It’s Time to Ignite: a review of Foo Fighters’s “Medicine at Midnight”
3-and-some years ago Dave Grohl and Friends put out Concrete and Gold, a cohesive, solid entry in a lengthy discography stretching back to 1995. While it’s likely my least favorite album of theirs, it has some excellent songs and does a good job of sticking to, for lack of better words, a sonic theme throughout, and the album’s name I think was a great descriptor for it. It was chunky, riffy, heavy at times (Concrete?), and maybe a bit overproduced (Gold!) in my opinion. I spent many conversations blaming producer Greg Kurstin for this, and I think I’ve come around to thinking this was just the band’s direction they wanted for this album because really, what do I know about album producing? Absolutely nothing.
For the last year-and-change Dave and the bandmates have been teasing this new release, calling it a “dance record,” and envisioning massive chorus crowd singalongs. Their previous records have no short of big singalong moments (“My Hero,” “Times Like These,” “Learn to Fly”) and occasionally groovy, dance-able tracks (“Rope,” “DOA”). And while I couldn’t quite envision what he meant by that, I can’t help but say I’m very pleasantly pleased with the result, though I do wish it were a bit longer.
Medicine at Midnight does a great job of capturing a lot of what the Foos have been about during the 2010s decade, making it shiny, upbeat, and sprinkling in some 2000s Foo flavor at times. The first thing that jumps out to me is the color scheme being very reminiscent of their excellent 2011 album Wasting Light, but I came to find out that a large part of the inspiration was that the bright pink has a hex value of #FF25FF, for an album that was to come out during their 25th anniversary year. A neat nod, though I myself actually prefer the Target exclusive vinyl cover instead. Its simplicity and white-grey color scheme reminds me of their 1999 album There Is Nothing Left to Lose, which I’m a huge fan of.
The album starts off with an anthemic, upbeat track called “Making a Fire.” It features almost gospel-like choir vocals during the main riff and signals right off the bat that this is a different flavor of Foo Fighters than we’ve really seen before. In the verse, Dave warns, “Hate to say it//Your new favorite’s going out of style.” This feels, to me, like Dave is very consciously looking at how quickly music trends change, and how we change along with it (or perhaps the other way around). It seems like Dave embraces this, with a fun, upbeat verse, and the loud, hooky, singalong chorus that he promised. It’s a great opening track, and leads right into the more introspective, somber lead single “Shame Shame.” What this song lacks in body, with its stripped down and reserved verses, it makes up for with another huge chorus, where he reflects on “Another splinter under the skin, another season of loneliness.” Sadly, this song doesn’t really build up to the massive bridge that I hoped it would, and I feel left wanting more.
Thankfully, “Cloudspotter,” one of my favorite tracks, picks right up with a bluesy riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a ‘70s classic rock record. Another powerful rock song, with a swinging (pun intended), locomotive chorus; Dave’s shouts of “BANG BANG BANG!” rip through the mix and beat your brains out. The band also hyped up that this song contains a “25-year-old riff,” which I believe to be the chord progression underneath the chorus (check out this video from their original drummer William Goldsmith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vm0f2ocPk1E). It wasn’t as “old-school Foos” as I had hoped, but the whole song is an aggressive banger, and I love it.
The band gets mellow for a couple tracks, “Waiting on a War” feels like the “Times Like These” of this record, mashed up with “But, Honestly” from Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace, a mostly-acoustic singalong about fearing war, that has a classic Foo Fighters buildup at the end. “Medicine at Midnight,” the title track, has this dark, sexy, nighttime vibe to it, almost like “Outside” from Sonic Highways meets The Eagles or something. It even has a neat bluesy guitar solo (seriously, the guitar tone is fantastic).
“No Son of Mine” is probably the most forgettable song on the record, but not because I think it’s bad, it’s just a very “been done before” type track for the band. Focused around a chugging, E blues pentatonic riff, it’s loud, it’s energetic, it’s 2005–2011 Foo Fighters. It’s a decent filler track, but the fun comes afterward.
“Holding Poison” feels like the band having fun, with a main riff that is sort of jovial and all over the place, before going into a groovy, rhythmic verse. The pre-chorus “I spin around” section has a really cool, urgent vibe, and the chorus brings back the energy. The second verse has some harmonized lead guitars riffing in the background, not something they do often. The big part of this song is the bridge that had been teased many times at recent livestream shows, featuring a wailing choir of singers over a never-stopping riff and guitar solo.
One of the songs closing out the album is a lovely acoustic number, “Chasing Birds,” which feels to me like a cousin of “Iron Rooster” off of their 2015 EP Saint Cecilia, this song does a great job of feeling like a classic, almost late 90s Foo track, not unlike “Ain’t It the Life” on There is Nothing Left to Lose. Especially towards the end, where they sort of change key a bit, adding in some classic Foo flavor switching from a major to minor key.
Following “Chasing Birds” is “Love Dies Young,” an upbeat song that almost has a disco-like four-on-the-floor vibe to it. It’s one of the most recognizable Foo songs on the record, and does some really cool sounding things towards the end, having a section with a huge bass boost that sounds fantastic. It’s a fun way to close out the album.
So, Dave said he wanted to make a dance record, and while many people’s brains could go many different directions with what that meant, I think Foo Fighters did a pretty great job of achieving that goal while retaining more or less what makes them the band I’ve loved for so long. They play around a bit with some electronic drum sample is sounds like, as well as some choir vocals. It feels more consistently pleasing than Concrete & Gold, and while it lacks a true S-tier track (Concrete gave us “Dirty Water” and “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)” which I consider to be that high), it never really made me feel like I had to skip anything. It’s a consistently fun record that puts a dancey spin on the Foo Fighters sonic identity, and while it’s not going to redefine modern rock music, it reminds us to have a good time, which really is what it’s all about.
Since no review of an incredibly subjective and nuanced subject like music is complete without an arbitrary, quantifiable numeric value, Medicine at Midnight feels to me like an 7/10 record. No skips but no real stand out tracks, definitely a few songs too short, but a consistently solid and enjoyable album for fans of the band.