This review is going to start out with a confession: Foo Fighters are an absolutely amazing live band. The energy that rolls off the stage is palpable, and knowing that these guy (and women, when they have the back-up artists with them!) are giving it all they have for nearly three hours, four or five nights a week, it's astounding. But I've never been as big on the recorded work. It's all the same songs they play live, but it's just never caught me quite the same. To be clear, there's no problems at all with the music. This is just a personal taste issue.
"Medicine at Midnight" is the latest effort from the Seattle-based rockers, hitting stores and streams on Friday, and this album is the opposite of what I just confessed to feeling.
Founder and front man Dave Grohl said this album would be like nothing they've released before, and I take him at his word. "Medicine at Midnight" is a journey through the last half-century of rock music. It has a feel of homage, of the band tipping their collective hat to all the music that shaped them.
"Love Dies Young" is a track that should easily conquer radio charts if released as a single. With a up-tempo style that's ready-made for road trips and a galloping riff, the song is pulled straight of early-80s rock with a little Foo-flavored grunginess to spice it up. There's a bridge that sounds like it could have easily come from Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades's early-90s collaborations, as well.
Another track that follows in those same footsteps is "Holding Poison." This number could have easily come off a KISS album of the late-70s, maybe somewhere between "Rock and Roll Over" and "Love Gun." Grohl's vocals even blend the melodic style of Paul Stanley and the demon-growls of Gene Simmons to make a perfect fusion.
Bringing the tempo down a bit, "Chasing Birds" has a flighty (no pun intended), drifting sound. The lyrics carry a weight that's barely noticed as they drift by, they when you tune in, it's a deep song. This song has that casual-poignant feel that you find in so many tracks from Pink Floyd.
"Cloudspotter" opens with a very mid-80s pop sound, but it builds into a heavier groove, invoking the names of Skid Row and Guns N Roses from the heydays of the harder side of "hair" rock.
With "Making a Fire," the Foos dip their toes into the waters of late 70s groove-based rock. The chorus is going to be a great for live shows, and the bridge is just pure audience participation gold. Keeping up with the theme of this review, I would probably say this song sounds like the band took a Montrose number, dipped it in a well of groove and let it come drip-drying to the listeners ears.
Probably the most obvious nod to other works is the title track, "Medicine at Midnight." This song is pure David Bowie, from the melody to Grohl sounding like he's channeling the Thin White Duke himself. (Based on stories Grohl had told about the house they recorded the album in, this may be closer to the truth than anyone will know!) Not to be held to any one description, however, the bridge of the song gives listeners a feeling that Prince's New Power Generation may have joined the party.
This album is just so well assembled, words can't do it justice. Taylor Hawkins's drumming has a sound that's simple without coming close to being simplistic. Rami Jaffee's keyboards were worked out to great effect throughout these tracks. The three guitars of Grohl, Pat Smear, and Chris Shiflett all sing the same songs in melodies varied just enough to make their own harmony, while Nate Mendel's bass pulls everything together and keeps the party pushing forward. On top of that core, the band adds backing vocalists, strings here and there, and other sounds that seem to come out of nowhere.
Don't confuse the references to other acts as me saying the songs are derivative. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grohl and all the Foo Fighters have enough talent for any ten bands, and if these songs sounds like someone else, I can't see that as being anything other than intentional.
Bundled all of these pieces together, wrap it up in a neat, tidy, 9-song, under-40-minute package, and this album may prove to be, as Grohl said, something Foo fans haven't heard before. I can't imagine anyone who listens to this album can't find at least one song that they can embrace.