If you were hoping for something new from the newest album by the Seattle-bred Foo Fighters, well, this isn’t quite your album. Concrete and Gold isn’t exactly bad, and it even has its better moments, but it brings nothing new to the table, nor does have any discernible thematic focus.
Before I come off sounding like too much of an anti-rock-and-roll curmudgeon, I feel obligated to point out that Foo Fighters were once among my favorite rock bands. The formative years of my music fanhood were spent with the 90’s rock legends like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana, so the transition to the post-grunge style of Dave Grohl’s band was an easy transition. I still count The Colour and the Shape, In Your Honor, and even Wasting Light as highly effective rock albums. I am by no means inherently opposed to the Foo Fighters. But Concrete and Gold, while it has some promising moments, comes off mostly as an uninspired recycle bin.
There are exceptions to this. “Make it Right” thrives on the unbridled energy that made the band’s first two albums so electric. “The Sky is a Neighborhood” contains some interesting ideas, even if they never manage to be coherent enough to get the whole idea off the ground. But there’s nothing terribly different here, much as I may like the overall sound of a bunch of 90s musicians getting together for a fun jamming session.
But this also brings out a noteworthy point – the Foo Fighters have never been a group that puts out 12 five-star songs. There are groups like that, and they usually only put out an album every five years. The Foo Fighters, instead, have a higher output, but with only two or three songs per album really resonating. When they do resonate, the result is pretty great. “Everlong” is one of the greatest non-ballad love songs in 90’s rock, “The Pretender” is an earnest, authentic, and energetic self-reflection, and “Learn to Fly” is a song of optimistic ambition that sets them apart from the angst-ridden fist-pumpers of many of their contemporaries. All of that is to say that when approaching the Foo Fighters, even if the album as a whole contains nothing terribly new (and let’s face it, Grohl and company are not terribly interested in new), it’s the high points on the album that garner the best opportunities for comparison.
So what are the high points on Concrete and Gold? Three songs jump out pretty quickly: “Make it Right,” “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” and “Dirty Water.” These are not thematically linked, but they show what is, in many ways, the greatest appeal of the Foo Fighters, even if in different ways. “Make it Right” is both the catchiest and most high-octane song on the album, but also displays the worst tendencies of the band to give into generic rock tropes, such as an aimless nihilism (“Hop on the train to nowhere baby”) and explosive angst for no apparent reason (“I don’t f***ing need, I don’t need a martyr”). “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” in contrast, is a song about optimism and ambition, even in the midst of moral complexity (“Trouble to the right and left/Whose side you’re on?”). These two songs, both musically compelling to some degree, show the two sides of the Foo Fighters. The album is optimistic, or at least self-reflective, more often than it is angry and nihilistic. “Dirty Water” is a pretty good example of this, offering self-reflection in the context of contaminated water, with perhaps an aim at political satire thrown in for good measure.
These three songs make some enjoyable new playlist material for the post-grunge band. But unfortunately, there’s not much else here to lift the album above average. It’s not bad, exactly, but so it feels disjointed and scattered, with no thread of ideas to tie it together. Even individual songs rarely have a true theme, which ultimately makes the vocals themselves feel like a generic Christmas true ornament – it’s there to increase aesthetic appeal, but doesn’t really contribute any meaning. In all, the album is more of the same material from some pretty good rockers, and I can’t ignore the fact that the material has been handled better on previous records. To be fair, it isn’t dull, and it is reliable, and maybe that’s all their fans want. But I don’t see myself returning to it very often.