The Thin Air

Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold


The Internet loves a good pop culture theory right? Tarantino films all share the same universe. Ed, Edd n Eddy is actually a metaphor for hell. People actually enjoy listening to Father John Misty. The list goes on. I’d like to put forth my own one which I think holds some water:

        The quality of a Foo Fighters’ album is inversely proportional to the number of members of the Foo Fighters.

Let’s look at the evidence shall we? We can all agree that the first album is probably the best thing that the group has put out. It’s Dave Grohl on every instrument on every song. Needing a band to tour with, he recruits three other dudes. During the recording one of them leaves, leaving three members. The Colour And The Shape is a classic and clear choice for second best. A member leaves and another arrives. There Is Nothing Left To Lose has got stellar singles and a couple of  great deep cuts. A fourth person comes to the party and they release One By One, In Your Honour and Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace. All perfectly serviceable with a few top tier singles but still a marked step down from their work as a three piece and an even further step down from the solo era. Then another member is added and they release their weakest efforts: Wasting Light and Sonic Highways. Now, three years after their last outing, they’ve added yet another member, bringing the total to six and delivering to us Concrete and Gold. It’s important to keep the membership numbers in mind because it is a fairly clear indication as to why the Foos haven’t made a decent record in a decade: opulence and complacency.

There are three guitarists in this group. Three. The worst thing here is that this triple six string attack isn’t utilised. There’s little discernible difference between what they wrote with two guys and what they’re writing with three, so why is the third one here? Buy a fucking sequencer, they’re not that expensive and they’ll save you a bundle on royalties. Rather than trying to use what they have and make something interesting, they’ve just kept piling more people on. Plus, they’ve officially folded long-time touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee into the mix and he brings nothing that wasn’t there before either. Listening to Concrete and Gold, it’s very easy to get completely lost within the layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of music. Not in a good, psychedelic dropout way either, it’s in an uncomfortable, overcrowded kind of way. They’ve tried to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but they forgot to throw in any decent hooks, riffs or songs.

All this speaks to an intense level of complacency within the group. They’re one of the very few rock bands today who’ve managed to be internationally successful in the charts while also retaining a shred of credibility. Sure, much of said respect is begrudging and fuelled by hits written decades ago, but it’s still present. They’re a group who can headline Reading and Glastonbury and still have people excited. But reaching that level of success and acknowledgment brings with it a level of self-satisfaction and laziness. Some – Kendrick Lamar, say – will fight ’til their last breath to keep walking that fine line between recognition and respect by sheer virtue of quality and graft. Most though will bask in the glory and assign themselves needless challenges to try and keep things interesting and worthy of note:

    “Why don’t we record the entire record on analog tape?”

    “Why don’t we travel around America, exploring its rich and varied cultural history, write songs inspired by this history and record them with the relevant artists in their city’s most famous studio?”

These aren’t bad concepts, but the issue is that they’re poorly executed. In the two examples above the chief issue is Butch Vig. Butch Vig does not do analogue and he does not do raw, human sounds. His career is defined by crisp, immaculate recordings that have been scrubbed to the point of sterilisation. His recordings sound exactly the same, no matter what the studio. So why bring him in to capture the rich tapestry of American music? Because he’s Dave’s friend and he likes working with him. They copped out on their own concept. Indolence masquerading as innovation. On Concrete and Gold, they’ve decided to try and write a proper classic rock album with progressive bells and whistles. Which makes sense as they’ve basically become the kind of bloated dinosaur rock that punk, grunge and alternative rock vowed to topple. Circular revolutions, eh?

So, does this new album fit… Yes. This is the weakest record the group have made, plain and simple. It’s unwieldy, ill-disciplined and severely lacking in hits. This is a band whose bread and butter are ‘Love In An Elevator’ style earworms and yet at no point in the 45 minute runtime does anything land. It’s so focused on giving everyone something to do, they’ve forgotten to actually write something worthwhile. There are moments but they’re fleeting and far removed. There’s no bite here. It’s just overdriven guitars and howled vocals dolling up placid off cuts from Wasting Light. There are only two things that stand out here: the words and the guests.

Grohl was never going to be a poet laureate. His word salads were sweet nothings that you ascribe an emotion to with the help of his vocals. They should be kept abstract and nonspecific at all times. Otherwise, you’ll see how dick-in-the-toaster-level terrible they are. Dave shouldn’t be touching politics, but lord knows on ‘Sky Is A Neighborhood’,  ‘Dirty Water’ and ‘La Dee Da’ he’s going to give it his level best. He really shouldn’t have. It’s not they’re bad, it’s that delivered with this smug sense of authority and aggression, as though we’re being schooled by Chomsky. But we’re not. By God, we’re not.

The other real pain point here are the guests. Again, they’re not bad, and in fact some are even welcome. But the issue is that they seem to be the only thing the six members of the band actually gave a shit about.  In interviews, the band talks about how proud they are to have Justin Timberlake do backing vocals on one of the songs. It’s as though they feel as if they’ve bridged a East Coast-West Coast rivalry between pop and rock. Or worse, as though they’ve written an unambiguous classic like ‘Walk This Way’. In reality, JT’s appearance is a pleasant curiosity. Nothing more. The same can be said of Paul McCartney, who hops on the sticks for ‘Sunday Rain’. It doesn’t really add much, it just happens to be Paul McCartney.

All that Concrete and Gold amounts to is the bloated warblings of a band who’ve stopped trying. There are slivers of something special lurking, like on the titular song which manages to fuse Sabbath heaviness with Pink Floyd’s ‘Eclipse’. But like at every other point, it amounts to nothing. This is a voided record. One that takes your time and gives you nothing in return. Concrete and Gold. Complacency and Opulence. Will Murphy