Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (RCA/Sony) CD REVIEW

First, an admission: I gave up on the Foo Fighters right at the beginning of their career. While Nirvana’s place in the music scene of the early ‘90s is indisputable, a group based on their drummer and his comparatively preppy (albeit hard-edged) pop/rock held little appeal.
It always seemed to me that their video clips were way more entertaining than their rather mono-dimensional music, which utterly lacked the menace and underlying torment of Dave Grohl’s former group. Their music just wasn’t compelling.
Why am I bothering with Wasting Light, then? It’s the group’s seventh album, so it could hardly throw up any new light after all this time. Could it?
Very simply, I was mildly intrigued by the front cover sticker, which stated that the album was recorded entirely on analogue equipment in Dave Grohl’s garage. Given that this type of music is typically compressed to hell, so as to appeal to all those idle downloaders, I couldn’t help wonder what the group would sound like with a more natural ambience.
And then I found out it was mixed by former Depeche Mode man Alan Moulder, who has a way with sound.
Three words: it sounds fantastic. There’s no digital glare at all, unless you could the bits that really rock, and where everything is screaming with the force of a supersonic jet airliner. But in my book, that’s natural glare, you dig?
Nope, Grohl and his buddies have done the unthinkable, and proved that it’s possible to make a more or less real-time analogue album that sounds incredible, and puts the lie to the whole process of artificially jacking up sound levels so as to give it more guts. The sound here has loads of guts; there’s real heft and energy to both the performances and the way they’re captured, and whether you’re a fan of the band, or otherwise, that’s difficult not to appreciate.
On Wasting Light, the Foo Fighters, amazingly, sound hungry. This is mostly high octane riffing with memorable, hooky pop/rock choruses attached. It’s like they’ve added a dose of early Zeppelin to their usual mix, and that makes one hell of a difference.
I’m not going to insist that it’s a work of genius. Clearly, it’s not. There are times when I felt impressed by the craft of song construction (like ‘Dear Rosemary’, on which Bob Mould guests) but still felt they lacked that x-factor that results in a song that’s so great you can’t help but live inside it as you’re listening to it. ‘These Days’, which sounds like something Roger Waters might have come up with if his band were inspired by punk, is definitely a bit off. The final song, ‘Walk’, is clearly influenced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne – especially his way with building drama around pop convention – but doesn’t have enough character to smother than influence. ‘A Matter Of Time’, again, is well crafted, and entertaining, but they can’t quite resist the urge to stick spiky little riffs in around the edge, instead of letting the mood carry it.
Having said that, Wasting Light is an album that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. It sounds like it was made in relaxed circumstances, and that the group enjoyed it, and that comes through in the music. Only real Foo Fighters fans will know if it measure up to the group’s high standards, real or imagined, but for this casual listener, it’s easily the best thing they’ve ever done, and that may just have something to do with the fact that it’s so well-recorded that you can actually hear everything that’s hear, in all its dynamic glory.
Oh, and one more thing: the cover sticker entices the purchaser with the information that there’s “a piece of the ORIGINAL MASTER TAPE” inside. And you know what? There is a piece or recording tape in the package. Who knows if there’s any music on it, and who really cares? That’s a super cool idea. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5
Sound = 4.5

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