Going into the Foo Fighters' new album, “Concrete and Gold,” there’s a bit of a worry. Dave Grohl has pretty much abandoned the straightforward formula that made the band’s first three records such resounding classics, switching up the sound for something more rooted in middle-of-the-road, meat-and-potatoes rock. Gone generally are the “alternative” elements that called back to Grohl’s days in Nirvana.
A listen to “Concrete and Gold,” though shows that not all hope is lost. It does suffer a little from a forced kind of complexity that sometimes keeps it from reaching indelible heights, but it is an interesting, well-orchestrated disc that sounds like a hefty, “prog-rock” answer to “Sgt. Pepper”-era Beatles. You can definitely hear echoes of the late-period Fab Four throughout standouts like “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” the Taylor Hawkins-fronted “Sunday Rain” and the very “Blackbird”-esque “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour.)”
Grohl and company are out to make an expansive, lush record and they do succeed on some level, going in a wide variety of directions. Admittedly, the first listen of lead single “Run,” with its bizarre metallic freak-out, will perhaps be jarring to some.
There is a sense, from the opening of brief intro track “T-Shirt” that the band is trying to craft something timeless. In a way, they do, by working with many “classic rock” standard practices. This is an extremely focused record. Unfortunately, it isn’t all that catchy. It lacks a track you’ll want to hear on repeat the instant it ends. Still, this is an occasionally sludgy, sometimes foreboding trip of a record, setting a somewhat consistent mood.
Of course, it is also a record packed with interesting guests. If it sounds particularly Beatle-y, it might be due to the fact that Grohl and Paul McCartney are friends. McCartney drums on the before-mentioned “Sunday Rain,” while drummer Hawkins takes the lead. Justin Timberlake surprisingly sings on the rocking “Get It Right,” while Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman is on the rocking, emotional title track. The album was produced by Greg Kirstin (who has worked with Adele, Sia, Lily Allen and more) so it isn’t surprising to see his Bird and the Bee bandmate Inara George also in the vocal credits. Alison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather also contributes to the background vocals while saxophonist Dave Koz also has a guest turn. This hefty roster of guests shows how popular the Foo Fighters are in the industry and as people. Unfortunately, too many of the guests are quite buried in the mix.
While not playing to the band’s true strengths, “Concrete and Gold” is a remarkably reliable record. It verges on being predictable in places but has enough strange corners to warrant a recommendation.
“The Sky Is a Neighborhood” I’ll be honest. I didn’t quite feel this one when I first heard it, but within the context of the record it really stands out. It’s grown on me quite a bit. Grohl sells it with his shout and the background choir of voices gives it a wonderfully ominous touch.
“Sunday Rain” Between having McCartney on drums, Hawkins’ John Lennon-esque vocal arrangement and the nods to George Harrison in the guitar work, this six-minute rocker is an unlikely high-point.
“La Dee Da” Definitely more than meets the eye is at work here on this churning rocker. You might want to pay special attention to try to spot the details.
Missed the last batch? Get reviews on the latest from Neil Young, The National and others.