Friday, February 5, 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Foo Fighters - Medicine at Midnight


Here we are, kicking off February with the long-awaited 10th studio album from alt-rock legends Foo Fighters and I've been looking forward to this one for a little while. Foo Fighters have been one of my favorite rock bands for a long while, ever since I saw them perform Everlong on David Letterman's Final Show. They've been dominating rock charts for their entire career and while they do get some flack for being sort of average or bland, when they drop a banger, it's a banger. For those who have never listened to or don't know Foo Fighters, they're a Seattle band fronted by the legendary Dave Grohl. Drummer for Nirvana and all-around badass human being. The band formed in 1994 after the passing of Kurt Cobian and Nirvana's dissolution. Dave went into a studio in Washington and recorded 15 of 40 songs he had written which led to Foo Fighters' self-titled album in 1995 where Grohl recorded every instrument and sang every vocal on the album. Since then the band has gone on win 12 Grammys and, as I said earlier, have been dominating rock charts with hits like Learn To Fly, My Hero, and Times Like These. 

Dave Grohl performing with Foo Fighters at Rock In Rio 2019. 

The band had a rocky past decade as far as output. They started it off in 2011 with the incredible album Wasting Light. The album was recorded entirely in Dave's garage and the subsequent documentary about the bands' career and the album recording, Back & Forth showed that they weren't in the studio beating themselves up over making something amazing, they were just hanging out at Dave's house making some songs. I still consider this to be their best album. Their best riffs, some of Dave's best writing, and it still gets better every time I listen to it again. The songs on here range from fast and speedy ragers like the opener Bridge Burning and White Limo, to more mid-tempo songs that are made to be played to 50,000 people at a festival like These Days and Arlandria to my personal favorite song on here Rope with its super punctual groove and fantastic drumming from Taylor Hawkins. In 2014 we got Sonic Highways, the soundtrack to a Foo Fighters HBO show of the same name which seemed like a cool concept. The band would record 8 different songs in 8 different cities with the city they were recording in inspiring the song. But when it finally came to fruition, it was a bit of a mess because it didn't feel like they were letting the cities inspire the episode. Rather someone in the band would start something cool and Dave would come in and pretty much say "Yeah that's cool but it doesn't sound like a Foo Fighters song." The album has its moments but other times it just falls flat on its face. Luckily, they had some redemption with Concrete and Gold released in 2017 and even though that album has some misses too, it was still a solid project to end the decade on. Songs like Run and La Dee Da still power me through workouts. 

Foo Fighters in a promotional image for the new album, Medicine at Midnight. (From L to R: Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Dave Grohl, Rami Jaffee, Nate Mendel, Chris Shifflet)

So that brings us to 2021 and though the album was complete in February of 2020, well, you know. The band decided to shelve the album until the band knew for sure what was going on with the COVID situation. The album was recorded in a Haunted Mansion in California and Grohl stated that after recording sessions, they would return the next day to find detuned instruments or settings on the mixing board changed. He even said that they found "unexplainable footage" on video but won't be able to release it since they signed an NDA with the homeowner. But I've been curious to hear this album after he described it as the band's "Saturday night party album," likening it to Let's Dance by David Bowie. And upon first listen, that's the only apt description that Dave gave us during the promo cycle. Usually, Dave likes to oversell albums before they're released but when it comes out, you find out he's only about 20% right but 100% marketing genius. He also said that this album was super weird and of course, saying it was unlike anything the Foo Fighters had ever done before, but, it is fun, and it does feel like a Saturday night at a concert so I guess he was right about that. 


The teaser tracks to this album were kind of a mixed bag style-wise. I'm still not 100% sure if I like the lead single Shame Shame or not. I do like the string-backed choruses and the big choir refrain but the track sort of becomes predictable after the first chorus, mainly because the same drum beat loops over and over for the entire song with no change at all. I don't know, it just doesn't feel like a Foo Fighters song to me so maybe Dave was right about some of this stuff being unlike anything they've done before. No Son Of Mine was a lot better as it didn't have to take to warm up on me, I loved it from first listen. The riff on this song and the energy are fantastic. I really wish there wasn't a choir in the background for this though. They feel out of place and honestly kind of funny. Then there was Waiting on a War which lyrically is amazing, it's a song about how his whole childhood, Dave was scared for the day war would break out, scared of the day the sky would fall, he recalled that in Fall 2019 while he was driving his daughter to school, she asked him "Is there going to be a war?" He wrote the song the same day and I love the lines in the chorus pretty much just asking, "Is there more to life than waiting for a war to happen?" I also love how the song is structured with Dave playing pretty much solo for the first half of the song before the band comes and starts building up to an epic finish around the 3:10 mark, the tempo also picks up and the song ends almost with punk energy behind it. So going into this album I had that "Saturday night party" theme in the back of my mind and I knew not to have my expectations sky high and as I sort of mentioned before, that description of the album is pretty spot on. 


The album is only 9 songs long and only clocks in at 36 minutes and, you know what, I won't beat around the bush, it's hit or miss. When it hits, it really hits, but when it misses, it just makes me sort of scratch my head and wonder what was going through Dave's head. I will say though, the production, once again handled by Greg Kurstin, is still great. Whatever sort of kinks there were in the Concrete and Gold production were worked out and this sounds like he's a little more comfortable in this position. I don't really blame him though as the only other rock music he'd really produced before this was for Foster the People and The Shins. There's also a lot of different influences that I'm picking up, I catch whiffs of ZZ Top, The Cure, even a little bit of Arctic Monkeys on the title track. It might just be me but I can picture Alex Turner singing this song, it feels like something that could've been on Humbug or AM

The album opens up with Making a Fire which I think sets the tone for the album well. There's a great drum groove and the chorus is pretty catchy. I also love the guitar textures on here and the licks on the pre-chorus are pretty sweet too. Lyrically, the song isn't anything to write home and the background singers once again feel out of place. Cloudspotter is one of my favorite non-single tracks on here with some really interesting production and great arrangement. The verses have Dave singing in a lower register and harmonizing with a female singer. There's also some cowbells and other percussion clanking around in the background. The chorus on this song rips and Dave's screaming on it fits perfectly. I also love the little guitar breakdown before the final chorus. This is one of the few songs I can't wait to hear live whenever shows return. 


The title track is probably the farthest the band strays from their roots on this album. I know I compared this song to Arctic Monkeys but while I was writing this review, I also realized how similar it sounds to Rain and the Radio by Randy Rogers Band, which I know is a super random comparison and I know that Dave Grohl probably doesn't know or care who Randy Rogers is enough to rip off one of his songs but it's the easiest comparison I can make of the two. That aside, I think the song is decent at best. The chorus is straight David Bowie. It's just so grand in presentation and Dave's voice is just soaring over this instrumental. This is one of the few instances where I think the background singers actually contribute positively to a song here as the harmonies in the background are beautiful. I also really love the guitar solo on this song, it almost feels like something from a Stevie Ray Vaughn song, just really bluesy. However, I really think Dave's hushed voice during the verses and pre-chorus doesn't really pan out that well. I also don't really like the effect on his voice in the chorus and second verse that almost makes it sound like he's at one end of a hallway and the microphone is at the other end, the image of that in my head just cracks me up, I'm sorry.


The last three songs on this album are pretty shaky in terms of quality. Holding Poison is the closest thing we get to something from Wasting Light on this album. I really love the guitar riff on the song and the chorus and pre-chorus on here absolutely slap. Somewhere around the 3-minute mark, the song takes a detour into this amazing bridge/breakdown section with a headbanging riff and the choir pulling my soul into orbit. The song goes back to the normal chorus one more time but the energy still remains super high and this song is going to be insane to hear live. But there's immediate whiplash with the next song Chasing Birds. It honestly feels like running into a window that you didn't know was a window. Just going and going then BOOM! You're on your ass and your head hurts. It goes from super heavy, headbanging rock riffs to a super slow, subdued ballad. And maybe if this song was placed somewhere else on the album, I would have more praise for it but it just gets super stale super fast. I just don't think the song has any redeeming qualities besides the one line in the chorus where Dave sings "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." And when the song finally does get interesting, it's over. The closing song Love Dies Young is a semi-strong finish but I can't help the fact that given less distortion, this could either be a song by The Killers or The Cure. The bassline on this song just screams The Head on the Door-era Cure and some of the wailing guitar lick that shows up after the chorus sounds like it could've been on The Killers Day & Age. The chorus on this song almost feels wasted with the majority of it being Dave just screaming "LOVE DIES YOOOOOOOUUUUUUUuuuuuuuung!!" Really thought-provoking stuff. 


So all in all, it's just a standard Foo Fighters album. It's good for one or two songs that will destroy arenas and stadiums and festival grounds but there's nothing really interesting or groundbreaking on here that makes this standout in their catalog. There's a review I read before this album dropped with the title being "MUSIC FOR BATHROOM BREAKS AT THEIR GIGS" and while I don't want to be that harsh in this review, I mean, are they really wrong? It's a solid album and I think there are a few great songs scattered throughout it but I don't think it'll be able to hold its own weight against Wasting Light or any of their 90s albums. 

I would rate:
Medicine at Midnight
By Foo Fighters

6/10

This album is available anywhere you consume music. I highly recommend visiting your local record store and picking up a CD or Indie-Exclusive Blue Colored Vinyl. If you can't get to one, you can buy one online HERE.

Streaming links for the album are listed below:


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