Wasting Light Foo Fighters (Sony Music)
One of the more striking lyrical phrases on this album refers to "the king of second chances." That pretty much sums up the career of Dave Grohl, who survived the demise of Nirvana (in which he played drums) to carve out an even larger presence for himself as boss of the turbulent Foo Fighters and midwife of supergroup projects, notably Them Crooked Vultures, a collaboration with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age.
Grohl and his current bandmates are chesting up to even more visibility with a new tell-all Foo Fighters documentary, Back and Forth, which by dint of cunning and good fortune, is coming to market at the very same time as this disc (the trailer is at intl.foofightersfilm.com). The film plays 23 Canadian theatres on April 13, a week after the band followed a one-night U.S. screening in 90 movie houses with a live broadcast run-through of the entire album.
Much as Grohl has tried to flee Nirvana's shadow, Wasting Light represents a kind of return to base. It was guided through the studio by Nirvana producer Butch Vig, and features an appearance by Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Grohl even went some way toward reproducing the shoestring circumstances of Nirvana's earliest recordings: The whole album was recorded in Grohl's garage, on analogue tape.
The results are more lean and direct, and also more innovative, than you might expect from a rock band in its 17th year. In a genre obsessed with its own rebirths, Wasting Light counts as a very solid attempt to rejuvenate the form without losing the mainstream ear.
The core of Bridge Burning, the opening song, is a tight minimal verse and satisfyingly cadential chorus, but these haven't just been switched around with a bridge thrown in to keep the alternation from going stale. The song begins with two little intros: a weird lo-fi rhythmic motto, followed by a thunderous build to Grohl's screamed salute: "These are my famous last words!" These non-repeating feints have already taken us somewhere before the verse even begins, and when it ends, Grohl and Co. delay the chorus with an anticipatory section that gives the choral arrival even more punch.
Rope drapes a striding, nearly accentless verse melody over a rhythm line that feels only tangentially related to it, almost as if we were in a King Crimson song. But when the chorus arrives, voices and instruments snap back into a straightforward relationship, and it registers on the ear like a return home.
The Foos keep us guessing throughout the disc. These Days opens in subdued roots-rock style, then blows up into a grungy chorus, while White Limo yanks the album toward thrash metal. A Matter of Time opens with a vigorous guitar squall, then drops abruptly into bulked-up pop mode, with a melody and lyrics that bring the Beatles to mind. Walk, the album's final song,has a dreamy, reverberant sound at the start, like something from a sensitive indie group, but leaps into a screaming chorus and builds relentlessly to the kind of colossal finish appropriate for a band that has to think about how things will play out in the stadium.
Lyrically, the album is mostly sullen and aggrandizing. One of these days, scores will be settled, you'll see I was right, and it will all come down around you. It's the epic theatre of the male self, and it's the natural idiom for this kind of rock 'n' roll. The Foo Fighters have just given it a new soundtrack, and I'm betting it will be a bestseller.