During the chorus to “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour),” Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl sings, “There ain’t no superheroes now.” In the grand scheme of things, he might be right; but when it comes to straight up and earnest rock and roll, no band wears that cape as well as the Foos these days.
The band’s latest effort, Concrete and Gold, has been teased in live performances and previewed with select songs and videos, but there’s nothing quite like sitting down and experiencing the entire album in all its studio glory — especially as Foo Fighters are one of the few acts out there who put out a product which is meant to be digested as a whole rather than piecemeal surrounded by bouts of filler.
“T-Shirt” is a brief opener with tender beginnings, but quickly soars with Queen-like harmonies and ambition. There’s enough guitar grandiosity in the song’s brief running time to fill a record, giving a bit of insight into just how far the band is going to push it this time around.
Reminiscent of his metal-or-die vocals on past tracks like “White Limo,” Grohl pushes his vocal cords to the brink on “Run,” the heaviest track on Concrete and Gold. Yet it’s not an all-out assault; whether the credit goes to maturity or experience or a bit of both, the texture of the song feels more of a well-thought out composition than a simple unraveling of whatever sounds good spilling out of the amps.
The much talked about appearance of the “biggest pop star in the world,” which turned out to be Justin Timberlake, takes place on “Make It Right,” but it’s a story that got out of control in press as all the former N*Sync singer is doing is bringing some supporting background vocals to the track. When it comes to collaborations, the main standout is Alison Mosshart, frontwoman for The Kills, who does a guest turn on the epic “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” and the reverb drenched “La Dee Da.” Again, it’s only backing vocals, but she brings another element to the proceedings, adding more depth.
Speaking of guests, there was the odd decision to bring in Sir Paul McCartney in on drums for “Sunday Rain.” On the surface it’s akin to Eddie Van Halen asking Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward to come lay down a guitar track. Between Grohl and Taylor Hawkins — who sings lead on the track — you’ve got two of modern rock’s great stickmen in the band — and yet Macca ended up behind the kit? Somehow, it works. The funk-tinged track is less-Beatles and more mid-period Wings, and McCartney’s paint-by-numbers backbeat is solid as expected, proving that Grohl has a method to his madness.
Elsewhere, “The Line” is proto-Foo’s sincerity while “Arrows” has that slow-build into a crashing crescendo that has become familiar in their arena as the back of your hand. The Pink Floyd influenced title-track album closer, which has Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman nailing it on harmonies, is a space rock send off to what will end up being one of the year’s best LPs.
Concrete and Gold shows there’s much, much more left in Foo Fighters’ tank. As long as the ever-passionate Grohl remains infatuated with the light/heavy slant of his musical idols in Led Zeppelin, the layered melodies of The Beatles and the frenetic stomping of Motorhead, the Foos’ brand of rock and roll is flying high and here to stay.
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