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Foo Fighters - Medicine at Midnight (Album Review)

Monday, 15 February 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Danny Clinch

Foo Fighters are currently in the middle of what might be termed a band’s tricky period—the kind of zone that successful groups, conscious of not wanting to repeat themselves, often enter to freshen up the established formula. Unfortunately, most artists who venture into that territory end up producing divisive results that scream mid-life crisis from every ill judged note. Are the Foos any different?

When Dave Grohl described this follow up to 2017’s ‘Concrete and Gold’—a disappointing offering that favoured Pink and Sia producer Greg Kurstin’s bombastic production style over songwriting substance—as his band’s ‘dance record’ alarm bells rang. When he subsequently cited early ‘80s Bowie and Queen as reference points (both tricky periods for those acts) expectations for this album immediately fell off a cliff. Thankfully, such a plunge was premature.

‘Medicine at Midnight’ might be over-produced in a very modern pop way, with the returning Kurstin’s compulsion to pepper almost everything with unnecessary backing vocals and kitchen sink textures grating, but it’s tighter and more fun than its predecessor.  

Even so, it does take a few tracks to find its nimble dancing feet. The ‘na na’ refrain that decorates opener Making a Fire is completely out of place and borderline irritating, while the song's chorus falls into the good-not-great category.

Things get worse courtesy of the aptly titled Shame Shame. Sounding like an undercooked demo, it may boast a promising melody but is mostly a snooze-fest that goes nowhere, prioritising intricate percussive flavours and loops over a great song for them to enhance.  

Fortunately things kick into life with the excellent Cloudspotter, a tasty combo of stealthy hip-swinging verses and a colossal, see-sawing hook that seems destined to turn concert goers into human pogo sticks when deployed live. From that point there’s a little bit of Bowie and Michael Jackson here, a little bit of Hall & Oates there, and a shedload of Queen everywhere. 

The title track may be a departure, but it’s full of sexy moonlight ambience and street-smart cool as it sweats out a slow burn R&B chorus. The orchestrally lush Waiting on a War oozes wistful, staring-at-the-distance wonder before apexing with a barricade-storming instrumental blowout. Chasing Birds, meanwhile, turns everything on its head courtesy of a delicate and gorgeously dreamy George Harrison soundscape.

Elsewhere, fans of the group’s guitar-driven anthemics will find the pulsating No Son Of Mine tearing through the old school gears, Holding Poison delivering a barrage of twists, turns and earworm hooks and Love Dies Young imagining Queen’s Keep Yourself Alive melded to the kind of euphoric banger U2 excelled at back in the day.   

‘Medicine at Midnight’ isn’t as potent as the Foos’ finest records and doesn’t contain anything close to a standout classic like Everlong, Best of You or All My Life. Yet, in spite of being a potentially risky move, the album mostly works because of the band’s undoubted passion, their commitment to evolution and clear understanding and feel for the genres they’ve incorporated. 

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