Rock's death has been prematurely pronounced plenty of times before. Now, amid plummeting album sales and struggling tours, many music-industry pundits are once again trotting out that famously clichéd question, "Is rock dead?"
Well, don't tell Dave Grohl. Not only is the Foo Fighter's founder/frontman/guitarist committed to the format, his post-grunge band's seventh effort since 1994 is unapologetically old school in virtually every way. The Foos even eschewed their fancy Studio 606 digs this time around, opting instead to record the entire album in Grohl's garage … in analog. At the board was none other than Butch Vig, the producer behind Nirvana's generation-defining effort Nevermind.
The result is a no-nonsense collection of raw, snarling, straight-up rock tunes … paired with lyrics that are often as inscrutable as Grohl's growling vocals and guitars are ferocious.
"Walk" is probably the only song on the album that could be labeled genuinely hopeful. Here, Grohl sings of second chances after a disorienting season: "I think I lost my way/Getting good at starting over/Every time I return/Learning to walk again." He also mentions prayer ("I'm on my knees, praying for a sign").
"Rope" describes a desperate man clinging to a relationship that stabilizes him: "Give me some rope/I'm coming loose/I'm pulling for you now/Give me some rope/I'm coming out of my head/ … When you go, I come loose." "Arlandria," a song about a troubled romance, finds a man begging (in what could be heard as either a prayer or a vain reference) for release from his emotional anguish: "Oh God, you gotta make it stop."
Echoing the musings found in Ecclesiastes, "These Days" reminds us of death's inevitability ("One of these days your heart will stop and play its final beat/One of these days the clocks will stop and time won't mean a thing"). "Back & Forth" ponders the reality of aging and longs for authentic discussion instead of easy answers, even if that conversation requires conflict ("Now show a little backbone, why don't you/I'm looking for some back and forth with you").
On "Miss the Misery," a rejected man longs for the dysfunction of a failed relationship over the loneliness he faces after its dissolution ("Miss your misery today/Miss your misery today/C'mon and turn it on again"). Even so, anger toward his ex seeps out in sarcastic lyrics that hint at violence ("What a nice long leash, what a nice tight noose/Never worked for me, but sure would look good on you").
Similarly dark suggestions permeate "Dear Rosemary," a message to a beloved-but-deceptive woman who's now gone. "Rosemary, you're a part of me," the chorus tells us. Then these haunting lines: "Truth ain't gonna change the way you lie/Youth ain't gonna change the way you die." Later the song talks about her in the past tense, adding weight to the interpretation that the song's antihero responded to his grief by killing the one who caused it.
"I Shoulda Known" is yet another song lamenting a relationship that's not working. Nevertheless, we hear a man longing for one last touch before calling it quits ("Lay your hands in mine/Heal me one last time") despite the fact that she's hurt him so badly he's unable to forgive her ("Though I cannot forgive you yet/No I cannot forgive you yet").
"White Limo" includes single uses of the s-word and "a‑‑." Ambiguous wordplay on "Back & Forth" could be heard as profane ("Does my heaven burn like h‑‑‑ on you?"). "A Matter of Time" angrily asks, "Where the h‑‑‑ were you?" Another track employs "d‑‑n."
Unresolved relational conflict turns up on more than half of Wasting Light's tracks. And we get from that thread both positive messages and a fair bit of self-absorbed melancholy, profanity and some hints at violence.
Sometimes, though, you can't easily tell the two apart.
An example: Album opener "Bridge Burning" is pretty typical when it comes to the opaque lyrical approach the Foo Fighters often take. The song seems to be sarcastically critiquing a self-destructive person who's burning his relational bridges. And we're sort of, I guess, left with the sense that blasting away at those bridges may not be the best idea.
Or maybe it's just a fact of life that can't be avoided.
So I'll stand back and let you be the judge: "Down crooked chairs, the stairway passes/Comes the king of second chances/Now throw him in the flame/Whatever keeps you warm at night/ … Your bridges are burning down/It's all coming round/They're all coming down."
That's pretty much the way things go on an album that seeps in like a cold fog, wasting as much light as it gives.