At the peak of “Walk,” the final song on the Foo Fighter’s seventh album Wasting Light, Dave Grohl screams out “I never want to die” over and over again, rising to a howling screech that has ripped out of speakers on many a Foo Fighters track. This time around, the band is “learning to walk again” by using everything over the course of their career at just the right moment, creating an album that isn’t on par with their best work, but at the very least gives the impression that Grohl and company are putting enough effort into the music to shake themselves out of a creative rut.
After 20 years, it’s easy to see that Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters were the best-equipped outfit to weather mainstream rock’s changing tides: Pearl Jam became another “dad’s band,” U2 risked banality by shooting for the stratosphere of adult alternative, and countless others couldn’t keep up and fell by the wayside. But somehow after two decades of alternative rock existence, here Foo Fighters stand confident in their sound, resolute to change only as much as they want to, never dictated by anyone else.
The band recorded Wasting Light almost entirely on analog equipment in Dave Grohl’s basement with producer Butch Vig (Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana) along with some special guests including Grohl’s Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, the guitarist from Foo Fighter’s breakthrough 1997 album The Colour And the Shape. It’s a creative constraint that doesn’t make much of a difference in the overall sound of the album, but it is indicative of how far the band is willing to go in order to change things up and move forward on their first album in four years.
The specter of Kurt Cobain has haunted critical opinion of Grohl’s creative efforts ever since he decided to start another band. For the most part, that’s decidedly unfair. The guy gets to do what he wants with his talents, and he wanted to make more rock music, not be forever known as the drummer in Nirvana. Now that his career as frontman of Foo Fighters has vastly exceeded the amount of time he spent in that band, it’s about time to give credit where credit is due.
Wasting Light is the kind of album almost every band with a long career gets around to making: a distillation of previous successes into one cohesive album. It’s not a completely original step forward, not a step back, but a fusion of every stylistic variant of rock the band has used since The Colour and The Shape including grunge, metal and even pop. They even have Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü on punk imitation “White Limo” that just barely shoehorns its way in to fit with a small bit of the Foo Fighters catalogue.
The experiment to create a distilled album that expresses the stylistic diversity of the band doesn’t quite work. A song like “Arlandria” appears on almost every album in the band’s career, and combining the sounds of previous work seems to overlook the fact that not all of it has been successful. Grohl and company have always been more of a singles band than album crafters, better suited for a Greatest Hits compilation that cherry picks from every album. While Wasting Light attempts to recreate that feeling in one tighter album, they come up short despite exerting an admirable amount of effort.
The Foo Fighters deliver precisely what they want to give: another roller-coaster rock album that fits in with the rest of their discography, but stands alone as the most concentrated display of their enduring style.
Final Grade: B