Dave Grohl looks like a guy who doesn’t struggle with pressure. With a career full of highs and lows, tragedy and joy, loss and achievement, the music flows through his veins. Heck, even a broken leg didn’t stop him performing. Falling off a stage two songs into a set in Sweden in 2015 he had dislocated his ankle. Drummer Taylor Hawkins held the fort onstage while Grohl had treatment. He returned with a medic holding his ankle in place, sat on a chair, and proceeded to rock on for another two-and-a-half hours on stage before finally hitting the ER. No wonder he is known as the “Nicest Guy in Rock”.
In 2018 Grohl began considering Foo Fighters album number ten. 2020 would see the band’s 25th anniversary, and he wanted an album out that year followed by a world tour. It has been a tumultuous ride for the band with group members coming and going, but now there is a settled sense of family and community with Grohl at its core.
Grohl has tried to make each Foo Fighters album slightly different. Continuing that trend he wanted the tenth to be a celebration, a party album with influences from funk and disco. The idea was to provide music that would have us all dancing like crazy and going bananas in stadiums. Okay, things didn’t go quite to plan with the pandemic scuppering the original schedule, but we can still party in our kitchens instead.
Medicine at Midnight opens with “Making a Fire”. Who knew we would have a Foo Fighters album kicking off with a couple of rounds of “Na na, na na na na, na na…”. The lyrics continue to express a throwing off of the shackles, to finally free oneself and grab life with both hands and go for it.
“I’ve waited a lifetime to live.
It’s time to ignite.
I’m making a fire.”
It was actually the first song they recorded, and backing vocalists include his daughter Violet which must have been pretty emotional.
“Shame Shame” was the first single from the album and it went straight to the top of the US Rock Streaming charts. Many of the Foo Fighters songs are actually about love and relationships, including their drama and emotion. “Shame Shame” has a hook that instantly makes it memorable with anthemic soaring strength. However, the lyrics and the accompanying video are a little darker, telling the story of obsession, perhaps of lost love, or even of death itself: “I’ll make you feel something real just to bother you”. The suggestion is that moving on is not happening and the despair and loss remain:
“Another splinter under the skin
another season of loneliness
I found a reason and buried it
under a mountain of emptiness”
“Cloudspotter” is the grooviest track on the album. A complete contrast to “Shame Shame”. It starts with a funky vibe but then morphs into typical Foo Fighters territory with increasingly pounding drums, screeching electric guitars and Grohl’s full-on vocals. It tears through the track right to the very end and finishes with a perfectly timed reverb.
Grohl’s daughter Harper asked the question “daddy is there going to be a war?”. “Waiting On a War” was written for her. His heart sank as he had hoped that such anxieties wouldn’t exist for children anymore, but sadly we do still live in such a world. It’s a heavy load to bear, living with a sense of foreboding and almost an expectation of conflict. It is a beautiful track with a sense of emotion as it starts slowly and calmly but then builds as it progresses. As it nears the end this power and volume culminate in the final poignant lyrics:
“Because I need more
Yeah, I need more
Than just waiting on a war”
The title track “Medicine at Midnight” has a funky opening full of percussion and a much gentler vocal style. There is a distinct David Bowie influence here, reminiscent of China Girl with its heavy electric guitar. The temptation to rock it out is resisted, and the track works much better for it.
This may be a party album but its impossible to ignore the world we live in. “No Son of Mine” is the rock and roll fire in the belly we expect from Foo Fighters. Guitar riffs worthy of AC/DC and a screaming Grohl but the lyrics are so powerful. Is this a dig at US Foreign Policy and its engagement in war overseas? Is it a statement against the culture of fake news? Grohl has three daughters and is almost acknowledging the conflict faced by parents whose sons are in the military, one he does not have to face. The shortest track on the album it is tight, ferocious and gripping.
“No son of mine will ever do
The work of villains, the will of fools
If you believe it
It must be true”
“Holding Poison” is pure rock and roll. This is the audience participation song. You NEED to have 40,000 people around you all singing “Holding the poison down”. It is the kind of track that makes me miss live music so much. Even though the lyrics suggest someone out of control, its a total blast. About two-thirds in there is a shift of pace and oh boy that guitar…
“Chasing Birds” is the weakest song on the album. Definitely not a party track and misses the mark with any real emotional power. The lyrics are dark and suggest thoughts of ones own mortality and perhaps a regret of actions taken in the past. It has a melancholy air to it, which feels out of place on an album made for dancing:
To get high
I’m never coming down
My heart is six feet underground”
However, closing track “Love Dies Young” gives us what we want from Foo Fighters. A strong guitar riff and then straight into a love song Foo Fighters style. Full-on, packed with energy, and definitely one to party too. A perfect song to close the album.
With recording started in September 2019 and the album finished in January 2020 but has taken a year to be released. For the diehard fans, it is good to know that Medicine at Midnight is 100% a Foo Fighters album. Its a big, sonic experience, perfect for lifting the spirits although the original intention was of course to create a stadium-sized shared experience. Medicine at Midnight does, however, have a dark side. A couple of tracks have more of a pessimistic view of our world, perhaps hardly surprising.
The band has been desperately unlucky not to be able to celebrate their 25th anniversary with another round of world domination, but Grohl is of course stoic. Can you imagine the amount of produced merchandise? He has joked about scribbling out the five and writing in six!
Dave Grohl is first and foremost a music fan. Yes, he is a marketing man’s dream and the powerhouse behind the band hence the amount of media coverage he is getting at the moment but giving so much back to the industry he loves surely he continues to deserve the title “Nicest Guy in Rock”.
Medicine at Midnight is out now on Roswell Records/Columbia Records.