Album – Medicine at Midnight
Foo Fighters are a band that need no introduction, but I shall keep it short and sweet for those who haven’t heard of one of the biggest rock bands of the last 25 years. With ‘four UK number 1 albums, over 30 million albums sold worldwide’ and headlining slots at some of the biggest venues and festivals around the world, including Wembley Stadium, Rock AM Ring, Rock in Rio and even Glastonbury. Their whopping 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight, was released today at the time of writing. Being a big fan of the band, I have been eagerly waiting for this album for months now. However, I do have to admit that the singles they have released so far have all been pretty… slow, and haven’t filled me with confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good slow FF song, but I also come for the huge, stadium filling rock just as much, and the fact that I have heard very little of that so far worries me a little. Let’s see what it’s like, shall we?
Making a Fire starts the album at a fairly middling pace with a basic drumbeat and some light guitar chords over the top. I have to admit the chorus style vocals caught me a little off guard, sounding almost like Primal Scream instead of Foo Fighters, but it was a nice touch! The chorus drops and leaves the riff and drums behind as Dave Grohl’s ever-awesome vocals come in for the riff. Nothing special here but fine for what it is. The pre-chorus has a nice build and soon opens up into a huge chorus, very catchy and with some awesome backing vocals making everything sound even bigger. The chorus vocals return briefly after each chorus and they have pretty quickly become the highlight of the song for me, something I wasn’t at all expecting at a first listen. Especially after another brief pre-chorus after the second one when Everything drops out, leaving the chorus to also keep a beat going with stomps and claps, giving big gospel choir vibes. A final huge chorus and intro riff finish this one off. While a good song in its own right, this didn’t feel very Foo Fighters, especially as an opening track.
Lead single Shame Shame is up next. Opening on another drumbeat from Taylor Hawkins, this time accompanied by a very low, quiet guitar riff, this one starts out pretty relaxed. The same instrumentation and feel continue throughout the verses and choruses, the vocals matching the same stripped back, chilled out feel. The subtle keys and strings in the chorus were a nice touch that added some much-needed depth to the song, but they couldn’t really save it for me. When I mentioned in my first paragraph about not liking the singles, this was the main culprit. Again, it isn’t a bad song on its own, although even then it is distinctly average. However, when comparing it to the sheer amount of other incredible singles the band have put out over the years, such as Monkey Wrench, Run and All My Life, this really lands right down towards the bottom of the list in terms of excitement and memorableness. It’s a shame, too (pun intended), because it has all the makings of a good song, it just doesn’t go anywhere or kick into a higher gear, just stays stripped back and drawn out throughout.
Cloudspotter opens on an awesome, almost jazzy guitar riff, the best thing on this album so far. Grohl’s vocals come in low during the verse, staying stripped back and with a couple of awesome low harmonies and backing vocals sprinkled in. A brief pre-chorus soon explodes into a huge chorus, again the best one so far. Big chords, catchy, great vocals and an at least above average tempo do this song and the whole album wonders. The awesome, heavier riff that briefly emerges out of the second chorus is great, too, the drums being hard and working overtime as the simple yet effective riff repeats over and over. If anything, I’d have loved this to last longer before it dropped back down into a final pre-chorus, it could have been twice as long or added to quite substantially, there was a lot to work with there. However, it is a minor gripe really for an otherwise great song. In the usual pop-rock format, we get a final chorus and that heavy riff again before ending. A good song generally but I again wouldn’t put it up there with a lot of the band’s best.
Time for the next single and the acoustic ballad of the album, Waiting on a War. Opening straight on Grohl’s powerful vocals and his acoustic guitar chords, this song is all about the lyrics. As if the title wasn’t self-explanatory enough, the song is a fantastic, pretty scathing indictment of how our modern-day society feels like it is constantly on the brink of another major war. Musically, though, there is not much to this at all. The first half is almost exclusively Dave, with some beautiful strings coming in from the second chorus, adding some amazing depth to it. It also builds perfectly during the third chorus, adding in some drums and distorted guitar over the top of everything else, picking up the tempo more and more before exploding out into a huge final chorus with the whole band involved. I didn’t much like this at first listen when it was put out as a single, but having given it another try now in the context of the whole album, I loved it. It’s a great choice for a single, too, and I think the only issue it faced was that the other single released before it was so slow, too. However, this is one of the best ballads the band have done, and again makes the playlist.
Next up is the album’s title track. It starts on some surprising electronic beats, sounding like it’s been ripped straight from the 80s. A simple drumbeat and guitar riff again come in to back Grohl’s vocals, this time with a funky little bassline underneath it all being a personal highlight of mine. This was the song that drew the most comparisons for me to another controversial release they did, 2014s Sonic Highways. While I personally love that album, I know a lot of the bands core fanbase are tone on it, and I have to admit it took me a good few listens to truly get into. It’s also full of slower, lighter, jazz and blues inspired songs, a far cry from the stuff that brought them to mega stardom 15 years prior. I’m hoping this album grows on me just like the other did because so far outside of a couple of parts this is doing very little for me. So much so that I cannot find much to talk about for this song… there’s an okay chorus I guess, and a nice little jazzy solo in the middle. But generally, meh.
We reach the final single, No Son of Mine, and it alone was the reason I was excited for the album. The intro riff is finally something heavy on the album and reminds me a lot of All My Life, focusing on some palm-muted chugging and Dave’s vocals. The high backing vocals behind it are awesome, too, as is the slow build with the base drum and second guitar. It opens up into a huge chorus, too, Dave really letting his harsher vocals loose a little for the first time throughout the album, something that I truly missed. The riff breakdown style riff coming out of the second chorus is awesome, too, as is the little solo after that, even if said solo does get a little lost in the mix. We again get a final great chorus to end the song off, too. By far the best song on the album so far, not least just because it’s heavy but also the catchiest and closest to their usual style. Playlisted.
Holding Poison at least boasts a great opening and verse riff. Heck, the chorus isn’t half bad either, but at this point it has dropped back down to the lighter, more happy-sounding style of the first few songs and I am starting to get a little worn out by it. Not a bad song and it would probably be awesome live, but it’s not as good as a lot of their earlier album tracks. The same can unfortunately be said about the last two songs, Chasing Birds and Love Dies Young. While the latter starts out promising, a great opening riff, but soon descends into the same regular pop-rock that the rest of the album is. and while Chasing Birds is another good song, it is another slow one on an album that never really gets too fast and has other better slow songs on it.
Overall: I have no idea how to feel about this album. On the one hand it does have some truly great Foos songs, Waiting on a War and No Son of Mine, two that I think will stay in their long live sets for the rest of their careers now. There were some other good songs on here, too, Cloudspotter, Making a Fire and Holding Poison. However, there was also a hell of a lot of kind of average songs; filler almost. Considering the kind of back to front classic albums the band have put out, even up to their last album, Concrete And Gold, it is a little disappointing that the quality has dropped somewhat here. I’m really hoping it grows on me the more I listen like Sonic Highways did, because upon the first listen there is little here for me to get too excited about, and it is easily my least favourite Foos album.
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The review by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths