Foo Fighters: Wasting Light – review

(Roswell/ Sony)

The seventh Foo Fighters album has been heralded as a back-to-basics sort of record, a direct affair impaled squarely on a set of devil's horns. Perhaps in an effort to contrast with the American rock band's last bloated (and yet Grammy-winning) double album, 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, it was recorded on to analogue tape in main man Dave Grohl's garage.

The video for album teaser "White Limo" finds the Foos in a limo driven by Lemmy, making a hybrid punk-metal racket and gurning like goons. You can see the appeal of returning to basics for a man who has achieved pretty much everything. As well as selling magpie-deterring quantities of shiny discs, Grohl has headlined Wembley Stadium, hung out at the White House, played with everyone he's ever admired, from Macca (at an Anfield gig in honour of Liverpool's tenure as a City of Culture in 2008) to John Paul Jones (in Them Crooked Vultures) and cultivated a reputation as rock's least-damaged nice guy. Lest we forget, he also had a drum stool in the thick of the late 20th-century's biggest rock drama: Nirvana.

As befits a rock star of his status, it follows that Grohl's garage is no dank shed paved in slug pellets. It is probably rather plusher than most of our houses, thus parking the notion of an analogue garage album as an exercise in passionate mid-fidelity. The man who pressed "record" on this offering was Butch Vig, producer of Nirvana's Nevermind. Adding to the weight of history, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic adds his low-slung rumble on "I Should Have Known". Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear, meanwhile, permanently rejoined the Foos line-up recently, adding to the frisson.

"I Should Have Known" is undoubtedly heartfelt and direct – an elegy for Grohl's childhood friend-cum-roadie Jimmy Swanson, who died of an overdose in 2008 – but it will inevitably stand in as an elegy for another death, 14 years previously. As Grohl beats himself up – "I should have known," he howls – you want to comfort this most life-affirming musician. But simultaneously, you wish he could summon more of the taut emotional clout which graced 2002's "Times Like These" or "All My Life".

Another hero is buried in the duet "Dear Rosemary" – hardcore legend Bob Mould. Grohl has recently acknowledged that Mould's bands, Hüsker Dü and Sugar, have provided a great deal of Foos raw material. But although the song is a perfectly serviceable slow-burner, there's nowhere near enough of Mould's vintage input to even up the scores. The riff, meanwhile, actually recalls the Raconteurs' "Steady, As She Goes".

Anyone coming to Wasting Light for a back-to-basics Foos album will find instead one that is rather more thickset and refined, one that only very comfortable rock industry men might consider raw or primal. Much of Wasting Light rocks just fine, but takes precisely no risks with the Foos' commercially peaking, but artistically diminishing, tattooed chug-pop.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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