Photo Credit: Danny Clinch
The Foo Fighters open their tenth studio album Medicine at Midnight with “Making a Fire”, a track which in the course of four minutes and sixteen seconds somehow seems to cram in an album’s worth of elements: a classic rock riff, a pre-chorus which takes a sharp turn to the song’s more sensitive territory, a flawless guitar solo, and a great, time-tested “nah, nah” chorus. The song briefly even drops all instrumentation and goes a cappella at exactly the right moment.
If the Foo Fighters aren’t looking to be all things to all people, it often does seem like it, but this has almost always served them well. Combining lead singer and guitarist Dave Grohl’s beginnings as drummer for Nirvana (and the sound and attitude which that band represented) and then incorporating Beatles-esque hooks and a perfectly-honed sense of humor, the Foo Fighters have made some of the best mainstream rock of the past twenty-five years, and now march forth into their second quarter century as (mostly) unquestioned victors.
Due to that factor, it was a bit disappointing that the track that introduced Medicine at Midnight to the listening public, “No Son of Mine”, is arguably the least distinct on the record, offering up a riff a la Led Zeppelin or Van Halen which is solid but undeniably formulaic. Yet not every throwback on the album is as obvious. The secondsingle, “Shame Shame” is built around a sneaking bassline and overall is probably most reminiscent of “Jane’s Getting Serious”, an underrated 1987 radio hit by veteran record producer Jon Astley.
“Cloudspotter” is perhaps another track that attempts to cover a lot of bases, in this case combining hard rock with some Prince-like quasi-funk and a deep-voice vocal, which is unusual for the Foo Fighters. A Led Zeppelin-like driving riff returns to introduce the song but then is abruptly replaced by an ‘80s-style hook on “Love Dies Young”, which despite its title is actual among the album’s more upbeat tracks. The title cut is a fine attempt at bouncy funk driven by another strong bassline and perhaps recalls the Rolling Stones’ habitual stabs at urban musical genres from the late ‘70s.
However, the Foo Fighters will occasionally imitate themselves, as “Holding Poison” sounds like an outtake from their 2011 release Wasting Light. Results of the band bringing out their softer side here are mixed: Paul McCartney-ish “Chasing Birds” lingers a bit too long before getting to the point (such as it is). By contrast, “Waiting on a War” is the album’s best cut, starting as an uptempo acoustic guitar song and quickly throwing in an appropriately subtle string section before fully rocking out by its conclusion.
Add to that the song’s theme of wholeheartedly longing for something which you’re not quite able to identify, along with Grohl’s always-strong vocals, and “Waiting on a War” becomes yet another reason why the Foo Fighters for many years have been labeled “the last great band” (their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year is pretty much a walk-in, but also deserved). Unfortunately, Medicine at Midnight is not a great album. Good, certainly, but the Foo Fighters have pretty much already proven that they’re not capable of less, and Medicine at Midnight just seems too much like the generic version of a more effective name-brand prescription drug.