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Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold (Album Review)

Friday, 22 September 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Setting aside the fact this boundary-pushing release from the Foo Fighters is already being praised and pilloried in equal measure, you have to applaud Dave Grohl. Well aware of the creative coma many stadium headlining bands slip into, he’s spent the last decade trying to make sure his gang don’t follow suit. Such artistic restlessness has largely been successful, so why does ‘Concrete and Gold’ flatter to deceive?

For 2011’s ‘Wasting Light’ the Foos recorded in their leader’s garage, intent on capturing a back-to-basics youthful energy.  Its follow-up, ‘Sonic Highways’, saw them embark on an ambitious trip around some of America’s most famous recording studios, resulting in a lauded audio visual project. This time they may have decided to record in a single studio like a proper band, but that’s where normalcy ended.  

Enter Greg Kurstin, a producer whose CV includes collaborations with Adele and Sia. Combine his markedly different style with appearances from Justin Timberlake, Paul McCartney, Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman and Alison Mosshart of the Kills, and it’s clear they haven’t so much pushed the envelope as shot it into orbit.

Grohl may have proclaimed this record as “Motörhead's version of ‘Sgt. Pepper’, or “Slayer making ‘Pet Sounds’,” but the overall aesthetic is psychedelic indie-pop melded with every classic rock artist the band grew up on.  

The elaborate arrangements, unusual time signatures, bombastic orchestration and an array of lush, complex harmonies on display are immediately reminiscent of, among others, Queen and the Beatles. Whether it’s the short but grandiose T-Shirt, punky fury and disorienting riffage that propels La Dee Da or epic suburban angst of The Sky Is A Neighbourhood, there’s an impressive density of textures here that’s unlike anything they’ve done before.

When records are this layered and challenge expectations, they can often take a few spins to banish initial disappointments and click. ‘Concrete and Gold’ is the opposite. Once the immediate razzle dazzle of such detailed craftsmanship wears off, its lustre fades surprisingly swiftly. Those enjoyable new flavours, and the special guest appearances, start to feel like window dressing: gimmicks employed to glam up a preponderance of solid, but largely unmemorable, material.

Take Make It Move and the title track. The former has a wicked groove but a truly forgettable hook buried beneath its Sgt. Pepper affectations – and Timberlake’s backing vocals are so indistinct even his most ardent fan wouldn’t recognise him. The latter’s Black Sabbath-meets-Pink Floyd mash up can’t elevate an awful dirge.  

It’s Run, though, that epitomises this record’s main problem. Unleashing a frenzied guitar motif, it then drools out a hook that’s dreamlike and plodding. When bands invert the quiet verse, explosive chorus dynamic, said refrain has to be killer otherwise the song loses momentum. It’s the album in microcosm: its superb parts just don’t cohere into a similarly outstanding whole.

It’s disappointing that, although noble of intention and artistically brave, this record is a backwards step after several solid outings. It offers a lot of stylistic gold but a dearth of long-lasting, concrete substance.

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