Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold
It’s rather tough being a fan of Rock And Roll in 2017. Pop club bangers and trap infused hip hop are dominating the airwaves while fans of rock music are either doing the best they can to find new Indie bands through streaming services or scrolling through new album release lists on Fridays and saying to themselves “Oh wow, I didn’t even know this band was still around/together/alive”. The Foo Fighters, however, have always managed to retain their relevance in modern music through sheer consistency in album releases (these guys haven’t taken a break for more than 3 years since 1995) and powerful lead singles that convey exactly what you’ll be getting in the full record. Ever since 2011’s “Wasting Light”, which was recorded entirely on analogue equipment, the classic rock influences have been more and more prevalent for the band, phasing out the 90’s grunge origins. “Sonic Highways” in 2014 was a world tour across several legendary studios across the world, however, that led to an album that sounded a bit unfocused and disjointed. So how does the latest album, “Concrete and Gold”, hold up in the band’s discography? The answer is: Quite well, but not without a few missteps.
Before I begin, I’ll present full disclosure that this review will be a bit different than your average review because I like to take things track by track and give my own personal takeaway at the end. Think of this as a track analysis/review if you will. Music is an extremely subjective art form and over the years, I’ve read glowing reviews of albums that I’ve absolutely hated. This review is simply my thoughts over repeated listens and how I feel about it as a creative product in the end. Cool? Ok! Let’s begin!
I’ve enjoyed the Foo Fighter’s work for a long time but the band’s previous album title “Sonic Highways”, ironically, illustrated a growing problem with the band. With the Foo Fighters now being a 6 piece band with 3 guitarists using various tones of distortion and fuzz, it feels as though the band is turned up to one overwhelming volume tailor made to rock a stadium instead of a group of friends who still enjoy playing music together after over two decades. On top of that, in a studio recording, a producer will often layer one guitar multiple times for more body in the mix, so the last Foo Fighters album to me sounded more like a Sonic traffic jam. The opening track of “Concrete and Gold”, called “T-Shirt”, helped to remedy my immediate concern both in its composition and the song’s message. With just an acoustic guitar and a much quieter Dave Grohl vocal style (which reminded me of a cross between Al Green and Aaron Neville), the opening lines state “I don’t wanna be king/ I just wanna sing love songs/ Pretend there’s nothing wrong/ You can sing along with me”. Grohl has stated that the state of the current political climate in the U.S inspired several tracks on the album and this song was written shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The quiet delivery of the first verse of this intro track (which only has a 1:23 run time) reminded me of the reassurance I needed after election night and how, in a time when we live in such a tumultuous, divided country, we just want to get lost in something beautiful or creative to temporarily quiet our concerns for the future. However, we can’t quell those concerns forever, and the intro track seemingly knows this as the full band comes in with a bombastic downbeat at the 0:28 mark accompanied by layers of Grohl’s backing tracks. It’s in this moment that the Foo Fighters are channeling the likes of Queen, giving us an introductory track that will no doubt be their live tour opening track as well.
I absolutely love this introductory song. I am a huge fan of concept albums and, to me, a short intro track feels like an overture. I enjoy listening to a full album from start to finish as if it were a 40-70 minute movie. I’ll save the tangent on the importance of albums for a future article, but I’ll just say that “T-Shirt” and the next track (and lead single) “Run” flow together beautifully. I won’t go too deep music theory details, but song order on an album can really stand out to a listener when something is carried over tonally, whether they share the same starting note, similar rhythm, or similar key. Want to know why “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” flow so well together? It’s because the first is in C Major and the latter is in C Minor. “T-Shirt” accomplishes a similar feat, ending on a D major chord while “Run” begins on C Major. In music theory, this is called a whole step down and it makes complete sense in what “Run” is trying to convey. Following the lyrical theme of “T-Shirt”, in “Run” Grohl is quietly beckoning the listener to “Wake up/ Run for your life with me”. The dreamlike arpeggiated triplet patterns on the guitar continue to reinforce to the listener a feeling of escapism from any current troubles they may be going through, but how long can we really keep running away? At some point, we have to come to terms with the state of the world and how we will adapt to it and attempt to change it. The album does come back to a more grand message, albeit in a subtle and somewhat downtrodden way later on, but I will say that the heavy shift to the verses of “Run” do a fantastic job of conveying the emotional roller coaster that many of us have gone through this year.
“The rats are on parade/ Another mad charade/ What you gonna do?” is one of the many lines that Grohl screams in the verses of “Run”. As the lead single of the album, “Run” is an interesting track because of the shifts between overly aggressive high energy heavy rock and the sweeter, more melodic rock that we’ve come to expect from the Foo Fighters. While that dichotomy could be difficult for listeners in a track like this, (Man in crowd yells: “Dude, do you want me to put up a lighter or get in the mosh pit?!”) I think the Foo Fighter’s pull it off very well in this song. “Run” is conveying to the listener that they really shouldn’t know what to expect whether it’s in the next few measures, the next few songs, or (if we were to go deeper) the next few months/years in their lives. The energy of run is carried over into the next song “Make It Right”, which is a fitting title to follow the messages of “T-Shirt” and “Run”.
When “Make It Right” begins, it feels like I’ve stepped into a scene from “Talladega Nights”. The song has a percussive 16th note pattern in the intro that remains a constant throughout the entire song. The heavy guitar riffs kick in shortly after and I couldn’t help but imagine engines revving in the background. The instrumental start to this album goes on for 30 seconds before the song settles into a driving groove with some well placed background vocals provided by Justin Timberlake. While Timberlake’s presence is very cool, it starts to illustrate the problem I mentioned with “Sonic Highways”. Timberlake’s inclusion on the album is more of an Easter Egg than a feature. I’m not saying that Timberlake should draw attention to himself on a Foo Fighters track, but his “ooh”s and “la”s are just lost in a track with 3 guitars all playing the same riff in different variations and Taylor Hawkin’s proficient and authoritative drum style. That same tonal density carries over into the next two tracks “The Sky Is A Neighborhood” and “La Dee Da”. “The Sky Is A Neighborhood” in particular sounds like the Foo Fighters trying to imitate “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons through a bluesy, reverb filter. “La Dee Da” is completely overloaded with fuzz effects which compromises the fun uptempo rockabilly feel, sustained note guitar solo, and saxophone accompaniment by Dave Koz (once again lost in the mix). They’re not bad songs and I wouldn’t consider them low points on the album, but it’s in these songs where the band starts to lose my attention. It’s almost fitting that you can hear someone saying “Ahh! Too Much!” at the end of “La Dee Da”.
The next track “Dirty Water” fares much better. The acoustic guitar makes its appearance again in the intro and the song has a fantastic crescendo into the heavier elements across its 5+ minute run time. The following song, “Arrows”, has a driving bass drum beat throughout most of the song and the song has a very dreary chord progression as Grohl tells the tale of a someone or something in a constant state of grief: “Arrows in her eyes/ Tears in her arteries/ War in her mind/ Shame as she cries/ Fire away”. It’s hard to say whether he’s speaking about an individual or if he’s still speaking for a nation of people, but “Arrows” is unfortunately the low point of the album to me.
Fortunately, the next song “Happily Ever After (Zero Hour)” more than makes up for the less than stellar offerings on the previous tracks. This song is not only one of the best Foo Fighters songs in years, it’s one of the best acoustic songs I’ve heard in years. It’s fitting that the Foo Fighters are really showing their Beatles influence in not only this track, but the following track “Sunday Rain” which features Paul McCartney on drums. “Happily Ever After” uses strings, background vocals, and a clean guitar solo to a great effect and the ending fade out blends perfectly into “Sunday Rain”. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Beatles discography in order, and the transition from short and sweet acoustic song to quieter distortion for mid to up-tempo rock is one of my favorite elements about their albums. “Norwegian Wood” to “You Won’t See Me” and “Yesterday” to “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” are a couple of my favorite examples, and “Happily Ever After” and “Sunday Rain” come very close to that feeling of two styles that shouldn’t work together but achieve an incredible harmony in their song placement and order. These two songs are by the far the best tracks on the album and if the album ended here, I would have ranked this as a high mark for the Foo Fighters. Big kudos to Taylor Hawkins for a very smooth delivery as lead vocalist for the first time on a Foo Fighters song and Paul McCartney really gave his all playing drums for this track. I couldn’t be happier this was the longest track on the album. The piano outro on Sunday Rain is also a nice reference to the interlude quirks found in Sgt. Pepper.
However, “Concrete and Gold” had a couple more songs to go before the conclusion and the two ending songs didn’t leave a great lasting impression for me. “The Line” feels like a safe Foo Fighters song for those who were waiting for a song similar to one of their earlier hits like “Best Of You”. The closing and title track “Concrete and Gold” left me with a sour taste as it feels like the Foo Fighters are trying their hardest to cover “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd without getting sued. Grohl’s lyrics are unintelligible and with the song concluding with a guitar chord sustained over a minute, it just feels like the album is going out with a tired and sad whimper. It’s really a shame too because I love the line in the chorus “Our roots are stronger than you know/ Up through the concrete we will grow”. I know it’s probably just my own desire for a conceptual, thematic tie to how the album begins, but ending the album with that line to me means that we need to come to face to face with the injustices or inequality we are facing and we’ll let it strengthen us so we can make a change instead of running away. Another interesting fact about this track is a member of Boyz II Men sings a choral part on the choruses, but like the other collaborators except McCartney, it feels like more of a fun hidden afterthought than an actual guest spot.
“Concrete And Gold” is definitely a much better album than “Sonic Highways”, but it doesn’t quite match up with some of the Foo Fighter’s best albums. The beginning of the album is incredibly strong but it falters a bit in the middle due to the ongoing insistence to turn all of the individual layers up at all time. For their next album, I would just like it if the band realizes that they really shine when they can learn to turn the guitars down if just for a minute so that the loud sections really have that much more impact.
Best Tracks: ”T-Shirt, “Run”, “Make It Right”, “Happily Ever After”, “Dirty Water”, and “Sunday Rain”
Ok Tracks: “The Sky Is A Neighborhood”, “La Dee A”, and “The Line”
Worst Tracks: “Arrows” and “Concrete and Gold”
August 20, 2016 - It's been a busy two months of travel, but I'm finally ready to get back to adding some more content to Voice Of Cain! Tomorrow, I'll be recording the first test episode of the still unnamed podcast about movies, games, and whatever else is going on in our daily hijinx. After that, after WWE Summerslam of course, I'll be playing at the Sunday open mic at T's bar and grill in Lewisville. It's always a fun time on Sundays and there have been some great videos captured every single week just like the one below. Playing Tool covers is always a blast! The writing process is also still underway for Project Red and I can't wait to share some new tracks on this site. Stay tuned!
June 13th, 2016 - Hello and welcome to the brand new website for Voice Of Cain! I couldn't be happier to have this brand new site up and I will be updating this page regularly with all my random adventures. The very first event, and one of the major reasons I wanted to stop procrastinating and get this this site done already, is E3! My very favorite convention of the year! In addition to music and voice acting, I also go to a lot of gaming events and I feel lucky that I got to go for the first time 6 years ago and that I still get to attend today. I'll be posting hands-on impressions of all the games (and parties) to my twitter and instagram pages which you can follow through the links on the bottom of the page. This is going to be a major year for me and this new site is the first big step to a new beginning. Stay tuned for more!