Album Review: Foo Fighters play it safe with Medicine at Midnight, but that’s not a bad thing

Today marks the day that iconic American rockers Foo Fighters return with the long-awaited release of their tenth (!!) studio full length, Medicine at Midnight.

The release – their first since 2017’s well received Concrete and Gold – coincides with the band’s 25th anniversary, and was set to be released in a year when they were supposed to be on the road (on “The Van Tour”, which I was eagerly anticipating) celebrating that very occasion. Of course, that tour was cancelled, and the album delayed until today.

Coming in at 36 minutes and 35 seconds across 9 tracks, this is the Foo’s shortest LP to date (in total duration), but on this you can’t blame the pandemic: the record was tracked between November 2019 and February 2020 in a (potentially haunted) house in Encino, California. So anyone hoping for a rockin’ bop about the pandemic might be disappointed. And on its length, fans will certainly find themselves left wanting more.

Greg Kurstin, who worked with the band on Concrete and Gold, is back on production duties – and though the effort ultimately doesn’t feel as cohesive nor as striking as its predecessor, the album sits as another solid effort from a band who have consistently delivered albums that have satiated fans’ appetites; this release being no exception.

The record kicks off with “Making a Fire”, which features Grohl’s daughter Violet on backing vocals and sees the band proudly and unapologetically say – yeah, we’re Dads, and I guess that means we’re Dad rock now, but you’re all 25 years older now too so get over it.

That’s not to say there’s no nostalgia to be found here – the weight of the band’s anniversary was undeniably playing on their mind as they recorded this album. Notably, Grohl said in interviews that there’s a riff on this album that does indeed date back some 25 years – but it’s hard to place that riff, as there are many moments that feel like it could easily have been taken from one of their albums from the 90s.

“Shame Shame”, the first single of the album comes second – which is a solid effort from the band, but doesn’t hold the weight of the follow ups “No Son of Mine” and “Waiting on a War” – both of which sit as highlights on the record. The former is the band at their best, with a rollicking beat courtesy of drummer Taylor Hawkins, while the latter starts off slow, but grows into one of the biggest and loudest jams on the record.

And it’s not the only track that does this – “Cloudspotter” too has a less than auspicious start, but ends on a loud note sure to please fans. Also, as it turns out, “Cloudspotter” is the song that holds that 25 year old riff (listen out for it in the chorus). “Chasing Birds” is another highlight – a number that calls back to low tempo favourites like “Walking After You” and may be my favourite on the record.

The album’s namesake, as well as closer “Love Dies Young” are both rather forgettable (something that could of course change over time) – and while it’s a pity to see the record close out on a less than memorable note, being left wanting more isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And thankfully it’s not a difficult task to hit replay.

The problem the album faces, ultimately, is also one of its strengths – and that’s that it feels like the band have played it safe here. There was a feeling across their last few records that they were trying to break new ground, and while that didn’t always work wonders musically (as in Sonic Highways), their ambition was admirable. Here, they may not be releasing their best album, but they’re not going to disappoint either. This is going to keep fans happy, and in a time where so much of the world is stuck at home, that familiarity and reliability is very welcome.

This isn’t an album that will have one obvious song that fans will attach themselves to. But then again, their albums rarely have. For every fan who considers “Learn To Fly” the best on There Is Nothing Left to Lose, another will point to “Stacked Actors”, “Breakout” or “Generator”. The point being – they’ve always had consistently good music on their records.

Whether Medicine has a song to match the likes of those mentioned remains to be seen, though it does feel unlikely. But those comparisons are impossible after less than a day of listening to a record. Not to mention the fact we’re all 20+ years older and music just hits us differently than it once did.

I’m amongst the generation, now in their mid-30s, that grew up with the band. And while they’re surely still bringing in new fans along the way (something that 10 year old drummer Nandi has reminded us), this isn’t a band who’s trying to be the cool new thing. They’re just trying to make some good ol’ rock n’ roll – and for the most part, they have succeeded here, which 25 years in, is not something to belittle.

The Foo Fighters have survived the test of time, consistently delivering solid music along the way and shaping themselves into one of the finest stadium rock bands on the planet, while getting to do it on their terms. If Concrete and Gold was the culmination of that, Medicine at Midnight is the reminder that they have nothing left to prove. And if they still manage to gain younger fans along the way, and those new fans pick up some drum sticks and find inspiration from their music like we did 25 years ago – well that’s medicine we can all get behind.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Medicine at Midnight is out now.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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