Foo Fighters have been a reliable alt-rock institution for more than 25 years. A band with that kind of august track record could get bored or complacent with their job. But Dave Grohl and Co. just keep happily chugging along, putting out solid-to-great records, satisfying their enormous fan base with killer stadium shows, and keeping things fresh for themselves by coming up with interesting concepts (like their 2014 HBO doc series/album Sonic Highways) and tossed-off collaborations with pals like Justin Timberlake, Rick Astley, or Serj Tankian.
The Foos’ 10th album is upbeat even by their uniquely well-adjusted standards, returning to their core Nineties alt-rock sound minus any gimmicks, detours, or shenanigans.
From the first track, “Making a Fire,” the album is brighter and more optimistic than anything they’ve ever done. As Grohl commands a slippery guitar riff that ascends toward the heavens, a choir of women sings a sunny “na-na-na” refrain, leading to a foot-stomping, hand-clapping gospel breakdown and his latest lyrical confession, “I’ve waited a lifetime to live.” Then there are even more na-na-na’s, which, incidentally, aren’t by a choir at all, but the LP’s most notable guest, Dave’s teenage daughter, Violet, who recorded her own harmonies. Whether it’s a sense of paternal pride or sheer determination, Grohl sounds reinvigorated here, and that enthusiasm is the group’s guiding light on the record.
Although Grohl has spent much of his post-Nirvana career emulating his Seventies FM-radio rock idols, Medicine at Midnight evidences a pop streak that he’s only hinted at before. As with their last album, 2017’s Concrete and Gold, Foo Fighters teamed up with Adele and Kelly Clarkson producer Greg Kurstin, who has helped them hone their tuneful sensibilities. On the title track, they mix funky disco loops and acoustic guitar without losing their edge, and the serene ballad “Chasing Birds” has a melody that lingers well after its final chord.
Even the harder-rocking songs overflow with ear candy. The band tries its hand at some “Low Rider” cowbell on “Cloudspotter,” dabbles with video-game laser sounds and gospel vocals on the punky anti-war banger “No Son of Mine,” and attempts a Freddie Mercury-like vocal echo and quirky rhythms on “Holding Poison.” When Grohl swears “There’s got to be more to this . . . because I need more,” on the slow-building “Waiting on a War,” the record’s best rocker, it sounds like an arena singalong waiting to happen.
The band finished Medicine before the Covid-19 pandemic, which may account for its upbeat mood. Only the album’s relatively mopey lead single, “Shame Shame,” feels out of place, and there’s more than enough good times to make up for it — just check the LP-ending ode to joy, “Love Dies Young.” It’s one of many reminders here that concepts and gimmicks have their place, but Grohl is at his best when he cuts loose and rocks out.