Foo Fighters is one of the most grandiose rock bands in the world, and has been for quite some time now. From their 1995 self-titled debut that was virtually completely written and recorded by frontman Dave Grohl, to 2005’s massive double album In Your Honor, to the 2014 effort with its companion TV series Sonic Highways, it seems like everything the Foos do is huge. Grohl and company have always been so intentional about ensuring that what is attached to their name is quality material, and their latest, Concrete and Gold, is no exception.
The Foos’ ninth full-length starts off subdued, before the softness of the intro to “T-Shirt” makes way for a pummeling combination of driving guitar and killer vocal harmonies, two characteristics very common to Foo Fighters compositions, but especially prominent on Concrete and Gold. “T-Shirt” is over way too soon, but it does serve as the perfect primer for lead single “Run,” a head-banging rocker where Grohl cuts loose on the chorus with a melodic scream that we haven’t heard in quite some time, pairing extremely well with the half-time / double-time stomp feel. The result is one of the fiercer Foo Fighters singles we’ve heard in a while, and yet it’s followed up by an even fiercer tune. From the opening drum rhythm that continues throughout the entire song, to the rambunctious guitarwork, to the chilling key change on the chorus, everything about “Make It Right” is loud, but especially with the bridge’s fiery riff and explosion of drums that ensue right before ending similar to its beginning.
The Foo Fighters always find the best, most fitting musical artists to guest spot on their records, and this is probably truer on Concrete and Gold than on any other Foos’ disc, 2014 mega-undertaking Sonic Highways included. Sometimes these guest spots make perfect sense, like the subtle backing vocals from The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and The Bird and The Bee’s Inara George, on “The Sky is a Neighborhood” and “Dirty Water,” respectively. The string arrangements are on-point with cuts like “The Sky is a Neighborhood” or the brief reprieve that is “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour).” Elsewhere, smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz contributes to “La Dee Da,” and Beatles legend Paul McCartney even sits in to provide some of the drum parts to “Sunday Rain,” but the strangest and unlikeliest combinations are also the ones that stand out the most. The rock stalwarts built a choir out of Shawn Stockman’s appearance, making the Boyz II Men singer’s contribution to the closer sound like “40 vocals stacked” on top of each other. The other chance collaboration also stemmed from the band’s rowdy party-throwing nature in the studio, and comes at arguably the album’s heaviest moment, “Make It Right.” Justin Timberlake only provides backing vocals, and you wouldn’t expect it to work on something as intense as “Make It Right,” but the strange pairing actually works quite well, and ends up being the most stunning attribute of the whole LP, cementing it as the main highlight.
Other highlights from Concrete and Gold include the vicious bass modulation that opens and stays in the foreground on “La Dee Da,” the phenomenal chord progression on “Dirty Water,” which starts out like a ballad before eventually picking up the intensity about halfway through, and the killer syncopation of “Arrows,” which makes it feel like it’s in a different time signature. Even where there are special guests to augment a song’s staying power, the band themselves never cease to impress either, particularly on the three tunes that close out the record. “Sunday Rain” sees Grohl step aside and make way for the criminally underrated Taylor Hawkins to take over at center stage, singing lead on this lengthy but heady rocker. On “The Line,” producer Greg Kurstin provides synth bass and vibraphone, but it’s the vocal melodies and blending, particularly on the bridge, that really make this grower (I was pretty underwhelmed when I first heard it) stand out. And of course, I would be remiss to not the mention the title track, where stellar instrumentation and an almost Western guitar feel leave Stockman’s choir-like guest appearance as mere icing on the cake.
With their latest, the Foo Fighters have crafted yet another fantastic effort which features all kinds of twists and turns. When listened to from start to finish, every song has its place, and just like every complete work of art, there are certain points where the “wow” factor is more present, but I’ve been having trouble pinning down a single “weak link” or even weak aspect of this album, even after letting it marinate more over the week or so since its release. To me, Concrete and Gold feels like the most complete Foo Fighters effort and is home to some of the strongest tracks they’ve ever written. Will it eclipse The Colour and The Shape as my favorite FF disc? Probably not. Nevertheless, I would be very surprised if this isn’t still my favorite rock record from 2017 come December.