More about: Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters have been in an interesting cycle for their past three albums. Wasting Light was a return to analogue recording, and the very equipment that they made their seminal debut records with. Sonic Highways was higher concept still, recording each track in a different studio across America, with lyrics inspired by the journey that took them there and the people they met along the way. Concrete and Gold was, to me, their most blatant stride towards stadium rock up to that point, and that was enough of a concept to put it on the Foo Fighters timeline. So what, then, is the story with Medicine at Midnight?
To hear frontman Dave Grohl tell it, it is “a big party album”. But it’s also not that, because any time he has alluded to this, Grohl has been quick to backpedal and reassure us of this: Medicine at Midnight’s tracklisting won’t deviate too far from what we have come to love about the Foos since 1995.
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Either way, this is, to my ear, the most experimental the Foos have been in years. The band’s experimentation goes beyond the top-line conceptual thinking behind Wasting Light or Sonic Highways, delivering undeniable grooves, underpinned by the big singalong stadium-filling choruses you have come to expect from the band.
'Making a Fire' prominently features female backing singers for, I think, the first time in the Foos’ discography, making for silky smooth harmonies over the chorus. This is easily one of the catchiest songs on the album, and comfortably represents a meaningful evolution from anything Concrete and Gold brought to the table. And this is just in the first track.
'Shame Shame' was a bold first single to have led with (one that Grohl specifically had to claim wasn’t representative of the rest of the album), but one that sets a certain tone of the Foos not being interested in playing to expectation at this stage of their career. And I welcome it, though you could argue that Grohl’s billing of the track causes you to expect a greater departure from Foos norms than 'Shame Shame' actually represents. It is not at all the pop-tinged earworm it was touted to be – those stripped-back, pop-inspired verses still give way to the exact timbre of Foos chorus you have come to expect...but at least the journey to get there is very different to anything you’ve heard from Grohl and co. before.
'Waiting on a War' puts Foos back in Skin And Bones acoustic-with-strings mode, and alluding to Skin And Bones is no mistake, because the way the song continually speeds up to a crescendo at it closes is ripped exactly from the band’s playbook in bringing In Your Honour’s 'Razor' to that particular album's set. It’s great to see this side of the Foos return, after its notable absence in recent years, and it is honed and weaponised in 'Waiting on a War' to make for a fantastic post-pandemic stadium return.
Title track 'Medicine at Midnight' explores groovier pastures for the band, pastures which I wish they would have more thoroughly explored elsewhere on the album – but perhaps it is too much to expect the rock train to stop a-rollin’ at this juncture. 'No Son of Mine' falls flat – a weak, generic entry that sits in stark contrast with the inventiveness on display elsewhere on Medicine at Midnight. 'Holding Poison' meanwhile, is very reminiscent of Wasting Light’s 'Dear Rosemary', almost like another swing using the same chord progressions and structure. Funnily enough, though, 'Dear Rosemary' was entirely skippable, whereas 'Holding Poison' is anything but – an altogether more effective and punchy version of something we think we have seen before.
'Chasing Birds' is another brilliantly In Your Honour disc two-style entry, but with a fuller overall sound. This is one of the album’s major highlights, even though it is diametrically opposed to the “party album” remit we seem to have had otherwise. Every party needs to comedown at some point though, right?
Compared to the relative safety of Concrete and Gold, Medicine at Midnight feels like a revelation. A more playful, experimental side of the Foo Fighters that we haven’t seen in years which must be encouraged further. For too long Grohl’s experimentation has been relegated to guest appearances, and more often than not, separate bands – but with Medicine at Midnight we see the start of an exciting new chapter in the band’s history. Long may they continue.
Medicine at Midnight arrives 5 February via Roswell Records.
More about: Foo Fighters