The Foo Fighters, “Wasting Light”

Sure, this is about two weeks too late, but now that it’s bumped Adle’s “21″ off the top of the charts in the UK, I’ve got a hook again:

To me, the Foo Fighters have always represented rock without any hyphens. That is to say, they aren’t punk rock, they’re not LA rock, they aren’t proto this or neo that. OK, so maybe they’re “hard” rock, but you get the point: no one over the last 15 years has encapsulated modern, straightforward rock like they have. And despite their overwhelming popularity–playing two sold-out shows to 90,000 people at Wembley in 2008–they’ve managed to maintain their credibility.

Why? Nirvana, of course. Dave Grohl will always be a member of Nirvana, the most critically bulletproof of bands. It’s almost like the four years he spent riding in vans with Cobain insulated him from any critical backlash.

So I was all set to go at their newest disc, “Wasting Light,” with both barrels, figuring it would be another solid, if mediocre, effort, a la their last, “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace.” Throw in the fact that, amidst an nonstop media blitz, Grohl & Co. told anyone that would listen about how they recorded it in his garage, reunited with Nevermind producer Butch Vig and re-added punk sideman Pat Smear as a third guitarist, and there were plenty of reasons to hate.

And after all this…it’s good. Really good. In fact, it could be their best record, albeit their heaviest.

The easy explanation is that Groh’s songwriting was heavily influenced by his time spent with Josh Homme in the side project Them Crooked Vultures. But that’s too easy. Homme writes heavy riffs, sure, but they tend toward bluesy, sludgy stoner rock. Quite a contrast from “Rope,” the Foos’ second track that starts with some classic analog delayed chords before a beginning a proggy, three-guitar attack that dares you to guess the time signature.

And where Homme only stumbles across a hook occasionally, Grohl swims in them. He claims to write songs by writing a chorus, and then add more choruses on top of it. Take “Dear Rosemary,” Grohl’s duet with Bob Mould that stars with staccato bursts in the verses, resolving into an anthemic chorus where they double on the lyric “Truth ain’t gonna change the way you lie.” Or “Arlandria,” Grohl’s homage to the border village south of DC, which has him screaming “Shame, shame go away.”

Much has been made of “White Limo,” the disc’s “metal” track, complete with a video starring Lemmy Kilmister. Despite the screams and near constant streams of palm-muted power chords, the thing never feels angry. It’s more apt to bring a smile than a sneer to your face. In fact, perhaps the Foos’ biggest achievement of all is that their work (especially here) never lapses into angry white guy rock.

The worst that you can say about a couple of the songs is they sound like part of the soundtrack to a coming-of-age teen movie. Then again, “Times Like These” was part of such a soundtrack. And it’s stood up just fine.

4.5/5 stars

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