The past two decades have proven that the Foo Fighters are the fun-loving, flag-waving ambassadors of mainstream arena rock. This decade hasn’t been as kind. There’s been a few radio hits, yet going back to the garage for 2011’s Wasted Light, recording at heralded studios across the country for the HBO series Sonic Highways and an impromptu session in Austin for 2015’s St. Cecilia EP, worked better as schtick than memorable records.
Following St. Cecilia, the band took a long-overdue break. Dave Grohl recuperated from his now-infamous leg injury, while guitarist Chris Shiflett, drummer Taylor Hawkins and bassist Nate Mendel released solo albums. Originally intended to be a year, Grohl witnessed the changes going on in the world and his own life, which inspired him to get back to work earlier than planned.
Spending time at an Airbnb in Ojai, Calif., Grohl quietly write a batch of new songs that are the band’s most adventurous. Producer Greg Kurstin, whose credits include Adele and Beck, nudged the Foos out of their songwriting sweatpants and back into skinny jeans.
Throughout their ninth album, the Foo Fighters juke and pivot between genres at a dizzying pace. Leaning heavily on stoner and psych rock and prog metal, with a splash of classic rock as well, this ambitious fusion of sound—as weird as it may seem—makes Concrete and Gold is a welcome deviation from the reliable radio songs. It also does Grohl’s bold proclamation of “Sgt. Pepper’s meets Motorhead” justice.
Beginning with the deliberate-to-dizzying smattering of album opener “T-Shirt,” Grohl lyrically questions almost everything around him. First single, the blistering “Run,” is as raw as anything the Foos have written. Don’t let its goofy, viral video fool you. The delicate, yet steadying lick quickly buzzes and is as ferocious as Grohl’s distorted vocals. As these various elements swirl, it’s easy to hear the singer’s desperation as he grapples with societal collapse.
Grohl’s pessimistic views reach a crescendo on “The Sky is a Neighborhood.” “Mind is a battlefield/All hope is gone/Trouble to the right and left/Whose side you’re on?” he sings with disgust, reflecting his views on the state of the country as the plodding music echoes that sentiment. The same goes for the ‘70s rock bombast of “Make It Right” and the relentless “La Dee Da.” Built upon a wall of fuzzy guitars, echoing vocals and subsequent howls, the song’s heaviness is the Foos at their most experimental.
Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake, The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and The Bird and The Bee’s Inara George all are hyped performers on Concrete and Gold. Except for McCartney’s drumming on the steady rocker “Sunday Rain,” none of have major roles. Of the ballyhooed guests, only Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman’s multi-layered, Pink Floyd-esque vocals that counterbalances the grinding grit of the title track is the only guest appearance adds an intriguing element.
For the first time in years, Foo Fighters are taking advantage of the cachet they’ve built as the world’s safest arena rock band. But replicating their energetic show hadn’t translated into an inspired studio effort since 2002’s One By One. Grohl and company could have continued to make mundane arena rock. That they’ve managed to hunker down and create a collection that proves that they aren’t ready crawl fade away just yet.