REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011 CD, iTunes edition)

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FOO FIGHTERS – Wasting Light (2011 Roswell Records)

The much anticipated new Foo Fighters album was a big deal to us fans — for the first time, a five-man lineup, three guitar players, and the return of Pat Smear. In other words this album has the same lineup as the glorious Colour and the Shape era of the band, plus Chris Shifflet. Add on expert production by Butch Vig, mixing by Alan Moulder. It sounds glorious! What it lacks in the diversity from the previous two albums, it makes up with the sheer youthful energy from the first two.

Wasting Light hits you right away with the one-two punch of “Bridge Burning” and “Rope”, fast jagged hard rock songs with riffs and Grohl screams. Not totally immediate, but they set the stage for some of the best tunage the Foos have ever laid to wax.

The dark and powerful “Dear Rosemary” is the first bonafide classic on this album, and you can definitely hear the benefit of the three guitars as rhythm & catchy licks merge into one moving whole.  “Dear Rosemary”, features Bob Mould (Husker Du) sharing lead vocal duties.  What an incredible song.  It was a bit of genius inspiration, working with Mould on it.  The result is an instant classic, one of the best Foo tunes in the canon.  (A Foo-Du tune?)

“White Limo” starts with a brutally heavy metal riff, something that harkens back to Voivod, with Grohl doing his best distorted metal screams overtop. This is primo thrash metal, a total surprise for me. I always knew Grohl was a metalhead, but I didn’t expect anything this overtly metal to appear on a Foo Fighters album. But it’s a welcome change, and my current favourite song for pure adrenaline pumping energy.

“Arlandria” starts slower, but builds to a melodic, dramatic chorus with crashing chords and cymbals. By this time the album has begun to take shape: It has melody but the foundation is the guitar riffage. “These Days” is a total change of pace, a much softer song, but still propelled forward by the beats of Taylor Hawkins, and of course the guitars still crash come chorus time.

“Back and Forth” has a pretty crummy snare drum sound, but Nate Mendel’s bass rings clear and true underneath. It takes a while to get going, but the chorus is still solid. “A Matter of Time” is the weakest song so far, an awkward, jagged non-standout rocker.

“Miss the Misery” is a return to form, starting with a brief “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” drone before settling into an i irresistible set of melodies, punctuated by catchy guitar licks buzzing in and out of the mix. Again, you can hear where three guitar players is coming in handy, as there is a lot going on here guitar-wise. Fee Waybill on guest vocals! Next, Nirvana fans will be excited by an appearance by Krist Novoselic on “I Should Have Known”. Including Pat Smear, this is a reunion of the three surviving members of the final Nirvana lineup, a little mini-historic event in the annals of rock. It is a slow mournful song, with Grohl’s voice back in the mix, singing “I cannot forgive you yet”. It is a beautiful song, and a welcome change of pace. Novoselic’s bass, when it kicks in about halfway, just rumbles. It ends as dramatically as anything else on the album.

The standard edition of the album closes with a song called “Walk”. This is a brighter song, guitars chiming and ringing, and exactly the way an album like this needs to end. But suddenly the pace picks up, and the guitars cascade like the greatest Foo songs of old. This one reminds me, for a number of reasons including riffs, melody and pacing, of “New Way Home”, the awesome closer from Colour and the Shape.

The Foos have created another fine album, not an easy thing to do when you have albums like Colour and the Shape and In Your Honor under your collective belts. They certainly have lost nothing to age, and they have not exhausted their energies. I also think that, after two very diverse albums, it was exactly the right move to return to a predominantly rock direction for this album. It re-grounds the bands back to their roots.

It’s not over yet though, as the iTunes and Japanese editions of the album have bonus tracks. iTunes have an absolutely useless remix of “Rope” by Deadmau5. I guess people who like this kind of music will appreciate it, but it has no place on an album like this. It is monotonous and boring, a waste of five minutes of my time. Much more appropriate is another song called “Better Off”. “Better Off” is almost Beatles-y in melody, but with heavy layered guitars pummeling your ears. I love the lyrics as well — “You know you’re better off, you bastard!”

Wasting Light has been a great and pleasant surprise to me. I wasn’t sure what direction the Foo Fighters were going to take with this record, but I’m pleased that they took a step back to guitar-based basics, yet still retained all the lessons they learned about melody, songwriting and arranging.

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BONUS! Just to do something special and unique, and to make a point about recording this album straight to analog tape (no computers!), Dave Grohl has sliced up his original master tape for Wasting Light, and included a piece inside the first run of the CD. Cool, man.  Worth hunting down a first pressing for, if you care about such things!

5/5 stars!

22 comments

  1. A great record that definitely deserved the hype it got. It confirmed to me that they need to concentrate on short, concise, melodic, hard rockin’ songs. That’s what they’re best at. When they’ve tried to stretch out, they expose some of their weaknesses…although even their lesser material is worth hearing. I hope whenever they return from their hiatus, they stick with the formula they used on “Wasting Light.”

    Excellent and thorough review as always, Mike.

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    1. Thanks Rich!

      There is one other Foo Fighters new release that I would like to get to in the new year, which is the vinyl-only Medium Rare. All covers. “Band On The Run” was quite good, but I’m blown away by their cover of “Young Man Blues”. Just furious! Have you seen that one?

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      1. I got a digital copy of that from a friend a few weeks ago, after completing my Foo Fighters series. It’s enjoyable but nothing blew me away. Most of the covers were competent, and it would probably be fun to see them playing some of these songs live, but nothing comes close to the original versions in my opinion. Even “Young Man Blues,” which is very good, pales in comparison to The Who’s “Live At Leeds” version, as well as Mose Allison’s jazzier original. Still, I’m glad they compiled all those covers in one place, and I’m glad I heard it.

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        1. Everything pales to Live At Leeds. I recently got the deluxe of that. What a great purchase. What a great live album. “A Quick One” off that record is my favourite Who recording of all time.

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        2. …and all those discs are available in deluxe editions.

          Every Record described it as a “slippery slope”. It is far too easy to go nuts collecting all this stuff! I just purchased the deluxe Rainbow On Stage and I’m loving that, I could keep buying these deluxes forever.

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        3. You have to be careful when it comes to reissues of The Who catalog. Pete has been known to make changes to the original albums, occasionally swapping out original parts for newer ones. And when they’ve released Deluxe Editions, they usually don’t include everything from the previous Expanded Editions so you need to keep both (and in some cases, the original CD pressing from the ’80s as well because it has the original LP transfer, even if the mastering is terrible). I actually stopped buying all of their Deluxe Editions, although I really loved the 2-disc version of their debut. Strange mixes aside, those songs never sounded more alive.

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        4. Oh man! Don’t tell me that. You know I have OCD right? Hah.

          I knew that he had done some remixing to the original CD remasters. A buddy of mine told me he couldn’t tell the difference but apparently he wasn’t listening closely enough.

          Do the deluxe editions have the original mixes, or the remixed versions?

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        5. To the best of my knowledge, the deluxe (2 CD) editions reverted to the original mixes, but I’m not 100% sure. To me the most blatant change was on the expanded version of “Who Are You,” when a guitar solo was swapped for a completely different take (I think it was “Trick Of The Light”). It’s one thing to include an alternate mix/version/take as a bonus track, but to insert it into the album in place of the original mix is like George Lucas & Steven Spielberg updating Star Wars and ET, respectively, just because they could. Director’s cuts are all well & good, but the original version should always be available because it captures that moment in time.

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        6. Agreed fully.

          The Deep Purple remasters usually feature remixes done by Roger Glover or Glenn Hughes. But these are supplementary material to the original album versions.

          Lucas has at least given Star Wars over to someone else, so I predict (and you can quote me on this) that Disney will issue blu-ray editions of the ORIGINAL original trilogy in the next 5 years. I also predict that aside from 3D versions, you’ve seen the last of the messing with the original movies.

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        7. I haven’t gotten any of the Purple remasters, but when I’ve seen the alternate mixes listed on the packaging I can tell they did it the right way.

          Now that I have a Blu-Ray player, I would only get the original Star Wars trilogy if I know it’s the original films and they’ve been completely restored for picture & sound. Otherwise, I’m not wasting my time on any of the existing versions. Then again, I barely have time to see new movies these days, so the idea of re-watching old movies is foreign to me. I have to be very choosy about what I’ll spend money on.

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        8. You can get the original films on DVD, but not remastered in any way. Just FYI in case you happen upon them.

          The Purple remasters are excellent Rich. I have been collecting them since they issued In Rock back in 1996. Now they have done all the original albums up to Come Taste the Band. Stormbringer and the new Machine Head box set come with DVD’s of the original quad mixes, too.

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        9. When it comes to deluxe editions, it’s all about time & money: will I have time to listen to them, and can I find them at a decent enough price to make it worth upgrading? Good to know that the Purple deluxe editions get your seal of approval.

          As for Star Wars, I’m not enough of a fan that I need to buy what’s out there now. I can wait until the super-deluxe pristine Blu-Rays that get unanimous thumbs-up from fanboys & critics. As much of a movie lover as I am, I stopped collecting them a few years ago when I realized that I never had time to re-watch movies. I’m happy to DVR them off one of the million pay channels, watch once & delete. I’m obviously not a collector of movies the way I am with music.

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        10. Rich you made one big assumption there: “unanimous thumbs-up from fanboys & critics.” Fanboys love to hate — they will always find something to bitch about! Hahah.

          I hear you on the deluxe editions. All I can say is, in the future I’ll keep you posted on what I buy, right here. Although I have a lot of catching up to do. 4 Rainbow deluxes so far, numerous Sabbath and Lizzy’s.

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        11. I knew when I wrote that phrase about fanboys that I was generalizing. If at some point in the future there’s a version of the trilogy released to widespread acclaim, that’s when I’ll spend my money.

          Sometimes deluxe editions help me out when I’m not interested in the extras, because used copies of earlier editions become more readily available at low prices. I have all of the late-90s Rainbow remasters and I’m pretty satisfied with them.

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        12. Yes that is true. I can recall selling a lot of these “rare” Rainbow and Dio albums for top dollar. Now you can score them all at reasonable prices.

          I’m glad somebody at the labels is showing these bands some love. There was a time when you couldn’t get these albums domestically in Canada, during the 1990’s. I had to buy imports because they were not the current fad. (Which brings us back to Mr. Grohl who helped usher in that new sound of the 1990’s, but I’m sure he didn’t mean to wipe out all interest in his heroes!)

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  2. Another record I still have yet to hear. Sigh.

    Cool idea with the master tape pieces. But if they claim the inevitable future re-release is remastered, you’ll know you’ve been had!

    Live At Leeds. I just had dibs on a free copy of that vinyl and forgot to snag it. Dammit.

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        1. Nice! I think will Tull I will mostly stick with the CD’s with bonus tracks. Ian Anderson has been very thorough about including all B-sides and extra tracks. And they’ve been good, too.

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