06 February 2021 (released)
13 February 2021
Whoever said that rock and roll was music made by and for the young clearly lived a long time ago. Sixty-five years after Elvis Presley released his eponymous debut, there seems to be no shortage of aging rockers still holding on to whatever leftover shreds of relevance they may still possess. Whether it’s ‘50s rollicking “wild man” Jerry Lee Lewis, who recorded an album just months before the start of the pandemic after suffering a minor stroke at age 84, or the Rolling Stones, whose summer tour last year was canceled due to Covid-19, many of rock music’s legendary icons seem to openly espouse the long-parrotted maxim that “rock n’ roll will never die.”
From a personal standpoint, I hold no ill feelings or grudges against the genre. I was raised on a steady diet of classic rock bands like Steely Dan, The Beatles, and the aforementioned Stones. But I’m also aware that in a world where relatively newer genres like hip hop are feeling the effects of a stylistic and cultural schism based on generational differences, the notion of middle-aged rockers vying for a place on the charts seems a bit over-the-top. At least this is what crossed my mind when I learned that ‘90s-leftover sextet, The Foo Fighters, was set to put out a new album.
Medicine at Midnight, the group’s tenth studio album, was released last week on RCA Records. A fast-moving, nine-track record that clocks in under the forty-minute mark, it is the kind of album that feels less out of place in today’s musical milieu than any futile attempt at trying to make sense of why it exists in the first place. All cynicism aside, Medicine at Midnight is surprisingly up-to-date, or at least as up-to-date and innovative as ‘90s alt-rock can sound in today’s world. This is partly due to Dave Grohl and company embracing the industry’s current obsession with disco redux. Channeling the funky and danceable grooves of Let’s Dance-era David Bowie, The Foo Fighters take an honest stab at a sound that though far from exciting, still never leaves you feeling like you want to skip ahead.
Grungy rockers like “Cloudspotter” and “Love Dies Young” feel a bit stale and rusty, while early single “Waiting on a War” sounds like the formulaic rough draft for a Bush-era anti-war protest song. The rest of the album, however, is (relatively) sleek and dynamic, meshing sultry three-part harmonies with drummer Taylor Hawkins’ expert hi-hat chops and occasional four-on-the-floor disco grooves. There’s an air of sensuality and carefreeness found throughout the record that’s complemented by the band’s praiseworthy clinic on grunge-rock riffs and breakdowns, particularly in songs like the Motorhead-inspired “No Son of Mine” or post-alt-rock heavy-hitter “Holding Poison.”
It’s true that for rock music, the past holds a rosier and more glamorous picture than a future where, at best, it can only hope to become another niche genre popular among small groups of enthusiasts. It’s also true that this is no future in which any of yesteryear’s idols own any cultural real estate. No one can ever predict the sound of their own death rattle. And it may just be that all this time, while we were looking at the sky expecting rock’s demise to come in the form of some fire-storm apocalypse, that the end came instead with the anonymity of a department store’s background muzak.