‘Concrete And Gold’ is an album that finds Foo Fighters at an important juncture in their career. Now over twenty years long-in-the-tooth, the band has been on something of a back-to-basics course over the past couple of years. For much of the 2000’s, if there was one criticism to lever at the band it would be their aversion to risk-taking, a trait that was well and truly smashed with 2014’s ‘Sonic Highways’. The problem with that album, however, was that while the band certainly couldn’t be accused of having played it safe, few of the new ideas hit the ground running and the end result was a was generally underwhelming effort that felt unusually listless for a band usually so reliably energetic. 2015’s ‘Saint Cecilia’ EP was a punchy effort and a definite return the stylings of 2011’s excellent ‘Wasting Light’; it was an EP that suggested a more streamlined direction for the band and early tasters of ‘Concrete And Gold’ largely confirmed such expectations.
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As a whole, however, ‘Concrete And Gold’ is far from the collection of streamlined, no-nonsense rock anthems that initial signs suggested. Instead, it’s a curious collection of disparate ideas and odd couplings that result in an undeniably interesting album but not one that hits the right notes all the way through. There are, without doubt, some fantastic tracks on the album but there are also moments where the band clutter and stifle their own material with needless overdubs and odd production choices.
Frontman Dave Grohl sounds in great voice here, and the band – now expanded from a 5 to 6 piece – sound as good as they ever have; performances are tight, riffs are largely memorable and melodies tightly woven. Aside from a few exceptions, the album’s flaws don’t lie in the songs themselves – which often rank amongst their best in years – but in the way they’re presented. Greg Kurstin’s production is frequently confounding and often feels mismatched with the material it serves.
There’s also something of an identity clash on the album; on the one hand, Grohl’s vocals are often presented in surprisingly raw form, sounding thoroughly unfiltered and vitally alive (take his gutsy, immediate vocal on ‘The Sky Is A Neighborhood’) whilst on the other hand, the album’s melodies are often so reinforced with largely superfluous overdubs that the resultant sound is heavy handed and feels at odds with the immediate energy and vicious bite of the album’s rawer materials. The mix, too, is something of a headscratcher; Grohl’s vocals – perhaps the single most important element of the band – are often strangely low in the mix, whilst secondary ornamentation (such as the zonking synth on ‘La Dee Da’ or Justin Timberlake’s incessant backing vocals on ‘Make It Right’) are inappropriately prominent.
It’s easy to point all the blame for ‘Concrete And Gold’s shortcomings on misguided production but, despite being the best collection of songs the Foos have put together since ‘Wasting Light’, ‘Concrete And Gold’ isn’t without a few hiccups along the way. The album closer title track meanders along without any particular direction. It’s grand enough that there is some innate impact but it’s one of the album’s less substantial cuts and one that suffers from another strange mix that presents the buzzing fuzz guitar left right and centre at the cost of almost everything else. ‘Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)’, meanwhile, is lyrically interesting but musically sedate; it’s a genteel groove not quite punchy enough make a real impact in the presence of the album’s more fiery cuts.
Whilst ‘Concrete And Gold’ isn’t without it’s flaws, there’s much it does do right, and the collection overall rates as their best of the last half-decade. ‘Run’ sees the group play to their strengths; Foo Fighters have historically been at their best when they’ve hit at their hardest – that’s as true here as it’s ever been and ‘Run’ is an exhilarating distillation of what makes the band so great when they’re operating at their best. ‘Make It Right’ leaves a good impression too, the skittish rhythms and urgent, taut guitar suggesting Led Zeppelin on a diet of Redbull. ‘The Sky Is A Neighborhood’ is in some respects an odd song; production isn’t ineffective per se but it’s certainly not what you’d expect from the band. Despite this it works well and although the song perhaps doesn’t quite have the initial impact that it’s status as a single might suggest, repeat listens reveal an initially covert chorus to become one the album’s most memorable. It’s notable, too, for being one of the few songs on the album where the production’s juxtaposition of the raw and the grand complements the song rather than distract from it.
‘The Line’ offers a throwback to more old-school, early 2000s Foos – nodding towards the sort of high propulsion rock they were crafting on the best parts of 2002’s ‘One By One’. ‘Arrows’ melds deeply melodic pop songcraft and high energy rock in the way that few aside from Dave Grohl can and the results are excellent; it’s a song tailor-made for the stadiums the band call home and it seems a neat fit alongside crowd-pleasing shout-alongs like ‘My Hero’ and ‘Arlandria’.
For the album’s flaws, then, there’s much that Foo Fighters get right here and this is generally a very solid effort from them. Production is oddly inconsistent and at times sits harmoniously with the band whilst clashing at others but it’s not enough to stifle the compelling moments on the album. ‘Concrete And Gold’ has something of a midway slump with two of its less inspired moments – ‘La Dee Da’ and ‘Dirty Water’ – sitting back-to-back but even at its worst ‘Concrete And Gold’ is respectable enough (if somewhat unmoving) and at it’s best, it’s downright excellent. Like so many Foo Fighters albums, then, Grohl and co don’t quite manage to land an effort as consistently punchy as its best moments but far more of ‘Concrete And Gold’s ideas land than was so on ‘Sonic Highways’; and although the album doesn’t rank alongside the group’s strongest efforts, it’s significantly more accomplished than their weakest.
‘Concrete and Gold’ is out now. The full track listing is as follows…
03. Make It Right
04. The Sky Is A Neighborhood
05. La Dee Da
06. Dirty Water
08. Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)
09. Sunday Rain
10. The Line
11. Concrete And Gold