Nine studio albums into its tenure as a band, Foo Fighters don’t have anything to prove. On Concrete and Gold, though, the band puts in a valiant effort to prove something anyway.
The initial track, “T-Shirt,” opens with a gentle sequence of acoustically backed poetry that quickly segues into an explosive, ethereal choral arrangement. The song rips through a few snappy guitar riffs before reverting back to a feeling of calm at the end. All within the span of less than a minute and a half.
The variety here sets the tone for the rest of the album: it careens between calm acoustics and raging rock, often within a single song. Everything seems to have a place to fit. There are insistent concert-rock performances like “La Dee Da” and the endlessly fun “Make It Right,” but also softer moments like “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour).” Yet even the harder songs have their quiet moments, and even the calmer songs still have that trademark Foo Fighters edge.
The variety here is appealing, but it may take an extra listen or two to fully understand the draw. The switches at times can feel a little jarring — particularly on the front half of the album, which is more heated than the second half. “Run” is a good example of this; it’s full of galloping drums and guitar parts and screaming vocals, all of which are a big part of what makes the Foo Fighters so much fun, but it also goes through a lot of sudden shifts in both tempo and mood.
The album reaches a definite peak in “The Sky is a Neighborhood,” released in August as the album’s second single. Enthrallingly creative, the song maps a fantastical journey through a nightmarish imagination full of worry and angst. The beat of the chorus alone is catchy enough, and combined with the high-stakes drive of the melody and the inviting phrase “the sky is a neighborhood” itself, it’s an all-around complete and exciting single. It also showcases Dave Grohl’s indomitable energy and spirit, a common thread throughout the album due as much to his powerful vocals as to his skill as a songwriter.
Concrete and Gold is notable because almost every song brings something somewhat new to the table. “Dirty Water” is haunted and foreboding, with lyrics like “You’re my sea of poison flowers” and a seething atmosphere that evokes seventies rock. On the other hand, “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)” is all dreamy acoustics, embodying a softer, disillusioned side of the album that is only seen in brief snatches in some of the other songs. These varying temperaments are brought together skillfully by producer Greg Kurstin. Prior to this album, Kurstin worked primarily with pop music, but his work on Concrete and Gold paid off, bringing defined character and a sense of purposefulness.
What’s more, Kurstin isn’t the only distinguished presence brought in for the album. Foo Fighters pulled out all the stops where famous appearances were concerned, featuring Justin Timberlake on backup vocals for “Make It Right” and Paul McCartney on drums for “Sunday Rain.” Of course, if you’re going to bring in Paul McCartney for anything, it has to feel earned, and this does — the entire album is classic-rock-inspired, “Sunday Rain” arguably more so than any other song. By the time it comes up, McCartney’s appearance feels both fitting and deserved.
On first listen, Concrete and Gold does suffer a bit from its frequent shifts between highs and lows. It accomplishes these feelings most masterfully in “The Sky is a Neighborhood” and “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour),” respectively, and the sounds that are packed in around these form an overall riotous and intelligent album. More than anything else, this is an album made with the clear effort to do something new and interesting, from the appearances of McCartney and Timberlake to the decision to try out a collaboration with Kurstin. It’s proof that not only do Grohl and the band have the energy to carry an album; they also have the genuine drive to keep things interesting and spirit to make that album good.