Album Review: “Concrete and Gold” by Foo Fighters

The story behind the making of this album is actually pretty cool.  I won’t bother retelling the whole thing here, but you can watch this snazzy little animated six-minute video in which Dave Grohl tells the story (you’ll have to pardon his language, of course).

Honestly, even though I’m a huge Foo Fighters fan, I can admit that the band seemed a little like they were stagnating in recent years.  It’s almost as if they were in a creative rut, as their albums became more about the gimmicks than the music.  Now don’t get me wrong, I still think Wasting Light (2011) is a great album, but when it was released, most of the talk about it revolved around the fact that they used old-school analog equipment and recorded it in Dave’s garage.  Then came Sonic Highways (2014), which isn’t really a bad album per se, it’s just kind of… boring.  As you may know, it was recorded while the band made a documentary about the musical history of various American cities, with one track recorded in each city along with contributions from a local artist.  Definitely a cool idea, but the end result was a bit bland.  None of the songs really sounded like Nashville, or Austin, or New Orleans — they all just sounded like Foo Fighters.  And again, that’s not bad, it’s just not interesting either.

Initially, Dave wanted this album to be another big multimedia production, somehow intending to record it on stage at the Hollywood Bowl in front of 20,000 fans, while broadcasting the whole thing live on HBO.  However, he dropped that idea when British singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey did basically the same thing in early 2015.  So instead, the band ended up doing the exact opposite — going to a studio and just recording the album together like any normal band.  Revolutionary, huh?

Anyway, if you watched that little video I linked above, you already know about all the different guest musicians who contributed to the recording process.  But as cool as that is, the most interesting part to me is that you’d never know they were there otherwise.  Most of the time, when you have another artist on a track, they sing their own verse, or play a big guitar solo, or something really noticeable.  I mean, you can’t miss Elton John’s vocals on Brian Wilson’s “How Could We Still Be Dancin’?” or Brian May’s distinctive guitar sound on Meat Loaf’s “Bad For Good.”  However, with Concrete and Gold, it’s all much more subtle.  Without hearing about it in an interview or reading the notes on the album sleeve, the casual listener could never find the track where Justin Timberlake sang background vocals, or where Paul McCartney played the drums.  I dunno, there’s just something very refreshing and unassuming about that.  There’s no need for such contributions to be glaring or ostentatious, because at the point, the Foo Fighters have nothing to prove.

Now, onto the songs!  I have to say, this may be the most musically creative album the band has released since the varied styles and shifting textures of Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007).  Although it still sounds like a Foo Fighters record, the most notable new element is the addition of big, layered harmonies.  And as a lifelong fan of both Queen and the Beach Boys, I’m definitely a sucker for big, layered harmonies.  We first hear that huge chorus of ahhh’s on the short opening song, “T-Shirt,” which is followed by “Run,” the first single and the most traditionally Foo Fighters sounding track on the album.  “Make It Right” and “La Dee Da” perfectly walk that thin line between heavy and catchy, although slower acoustic songs such as “Dirty Water” and “Happy Ever After” do help to balance things out a bit.  Taylor Hawkins even gets a chance at lead vocals on “Sunday Rain,” which is also the track with McCartney on drums.  And as for those big harmonies I mentioned?  Well, the most notable examples of that are “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” a foot-stomping anthem sure to be a mainstay on rock radio, and the title track, “Concrete and Gold,” which sounds like some unholy union of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd… except with, ya know, a backing choir created by Shawn Stockman from Boyz II Men.

Bottom line?  This is the Foo Fighters’ best, heaviest, and most interesting album in a decade, and hopefully it also serves as the marker of a creative rebirth.  Now I just need to see them live…

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