Album review: Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight
Foo Fighters had an idea for the release of their new album. To celebrate the band’s quarter-century, Dave Grohl hit upon a wheeze: the subsequent U.S. tour would follow the route of their very first jaunt around America in an old Dodge van. Indeed, so sentimental a side does Dave have, he actually bought back the same van in more recent years. It’s a rather cool bit of Foo history, although presumably they can’t work out how to get it into a Hard Rock Café. When you hear the story, you can feel the romance in the memory: the lads, piling around in a van, having it. Yeah, do that.
As has become the normal order of things, this hasn’t been able to happen. Like Weezer, who pushed the release of Van Weezer back to a point at which gigs can happen and a stadium rock album is actually appropriate, instead releasing the more homey OK Human (itself pushed back for originally being inappropriate for the stadiums they would be playing with Green Day), Foos have had their grand design for Medicine At Midnight forcibly changed. Boo and hiss. For Dave, who says that the place where his band make the most sense and their largest point, is onstage. Any stage. But in a time of no stages, needs must.
In some ways, though, being introduced to Medicine At Midnight at home, rather than in a football stadium, isn’t such a drag when it comes to getting acquainted with the material. For all the talk of old tours, being onstage, and Foos essentially being a “garage band” who just happen to play massive shows, these aren’t the most immediate songs Foo Fighters have ever written. The excitable energy of Monkey Wrench or All My Life doesn’t really make much of an appearance, nor do any real trace of the band’s love of really heavy music that so often straps a rocket to their songs live.
But this is no problem at all because, like Weezer with OK Human, this does indeed have a sense of nostalgia to it, but it’s more in line with the great American radio-rock of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and the works of people like Peter Frampton and The Eagles, than you might have been expecting. On opener Making A Fire, there’s a groove like Aerosmith, while Shame Shame has a loose, jammed feel, built around a finger-clicking beat that swells into a slowly rising chorus. The title-track almost sounds like something that could have been on David Bowie’s The Next Day comeback, understated, but sharp as a razor, while Chasing Birds is entirely laid-back, strummy cool. The power of Waiting On A War, meanwhile, comes from its strings, rather than volume, even at the end, when they deliver the most striking part of its final crescendo.
On No Son Of Mine and Holding Poison, the tempo does pick up, and Dave does some shouting on Cloudspotter, but things never topple into anything that’ll give you beer hair. But what this album is, it isn’t really about those moments. Instead, it’s an exhibition of just what a simply, fundamentally good band Foo Fighters are, and how skilled with a tune and a melody Dave Grohl is. You couldn’t call it stripped back as such, but its less hectic nature throws things into slightly sharper focus.
The plan may have been iced, and nobody actually knows when anything will kick off again, but that takes nothing away from things here. Rather than ruing the fact that we won’t get to hear these songs live for a long time yet, we’re instead gifted the opportunity to live with them and feel some of their joy right now . And, as Dave Grohl himself agrees, that’s something worth putting out there.
Medicine At Midnight is released on February 5 via Roswell Records/Columbia Records.
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