The Lowdown: During the Foo Fighters livestream show at the Roxy in November, Dave Grohl spent a little time wondering what could’ve been. “2020 was gonna be the best year ever!” he said to the audience-free club. “We had plans, man!” That show, while good, wasn’t the ending to a triumphant 25th anniversary year that Grohl had in mind. COVID-19 upended most of the celebrations, including tours of Europe and America (one of which retraced the itinerary of the band’s first tour from 1995), the Foo-curated D.C. Jam Festival, and the release of the band’s 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight. While the tours are still grounded and the festival a post-social-distancing dream, the album has finally arrived. Described by Grohl as a “Saturday-night party album,” Medicine at Midnight also serves as a capstone to the band’s quarter-century ascent to the top of American rock and roll.
The Good: Although it was recorded before the pandemic, Medicine at Midnight hits with the urgency of a record conceived in a quarantine haze. Kicked in by crunchy guitars and the crisp drums of Taylor Hawkins, opener “Making a Fire” builds up the record’s momentum with a maximalist glee; as Grohl sings about shooting your shot and making up for lost time, the band heaves out a heady mix of handclaps and woos and nah-nahs and stomping drums all at once. Keeping up that pace for an entire record would be exhausting, for performer and listener alike, a fact that makes the album’s change-ups all the more refreshing. Taut with the atmospheric interplay between Hawkins and guitarist Chris Shiflet, “Shame Shame” was the best of the record’s advanced singles and remains a highlight here. Later, “Cloudspotter” chugs with classic-rock simplicity, powered by riffs that could’ve been recorded at any point in the last 40 years. Credit here often goes to producer Greg Kurstin, who once again delivered a crisp, sharp-focused sound that never tips over into sterility.
As a reflection on the band’s first 25 years, Medicine at Midnight spends much of its time in a ruminative mood; in addition to “Making a Fire,” there are also tracks reflecting on the spectre of conflict (“Waiting on a War”), hypocrisy (“No Son of Mine”), and the unerring flight of time’s arrow (“Chasing Birds”). Like any good showmen, the Foo Fighters save the best of these for last; powered by “Barracuda”-grade guitars and a well-based kit, “Love Dies Young” closes things out with a rollicking sky-high anthem about living life while there’s life left to live. It’s probably the purest distillation of the album’s stated goal and a likely contender for set closer whenever the band hits the road next.
The Bad: There’s an obvious drawback that comes with the Foo Fighters’ “Oops! All Anthems!” approach: if you’re always aiming for the cheap seats, you’d better be sure that your ammo has the oomph to really reach them. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case on Medicine at Midnight, where more than a few songs fail to reach the heights that Grohl has in mind. The deficit between intention and effect is most apparent on the record’s ballad; both “Waiting on a War” and “Chasing Birds” suffer from dulled, imprecise lyrics that present pathos without the feeling or details needed to back it up. It’s not limited to the slow stuff, either; “No Son of Mine” wants to invoke righteous fury, but is hamstrung by bloodless generalities that don’t live up to the cyclonic swirl of guitars and drums around them. There’s also the issue of the record’s backing singers: while they wail like wraiths on “No Son of Mine” and provide a balm on “Chasing Birds”, their voices hamper otherwise excellent solos on “Medicine at Midnight” and “Holding Poison” that would’ve been far more powerful unaccompanied. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s something you’ll definitely notice.
The Verdict: Though it arrives in a very different world than the one it was intended for, Medicine at Midnight is a fitting commemoration for the Foo Fighters’ belated anniversary year. Rather than indulge in excess or (as Grohl put it) “making some acoustic record, where we’re riding off into the sunset of our career,” the band marks the latest milestone with a tight, focused record calibrated to show off their strengths and reconfirm their pep. An essential listen for fans and a fair introduction for newcomers, Medicine at Midnight feels like the rare late-career release that genuinely earns its spots within the legacy setlist. Now, if we could just get those tours rebooked…
Essential Tracks: “Making a Fire”, “Shame Shame”, and “Love Dies Young”
Pick up a copy of Medicine at Midnight here…
Medicine at Midnight Artwork