By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Foo Fighters are a rock ‘n’ roll anomaly. The sonic equivalent of Schroedinger’s cat. At any one time, they may be on hiatus and not recording an album, whilst also in the studio with new material. There may be as many as six members in the band, or there may only be one. They are the dad rock quandary.
After the recording and release of 2014’s album/documentary, Sonic Highways and the subsequent tour that saw Dave Grohl fall off the stage, break his leg, somehow manage to carry on playing and continue the tour in some sort of wacky moving throne, the Foos were done for now. Except they weren’t. Then they released the Saint Cecilia EP, then they were done again. But then the release of Run and their Glastonbury headline slot told us that they were back.
Back for however long a piece of string may be, Concrete & Gold is their ninth full-length studio offering, and enlists the helping hand of producer Greg Kurstin, a man not renown for his hard-rock production pedigree, instead producing pop bangers such as Chandelier by Sia, Hello by Adele and yer da tracks like Wall of Glass by Liam Gallagher. Surely a poppy producer couldn’t extract gold from the hard rock concrete?
Oh but he could.
Concrete & Gold, as an album, feels big. That’s the overriding theme throughout this album. Yes, a band with six members should be big, but it feels though their sound has been padded out, the riffs have been taken to all you can eat buffets and poured lard into the mixing board. Beard enthusiast Dave Grohl himself said that Kurstin took the riff from Run from “bewdewdewdew” to “BEWDEWDEWDEW” to turn it into this monolithic rock anthem. The singles released in the run up to this album’s launch are some of the stronger tracks on this album as well, with The Sky is a Neighbourhood being an airy, etheral rock track with a beautiful choral/gang vocal chorus that was purpose-built to get purpose-built stadiums rattling along to it.
Much like a late-stage series of The Simpsons, Concrete & Gold is littered with guest stars. However, it’s done so tastefully that you wouldn’t even notice Justin Timberlake’s backing vocals on Make It Right or Paul McCartney’s drumming on the slow-jammed, almost Beatles-esque Sunday Rain. They are merely the guests at a musical party, the salmon canapés on the side table.
Whilst Wasting Light was a bit more of a hard rock hallelujah, and Sonic Highways being a conceptual documentary soundtrack, Concrete & Gold feels like a more accessible Foo Fighters record, something they’ve always been. Your dad likes them, your brother likes them, even your down-with-the-kids boss likes them, and they can all sit down and share this album together.
However, where there are hard rock thrusts, they don’t impact as they should. Arrows and The Line are enjoyable tracks and should be familiar to any Foos fan, be they casual or hardcore, but it almost feels like they’ve gone through the motions here. Almost as if you gave a team on The Apprentice £250 and told them to write a Foo Fighters song. La Dee Da however, leaves a bit of a heavier mark, with muddy, driving bass rattling the foundations of the song, but the hard rock reprisals on the whole feel familiar, but a bit cold, like you’ve just seen an old friend or flame and you’re forcing yourself to be nice.
On the whole, this album is very much concrete, as it’s solid, sturdy and everyone has a need or use for it. The slower, poppier jams & simple executions compared to Sonic Highways make this album more accessible than Foos albums of late, with the harder tracks, especially Run and La Dee Da enough to keep the Foos faithful happy & the dad rockers tapping their sensible shoed feet.
However, whilst Greg Kurstin’s production has added a bigger, meatier feel to an already big and meaty band, it doesn’t feel gold. It feels silver, because there are some absolutely brilliant tracks on here, but it’s another case of a band coming into their twilight years, whereby they can still run (whey! Geddit?) with the best, but it’ll never quite be the blistering performances they used to put in. That being said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable album from front to back, with A-grade production and songs that were designed to be played in the Foo Fighters’ natural habitat: the stadium.