Wasting Light

"Let's change the subject to someone else," Dave Grohl suggests in a brief quiet space, between bursts of high-speed riffing, in "A Matter of Time." If only it was that easy. Seventeen years after the death of Nirvana guitarist Kurt Cobain, the shattering end of Grohl's previous band continues to haunt the popwise punk he makes as the singer-guitarist-boss of Foo Fighters. "Memories keep haunting me/Help me chase them all away," Grohl pleads on Wasting Light, through the guitar rain of "Arlandria," sounding like a guy who knows there will never be enough amps and distortion in the world to drown out the unanswered whys in his head.

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But this album is a special case on two counts. The first: Eleven tracks of fuzz-box brawn, mosh-pit-hurrah choruses and iron-horse momentum, Wasting Light is the best Foos album since the first two, Grohl's all-solo 1995 debut, Foo Fighters, and the first full-band blast, 1997's The Colour and the Shape. Grohl, bassist Nate Mendel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear cut this action the ancient punk-rock way, to analog tape in Grohl's garage, and it shows in the razorback blur of the guitars and the hard-rubber slap of the drums. "Bridge Burning," which opens the record with insect-chatter guitars and Hawkins' avalanche rolls, is hellbent metal with a chrome-finish vocal hook. "Rope" has a chopped surge that evokes mid-Seventies Led Zeppelin, then straightens out for a later-vintage payoff: a ragged alt-rock glow with rough-boy harmonies.

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Wasting Light is also overdue confrontation: Grohl explicitly returning to a broken and still-painful past, for both inspiration and closure. The album reunites Grohl with producer Butch Vig, who worked on Nirvana's 1991 monster, Nevermind, and brings the same nuanced approach to weight and release here. And Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic plays on "I Should Have Known," a song that does not mention Cobain by name but reverberates with his consuming absence. "Didn't hear your warning/Damn my heart gone deaf," Grohl sings as the initial darkness – a solitary guitar and the quiet cutting guilt in his voice, set in inky reverb – slowly blows up to a purging rage: "No, I cannot forgive you yet/To leave my heart in debt." If you ever thought Foo Fighters were Nirvana-lite because Grohl lacked Cobain's torment, get ready to apologize.

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There are references to death – and the responsibility to leave things better than when you came in – all over this album. They also come in excited, defiant breaths. In "Dear Rosemary," Grohl gets a great vocal assist from a hardcore icon, Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould. And while Wasting Light could have ended, to perfect brute effect, at track 10 ("I Should Have Known"), the Foos go out with a kick in the ass: "Walk," a Cheap Trick-style uproar about taking one step at a time for as long as you can. "I think I found my place," Grohl crows – like someone with no plans to split any time soon.

Listen to Wasting Light:

From The Archives Issue 1129: April 28, 2011