Whisper to a Riot: Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (Review)

There were people that really resented me for starting this band. “How dare you start another band?” They asked me “Why did you decide to carry on and make music that sounds like Nirvana?” and I said “Well, wait a minute – like, loud rock guitars, and melodies, and cymbals crashing and big-ass drums? [pauses for effect] ‘Cause that’s what I do. (What do you want me to do?) Make a reggae record?”

– Dave Grohl, Back and Forth (a Foo Fighters documentary)

Mainly two things compelled me to buy Wasting Light: (1) the hype from the various music-related websites I frequent and (2) the album cover – for reasons I cannot seem to articulate. After listening through it, I must say: the Foo Fighters have returned to once again do rock and roll proud.

Infectious melodies and anthemic choruses are among the Foo Fighters’ strong points, inspiring the pumping of fists in concerts. Wasting Light adeptly flaunts these qualities, featuring the band, arguably, at its most polished. We get 11 strong tracks, of which hardly anything feels contrived.

Bridge Burning explodes with a lethal instrumentation and by manner of sound, the band means business. As Grohl switches between his screams and melodies, the drum breaks coincide with the guitar crashes and clashes – a big opener. Rope features tight riffs and a catchy chorus. Not a bad choice for the first single – it’s the newest Foo Fighters in a song. Be sure to watch out for the instrumental segment in the bridge. If you find yourself even slightly headbanging, you owe me a soda. If not, you still owe me a soda. Rosemarie is currently my favorite track. It features Husker Du vocalist Bob Mould, whose thick vocal timbre adds texture and breadth to the lyrical delivery. If it’s about losing a loved one, its bitter > sweet tone comes across effectively. White Limo is a contrast to the previous track. With heaving guitars and PA-drenched vocals, it’s perhaps the most grunge-stained number in the record. Although it isn’t to my taste, I find the track essential. It sheds a light on what the members’ earlier influences were. The mood lifts with Arlandria, These Days, Back & Forth, and A Matter of Time. They showcase the band’s ability to diversify their numbers with effortlessly contagious tunes and revel while at it. The Foo Fighters aren’t the type to take themselves too seriously and it shows. Have your fun with this middle segment. The album fires the heavy artillery beginning with Miss the Misery, onward. Containing the album title “Wasting Light,” I reckon it’s about avoiding missed chances. When an arranger uses an ascending chord progression in a song, especially in the chorus or the bridge, he usually means to communicate a monumental message (listen to Muse’s Time is Running Out). I Should Have Known is probably a song that holds the grandest arrangement in the record (given that strings = grand). If that isn’t epic enough, Grohl got Krist Novoselic to do the bass lines for the song. Originally a failed-romance song, it may be speculated that Grohl has drawn inspiration from more deep-seated emotions and sentiments. What to expect from the chorus “No, I cannot forgive you yet,” the lines “came without a warning/caught me unaware” and “one thing is for certain/I’m still standing here/I should have known?” Behold the lyrics reacting to Grohl’s life story. Cobain would do well to listen in. With Walk, Wasting Light is punctuated by a track that perhaps best embodies the journey Grohl and the band have traveled. “I’m learning to walk again/Can’t you see I’ve waited long enough/where do I begin?” With these lines, one can’t help but wonder about the ghosts Grohl, Hawkins, Shiflett, Mendel and Smear had to wrestle with to get to where they stand today. Essentially, Wasting Light is a return to where it all began. Novoselic, Cobain, the post-Nirvana Foo Fighters angst, and everything afterward. Grohl expresses his triumph on that road, leaving the past behind and beginning anew.

Listening to this record has affirmed my notion of the band long before I paid them special attention: They’ve got charisma. Truckloads of it. This band that’s gotten dissed for simply exisiting at the outset is the same band that got the tickets to their Wembley show sold out years later. Here they are now, further cementing their legacy with yet another sonic outfit.

The history of the band has been a journey on its own. After the long run consisting of albums, member-switch drama and shows, Wasting Light is a product of Grohl retracing his steps. He decided to have the album recorded in his garage, at home – an atmosphere everybody was comfortable being in.

But that’s not it.

This is: He called none other than Butch Vig to do the album with and for the band. To the unaware, Butch Vig is most well-known for producing Nirvana’s Nevermind, a milestone in both music history and Grohl’s personal history. Vig has had a nifty hand in producing modern rock records, having worked with The Smashing Pumpkins, U2 and Green Day. He was perfect for the project.

In an interview with rock journalist Neil Strauss, Ralf Hütter (founding member of the German electronic group Kraftwerk) declared that it is only proper to make music with “up-to-date technology.” Okay. This is acceptable because he is a forward-thinker, being part of a band that employed futuristic and robotic themes in their heyday (in the 70’s). But taken from their actions, Grohl and his crew disagree. The entire album was recorded using good old analog equipment. This means no computers (until post-production), no software and no instant delete-tracks. “Rock ‘n’ roll is imperfection, flaws,” says guitarist Chris Shiflett. “[When recording with tapes, the tracks] are never gonna line up. They shouldn’t. That’s the way human beings are. Human beings aren’t perfect.” I’ve written about this in a previous post (Emotions in Music: the Fatigue in Sameness, the Life in Imperfection). I said that authentic recordings involve mistakes, such that performance deviates from the original score as a form of expression: the musician tastefully plays with dynamics and tempo as opposed to loyally (or dare I say) robotically following the music sheet. When speaking of Wasting Light, the flaws were in how the tracks wouldn’t perfectly be in sync with one another, as opposed to the nearly-perfect multi-track sync in digital recording. Although such flaws are difficult to spot in the final product, I appreciate and respect how the album was put together. Perhaps we could pin the blame on the band’s chiseled musicianship for seemingly masking the flaws.

Grohl describes the album as their heaviest yet and I suppose I’ll have to agree to an extent. The adjective alone doesn’t do it justice. It’s heavy, light, playful, and mature. Wasting Light is one of the better rock releases this year. If you’re the sort who prefers music that has the screaming, crooning and the riffs in the right places and  times, grab this record. If you’re the sort who bops your head to music while in your car, this is for you. There is no room for regrets. People have criticized the band for getting too comfortable with the stadium-anthem format, but so what? That’s what they do best.

Seriously. What would you expect from the Foo Fighters? A reggae record?

9/10

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