Over the past 16 years, they’ve given us countless hit radio singles—“Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero,” and “Learn To Fly” ranking among the best. Unfortunately, they still haven’t been able to shed their reputation as a band that is always good, but never great.
That notion should change with Wasting Light, their eighth studio album and easily their best. This is the loudest, sharpest, most vital album the Foos have ever recorded. The ceremonies begin with “Bridge Burning,” a blistering mix of hard rock and punk that illustrates the influence bands like Husker Du have had on Grohl’s music.
Their first single “Rope” shares the accessibility of previous Foos singles, but has a rawness that has been sorely missed from the band’s sound. On past angry numbers like “Best of You,” and “The Pretender,” Grohl’s screaming vocals, while genuine, always seemed a bit reigned in. Here, he truly lets it all out.
The aggressive tone continues throughout the album. “White Limo” sounds like a slightly less frenzied version of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings,” while “Arlandria” harkens back to the radio-friendly rage of 1997’s The Color And The Shape.
On the latter track, Grohl rallies against his fame and rock star notoriety. This can easily be seen as a theme of the entire album. Dave Grohl, mainstream rocker has been replaced by Dave Grohl, angry, rebellious punk rocker.
Grohl’s experience playing with John Paul Jones and Josh Homme in the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures (who made one of 2009’s best albums) seems to have inspired him a big way. After years of aiming squarely for mainstream radio audiences, Grohl isn’t rocking out for anyone other than himself and his band on this album. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
The return of original guitarist Pat Smear is also a large reason for the increased energy of this record. Smear, who has previously played with the Germs, brings the punk attitude and rebelliousnss that was missing from albums like 2002’s One by One and 2007’s Echoes, Silence Patience, and Grace. The music features an edge that hasn’t been around since the Foos’ mid-1990s beginnings.
Of course, if the album was all anger and blistering guitars, things would get a bit boring. That’s why numbers like the mellower, power-pop based “These Days,” and the heavy-hitting power ballad “I Should Have Known” are so refreshing. They offer listeners a brief respite from all the incendiary rage, and remind us that Grohl is equally capable of engaging his sensitive side.
With this album, the perception that the Foo Fighters can’t make a truly great album should end once and for all. This is the best mainstream rock record of 2011 so far, and shows that the Foos are just as capable at being an album band as that they are at being a singles band. It’s a welcome addition to their legacy.