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The new Foo Fighters album is all right. There’s muscular, churning riffs; two-to-three pantheon jams destined to be nestled forever alongside “Monkey Wrench” and “All My Life” in setlists; a searing guitar solo on “Rope”; and anthems about nothing.
That part is intentional: “My songwriting is like extending a hand to the listener,” Dave Grohl told The Washington Post recently. “One of the greatest feelings is standing onstage singing a song like ‘Best of You’ or ‘[My] Hero’ or ‘Everlong’ and hearing 80,000 people sing it with you, for 80,000 different reasons.”
The Foos have been an excellent arena show for over a decade, so this makes sense. The problem is the universal functionality of the new batch stands in stark contrast with its rising narrative: Wasting Light is the important 21st century Foo Fighters album. Butch “Nevermind” Vig is behind the boards producing. Pat Smear is back as a full-time member for the first time since 1997. Bob Mould guests on “Dear Rosemary.” Nirvana alum Krist Novoselic drops nonessential bass lines. A well-timed documentary reminds the audience that Sunny Day Real Estate drummer William Goldsmith enlisted in the war on Foo for a two-year stretch. The album was recorded on analog tape, in Grohl’s garage.
Yet for traveling rock royalty with firm roots in the late-’80s/early-’90s Seattle and D.C. scenes, Grohl remains aggressively complacent in his songwriting: Here’s a halting melody about a girl, or John Kerry, and it’ll idle on a riff while the words rhyme broken with stolen. All of this is a disappointment, except that it’s subtly fantastic that such a learned smartass hogs the arena spotlight—-going blow for blow with Linkin Park and Kings of Leon.
Wasting Light—-the seventh Foo LP—-burns its memorable rockers early, carrying on a tradition of frontloading the gems that began with 1999’s excellent-for-the-first-four-songs There Is Nothing Left To Lose. If Wasting Light was a Verizon Center concert happening in real time, drunkard calls to play something good would start around track six.
The first song is great. “White Limo” recalls the mosh-pit energy of 1995’s “Watershed,” the hardest-hitting of the Foo’s early cuts. “Arlandria” exists to live on the modern rock charts. But the back five is familiarly bland, weighed down by static ballads like “I Should Have Known” and sucky retreads like “Back and Forth.” “Walk” closes the 11-number album with a built-for-lights power ballad that combines dignity with (at last) a modicum of autobiography: “I think I lost my way/getting good at starting over.”
Due to warm adolescent memories, I often think about the band’s legacy. It was always cool to see the skate kids drop in The Colour and the Shape alongside Pennywise, NOFX, and Busta Rhymes: a shared edge that stemmed from Grohl’s punk sensibilities and punishing drums. I’ve seen the Foo Fighters six times and on only one of those occasions was I there to see the Foo Fighters. The Foos lurk around festival campgrounds, heisting occasions to plant rock flags by way of dispensing visceral chords that implore one to respond in sustained “oh yeahs” when the brain recognizes specific licks.
There are certainly worse things than being the most air-drum-able rock band ever.