You know, it’s not that Dave Grohl doesn’t care about music. That idea would seem preposterous to his zillions of fans. But he wins so often these days that it’s easy to forget what he’s lost: The Colour and the Shape, arguably his best album, came on the heels of his first marriage crumbling in 1997, and Foo Fighters’ 1995 debut was a testament to survival following the suicide of the then-drummer’s frontman/generational icon Kurt Cobain. “I’ll Stick Around”, his first hit pledged. It’s hard to argue he hasn’t kept that promise tenfold.
Or at least ninefold; Concrete and Gold marks Grohl’s ninth album, two decades after Shape and following several full-lengths that could make anyone question the Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones, and Puff Daddy collaborator’s commitment to the craft itself as opposed to the dream life it affords him. There’s something to be said for Grohl’s sheer inability to fail, whether he breaks a leg on tour and turns that into a stage-throne gimmick itself on par with the late Solomon Burke’s revue, or how one of his least notable records (2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace) could come within spitting distance of an Album of the Year Grammy, possibly becoming Beck’s Morning Phase before Morning Phase existed. In other words, it can be bothersome that Grohl’s unchallenging, autopilot radio-rock that he pounds out in his sleep regularly sees a comparable success rate to that of Beyoncé, a megastar who still manages to look like she can’t catch a break even from an industry that worships her. Half of Grohl’s previous discography has been vindicated with Best Rock Album trophies.
No matter what you think of 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose, 2005’s In Your Honor, 2011’s Wasting Light, or 2014’s Sonic Highways though, there isn’t a song from one that couldn’t have been on another instead. The strained In Your Honor separated its acoustic and electric songs onto two discs like oil and water but that didn’t make them any more identifiable as tunes from In Your Honor; does the Prince-endorsed smash “Best of You” not sound like it could’ve come from just about any record Grohl has made? If Grohl himself didn’t tell us that Wasting Light was a raw, analog reclamation of roots or if Sonic Highways didn’t have a companion HBO series to showcase its many guests’ talents more than the tunes themselves did, there isn’t much reason that the best-in-show rockers “White Limo” and “The Feast and the Famine” couldn’t switch places.
(Ranking: Every Foo Fighters Song from Worst to Best)
So it’s with some kind of pleasure to report that Foo Fighters have finally made an album that sounds like itself, at least for a good chunk, as Concrete and Gold has a psychedelic, prog-metal feel for its opening bid that plays like an omnivore as privileged as Grohl finally got tired of making his Rolodex the story over the music itself. The soft-focus intro “T-Shirt” glides into the retro-arena pomp of the single “Run” the way “Doll” was once interrupted by “Monkey Wrench”. Then comes “Make It Right”, a boogie that finally stretches Grohl’s melodic capacities into unsuspecting chord changes that seesaw delightfully atop White Album harmonies that damn-near live up to his ID of this record as “Motörhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper.” Less surprising but equally distinct is “The Sky Is a Neighborhood”, which turns a Queens of the Stone Age-style dirge into a McCartney stomp-ballad, nicely threading together two of Grohl’s best buds. And speaking of Queens, that’s followed by “La Dee Da”, which steals Josh Homme’s bass frequencies and one-note power-drilling for a jam that resembles Ministry covering “Black Dog”.
The irony is that while the one-of-a-kind guest list (Paul McCartney! Justin Timberlake! Alison Mosshart! Boyz II Men?) and production of pop hitmaker Greg Kurstin must’ve surely inspired some of the curveballs here, we can’t audibly tell they’re there. McCartney drums, of all things, on “Sunday Rain”, while the Timberlake and Boyz II Men credits may as well be prank additions to the Concrete and Gold Wikipedia page.
The mix of classic rock nods and modern expensive-ass shit is far more distinct on Concrete and Gold than Sonic Highways; it actually places Grohl in some kind of lineage you can hear without opening his Wikipedia page in a tab. And the goodwill carries through the less distinct jams, keeping up the momentum for the motorik banging of “Dirty Water” and the backlit melody of “Arrows”. This is unquestionably Grohl’s best-sequenced album since The Colour and the Shape, with a sum of parts that doesn’t just improve the parts but actually feels like these songs need this album.
Normally that’s a minus; maybe “Run” won’t retain its throwback grandeur on their second greatest hits comp sandwiched inexplicably between “Rope” and “Congregation”. But Grohl’s music has cried out for, well, coloring and shaping for so long that it matter more that he’s finally sculpted an objet d’art, rather than Another Foo Fighters album. More than just about anyone in the genre, he’s free financially and creatively to do anything he wants. Maybe next time he’ll sing something political — In Your Honor was about campaigning for John Kerry, not that you’d know from listening to it. Maybe he’ll even sing something controversial. It’s about time the guy took a risk.
Essential Tracks: “Make It Right”, “The Sky Is a Neighborhood”, and “Arrows”