He’s been tagged “the nicest man in rock,” but Dave Grohl is also undoubtedly the hardest working man in rock. If he’s not recording with Foo Fighters, he’s touring. If he’s not touring, he’s in a side project band. If he’s not in a side project band, he’s making a film or TV series. If he’s not making a film or TV series, he’s working with Paul McCartney. Etcetera. This is a guy who took time out on his wedding day to work on songs with his bandmate Taylor Hawkins, and who broke his leg when he fell off the stage during a concert on June 12, 2015 — and had them set his leg and take him back to the stadium so he could finish the show! No doubt, the boy’s devoted to his music.
So, it’s been three years since the last Foos album (2014’s Sonic Highways), meaning another one is due. Concrete and Gold starts out in unexpectedly quiet, almost delicate fashion on “T-Shirt,” with Grohl saying he just wants to sing a love song, and you can sing along with him too, before it bursts into some full on power rock harmonizing, then segues into the desperation of “Run,” which pulls off the same trick of starting out quietly, then exploding into rock ‘n’ roll madness and that raw full-throated screaming that Grohl so loves to do. It’s an exhilarating beginning, with the kind of stylistic changes twists and turns that you found on Green Day’s great rock operas, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.
Grohl’s a great rock screamer and he clearly loves rocking out to the max. But it has to be said, he over indulges in his fondness for it; it’s as if his motto is, “When in doubt, push it to eleven.” Someone should tell him that when a song always has the same bludgeoning force, it becomes less and less interesting over time. That’s why songs like “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” “Thin Line,” and the title track are ultimately numbing, and, well, tiresome. This tendency towards excess also derails tracks like “Arrows,” a portrait of a frightened woman, and the twisted love story that is “Dirty Water”; the band can’t resist stepping on the accelerator.
The more interesting stuff varies the formula. “Make It Right” has a fuzzy, swirly sound that’s sort of psychedelic; you could imagine Queen’s Roger Taylor wrapping his dry, raspy vocal around it. “La Dee Da” starts out with some unsettling electronic buzzing before Grohl’s distorted vocals take center stage, and it’s surely the only time Psychic Television, Death in June, and Jim Jones have been name dropped in a rock song. These are tracks with a bit more character.
Drummer Taylor Hawkins is granted his own lead vocal on “Sunday Rain” (which has Paul McCartney taking over on drums). Hawkins sounds just like Grohl’s younger brother — which is essentially what his role in the band has always been — in a wistful number about a troubled relationship which starts out mid-tempo, gets heavier, then unexpectedly tacks on a noodling piano during the fade out.
Which brings us to what seems to be the album’s central themes: depression and disappointment. It’s an album of gloom and doom, without a single uplifting sentiment, which would seem to make it the perfect record to listen to as the greenery of the world goes into hibernation and we head into the sterile chill of winter. The downhearted observation “There ain’t no superheroes now” from “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)” is typical; you’ll get no respite here, folks. But never fear, Grohl, and Foo Fighters, keep on keeping on. Straight up rock solid. You can depend on it.