Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wasting Light

Dear Rosemary - Foo Fighters (mp3)

On April 8, the Foo Fighters released the best rock album of the year.

It’s also the best rock album of the last three years.

It’s also quite possibly the best rock album of the 21st Century.

Wasting Light was the long-awaited and heavily-hyped reunion of Nevermind producer Butch Vig and Dave Grohl. Grohl intimated in several interviews that he avoided working with Vig because he didn’t want to appear too eager to feast on the carcass of the band they both loved and an album that kicked their careers into the stratosphere.

They recorded Wasting Light in Grohl’s garage. Like, a garage on a house where he really lives with his wife and his kids. And Grohl doesn’t live in some Trump-esque megamansion. It’s just a really nice house with a nice garage. And a lot of expensive equipment above in a “monitoring room.”

The album was crafted in a sweet spot in Grohl’s life, I think. He was finally willing to accept that he and Foo are beyond having to prove they’re not Nirvana or riding on his former band’s coattails. And as any real fan of either band would (I’d like to think) quickly acknowledge, Foo’s sound and Nirvana’s don’t have a damn thing to do with one another beyond that both use, like, electric guitars ‘n’ stuff. Wings stole more from the Beatles than Foo did from Nirvana.

At the same time he was finally releasing the ghost of Kurt Cobain, he was getting comfortable with family life and being a father. And part of being comfortable with domesticity is having the unbridled desperation to do stuff that makes you more than just a dad and a husband. In Grohl’s case, he’s gotta get his groove on.

None of the songs from Wasting Light seem to be inspired by domesticated life -- Dave Grohl ain’t Lori McKenna. It’s mostly just songs about heartbreaks, screwed-up relationships, and angry people. The album knows what it wants to be when it grows up: a punching upbeat rock assault with the heart of a pop classic.

Foo songs have never yearned to explore the depths of the ocean. They’re fairly happy to stay up near the surface in the daylight zone. Once in a while, they’ll drift down into the twilight zone, but Foo will never be a band in the midnight zone of lyrical depth. They’re not Radiohead.

You want deep, musical aggression and anger? Oh yeah, they'll go to the ocean floor. But they lyrics rarely go down there with them.

I first paid real attention to the Foo Fighters when their song “My Hero” showed up in the movie Varsity Blues, so it’s not like I’ve been blindly loyal to or crazy about them from the get-go. I wouldn’t even say I became a full-fledged fan until their 2005 double-album In Your Honor.

Grohl has never come across as a tortured artist (see: YouTube clip above). Maybe that’s why some people hate him. He’s that guy who was somehow both the president of his fraternity but also ridonkulously talented as a musician. His personality has always reminded me of the Beastie Boys, guys who are in on the joke of their success and who realize that superstardom is a little too goofy and easily attained, yet you know that when those two bands are behind closed doors and working on their music, they’re serious and intense. Making music is important and heavy and serious shit.

You know this because he pulls in none other than Bob Mould -- The Master of Serious, the King of Heavy -- for a guest appearance (“Dear Rosemary”), and it’s a beautiful thing.

What makes Wasting Light an album of transcendent greatness is that it holds its strength from start to finish. If you like the first song, you’ll like all of them. You’d think the history of recorded music would be full of albums that stay strong from start to finish, but it’s just not true, especially of albums with pop sensibilities. Sometimes the pop misses the mark. Or sometimes the gear-shift doesn’t quite work.

Everything works here. Beginning to end.

They conclude the album with “Walk,” my favorite ever Foo song, the kind of song that, if the band quit tomorrow, would be one helluva last song on a last album.

I thought this might be the best album of 2011 about a week after I got it, but almost three months later, it just gets better, and bigger, and more impressive. It’s one for the ages.


Daisy said...

I was sure when I saw the title of this post that it was going to be about the frequency and longevity of power outages in your fair city.

BeckEye said...

Hmm. I'm not sure I can believe that Foo Fighters put out the best album of the 21st century, but since I know that you have good taste in music, I'll give it a whirl. Plus, I like Dave Grohl. He seems like a fun guy.

Billy said...

@Daisy - I usually want to write about that when the power's out.

@BeckEye - Give "Dear Rosemary" a good listen. I rate that right about average for this album. There are at least four songs I think are significantly better and four I put on the same level. If you don't much like this one, you prolly won't be blown away by the album.

And yeah, Grohl really does seem like he'd be a blast.

BeckEye said...

I gave the album a listen over the weekend. I actually like "Rope" the best and the album has some good spots but I wouldn't call it one of the best of the year. (And I'm putting my "so far" list together soon). But that's kind of the way I've always felt about Foo Fighters...I like them, but don't love them.