is chalk full of the band’s trademark loud guitars and punishing drums. The three-guitar team of lead singer Dave Grohl, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear sound like they’re at constant war along with the always-thrashy drummer Taylor Hawkins. No clear victor (other than the listener) can be determined. The song recalls “All My Life,” and is probably their catchiest heavy-hitter since then. It’s magnificent and the perfect choice for an album, and concert, opener.
The album features enough likely singles to last the band until their next recording session. Current single “Rope,” which is probably my favorite by the band since 1999’s “Learn to Fly,” features Grohl singing exactly how fans have been craving for years; the shouts and shrieks that occupy his voice have been missed for far too long. Also notable is Hawkins’ drum fills in the bridge of the song, where he channels his inner John Bonham. We can’t forget Shiflett’s solo leading into the last chorus, proving he is still the lead guitarist; as he tremolo-picks at a velocity no mere mortal can dream of replicating.
One of the biggest highlights going into the album was the highly publicized guest-appearances. Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü and, perhaps more importantly, Krist Novoselic of Nirvana were announced as guests on the record, with Mould providing backing vocals on “Dear Rosemary” and Novoselic playing bass and accordion on “I Should Have Known.” Mould’s presence is more obvious, with his legendary voice often cutting through the mix above Grohl’s, easily making “Dear Rosemary” one of the best on the album (helped Nate Mendel’s effortless bass line/bid for best bassist in modern rock). On “I Should Have Known,” Novoselic’s appearance is felt as more of a choice of nostalgia, sounding straight out of Nevermind. As the title suggests, the track is one of reflection, and who better to join Grohl and producer Butch Vig in the studio than one of the few around during the days the song refers to. While the lyrics lend themselves more towards a past relationship, there are definite allusions to Kurt Cobain and the band that made Grohl a household name.
The album is full of highlight tracks including “Arlandria,” which shows how much Grohl learned from friend and Them Crooked Vultures bandmate Josh Homme. The “boogie” that defines that band’s sound is in full-force on the track. Also notable is “Back & Forth,” where Mendel’s bass drives the verses, before giving the wheel up to Grohl in the chorus; album-closer “Walk,” which begins like a ballad, with Shiflett picking a highly melodic riff over Grohl’s palm-muted strums and quiet croon, before launching into a full-on rocker.
Much was made of the band’s choice to record the album in Grohl’s garage-converted studio, as well as the choice to record everything on analog. This meant everything had to be perfect; there are no Pro-Tools with analog. The result is anything but perfect. Guitars mute when they shouldn’t and often have far too much feedback. The production, or lack thereof, sounds exactly like it was made in someone’s garage. All these things would work against any other band, but brought the best out of the Foos. The moments where the album isn’t perfect are some of the best on the album, giving credence to the band’s return to their raw roots while retaining all the rock lessons they learned since their beginning. Hopefully Foo Fighters don’t take another 14 years to make their next masterpiece.