Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wasting Light - Foo Fighters (2011)

So in a post I made a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I'd probably buy this album eventually. Well, it so happens that I found an old gift card hidden in my laptop bag that had just enough money to cover the cost of a CD plus shipping. I haven't bought a physical CD in a very long time, and the way technology has progressed, it may very well be the last time I buy a physical CD. So I bought the CD rather than the download and patiently waited a few days for it to arrive.

When my CD arrived, I got a pleasant surprise. With most music in digital download format these days, it's easy to forget the simple charm of holding the package, and looking over the artwork and photos, checking out the lyrics sheet, or looking for funny messages in the "thank you" section of the credits while listening to your new music. Wasting Light didn't have a lyrics sheet- but the packaging for the CD had a few nice surprises that brought back some of that old nostalgia and had me feeling good before I ever got the CD in a player (laptop actually).

The case was actually a paper bi-fold sleeve rather than the old plastic jewel cases- which is fairly common these days- still it evokes memories of old vinyl album sleeves (but much smaller). There was a fun yellow sticker on the cellophane wrapper with the obligatory marketing blurb mentioning the singles that have been getting airplay, and a few more words that I really got a kick out of. Rather than repeat it, I'll just show you:

The Foo Fighters recommend turning it up to eleven... resistance is futile.
The part about being recorded in Dave's Garage on Analog tape was no surprise- Dave Grohl has been talking about that in interviews for quite a while now. The band set out to make this album old-school style and are taking the "garage band" idea quite literally. If you've seen their documentary "Back and Forth" you've seen that Dave has a fairly large, but not really that large, garage, and they made the decision to use tape, and no digital equipment/tools usually found in a modern studio- in part because they missed the charm of the old days, and in part to see if they still had what it takes to pull it off.

Having seen "Back and Forth" I probably should not have been surprised about having a piece of the original master tape hidden somewhere in my new CD package. Dave clearly mentioned it near the end, stating that it was something he thought would be cool for the fans to have. I had forgotten completely by this, so it was a nice surprise. The printed recommendation to play the album at maximum volume hits the mark too - Dave wants me to go to eleven. I will happily oblige him.

Inside the package is the CD itself, and a booklet containing highly stylized photos of the band and the credits (no lyrics sheet, but I can live without it). Tucked into the booklet was, as promised, a one inch piece of the master tape (I was expecting a tiny fragment- this is an actual substantial piece of tape). It really serves no purpose, and a cynical person could easily believe that it's just a piece of unused tape they had at the packaging plant- but somehow, I trust that Dave is good to his word. While I'm getting nostalgic about old school packaging rather than listening to the music, it does, on some level, give some sense of connection to the band, and is a nice touch- and may even be a incentive to buy the physical CD rather than the download.

The packaging brings back memories of the vinyl LP days
So, enough about the packaging, on to the music...

The album represents the band's desire to get back to the basics- not worry about being overly musical and just make some great rock music. The album was recorded old-school style- in Dave Grohl's garage with no modern digital equipment. Abandoning the ability to immediately fix small errors put the band on the spot, and forced them to bring their A-game to every recording session. The quality of the album should be proof enough that many modern artists rely too heavily on computers and not enough on raw skill. That said, the album sounds fantastic- especially considering how it was recorded.

The eleven songs on the album deliver as promised, and seem, to me, to be the heaviest Foo Fighters outing to date. The advantage of having a third guitarist on board are clearly evident as all the songs are heavily layered. The return of Pat Smear (who has not recorded with the Foo Fighters since 1997) is evident as most of the songs have a noticeable touch of punk-rock edge to them. His sound, combined with Chris Shiflett's and Dave Grohl's gives the band an immense wall of sound. The punk rock edge is also in part due to producer Butch Vig - who worked with Dave Grohl years ago when he produced Nirvana's breakthrough album "Nevermind."

"Rope" was the album's first single. The song starts with a clever time-shifting series of guitar statements that eventually settle into a the main high energy riff. The lyrics talk about needing help - /Give me some rope I'm coming loose/I'm hanging on you/ - It's a smart, tight song with a heavy hard rock feel- it's easy to see why it was chosen as a single.

"White Limo" is the track that clearly diverges from the "heavy alt-rock" model the rest of the album follows. It goes over the top and straight into death metal territory. Dave Grohl screams and growls his way through the song  over thrash metal inspired riffing. The lyrics to the song don't seem to make much sense- which makes me think the Dave was being his usual funny guy self when we wrote them- and the song is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

"These Days" is a straight up rock song with alternating quiet and loud parts- a formula that has worked for the Foo Fighters before. Despite using a tried and true formula, the song seems fresh and keeps the intensity going. It is one fo the catchier tunes on the album, and more clearly an alt-rock song rather than a hybrid alt-rock hard-rock number. The lyrics talk about how someone who's never been through a bad heartbreak really can't understand what it feels like. /Easy for you to say/Your heart has never been broken/Your pride has never been stolen/not yet not yet/

"Walk" is the second single from the album. It is probably the most upbeat and inspirational tune on the album.  The song talks about  taking steps to make a comeback after going through a difficult setback. /I'm learning to walk again/I believe I've waited long enough/Where do I begin/. The song starts quietly and picks up intensity, really putting on the gas in the bride section.

Other highlights of the album include "Dear Rosemary" - which features a guest appearance by Bob Mould of Husker Du on backing vocals, and "I Should Have Known" featuring a guest appearance by Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. "I Should Have Known" marks a historic reunion of all the surviving members of Nirvana, including producer Butch Vig, and can easily be interpreted as being about Dave Grohl learning to deal with the impact of Kurt Cobain's 1994 suicide.

All things considered, Wasting Light may not be the most groundbreaking album in history- but it is something that has been missing- good honest, unpretentious rock music. The bottom line is that the album is fun to listen to, and makes you want to listen again. 

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