Finn McKenty, punk marketing strategist and music journalist, remarked in his video Why Did Rock Stop Being Fun? (MGK Was Right!) that ‘it’s been quite a while since really any rock bands were that relevant’. In this video, McKenty pinpoints 2013 as the year rock as a genre lost mainstream popularity, with the rise of EDM, although he traces back this decline to the 90s. Alongside the rise of hip-hop, bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains popularised “grunge”, which they were able to, especially in the case of Nirvana, bring to the attention of the general public. After the death of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl started Foo Fighters as a solo project, which took off in the late 90s to early 2000s and saw great success at that time. But if McKenty is right, and if, in 2020, rock is really “dead”, what place do the Foo Fighters have in a world of music which is now largely uninterested in rock music?
Foo Fighters have an airtight answer to this question with their latest album Medicine After Midnight. The album features a diverse roster of tracks which borrow from a number of different genres, making it appealing to audiences from many backgrounds culturally and musically. One might initially think to label it as “dad rock”, and there may seem some justification for this: the clear love of blues rock, and many of the members of the band being fathers themselves. In fact, one song on the album was admitted by Grohl to have been written with his daughter’s worries in mind. I would argue however that this, for all it was my own initial reaction, is a narrow view of what the band are trying to say with this album.
Let’s talk about the track-list. It opens with ‘Making A Fire’, which utilises a classic non-linear Foo Fighters rhythm to drive the song forward. It makes use of a style of backing vocals borrowed from soul and gospel music. Its blues influence can be heard on other tracks, including ‘No Son Of Mine’, ‘Medicine at Midnight’’s bluesy solo, and ‘Cloudspotter’. The additional nod to early rock in the latter is mirrored lyrically with the Hendrix-referencing line “refuse me while I kiss the sky”. ‘No Son of Mine’ and ‘Holding Poison’ harken back to the band’s punk roots, and ‘Making A Fire’, ‘Shame Shame’’s chorus, and the outro of ‘Waiting On A War’ borrowing from 70s hard rock. On the other hand, ‘Waiting On A War’, and ‘Shame Shame’ are forays into pop rock previously unexplored by the band. ‘Love Dies Young’ closes off the album with their signature 2000s alt-rock sound, drawing on as many of Foo Fighters’ inspirations as possible, not to mention symbolically as an optimistic piece of music. This captures the themes of the album.
It is in some ways not surprising the band borrows from so many genres. The six-piece band features musicians all of whom were involved with other bands before Foo Fighters, from grunge (Nirvana), to punk (The Gems), to emo (Sunny Day Real Estate), and even progressive rock (Sylvia). No doubt this provides fertile ground for creativity in making genre-blending music that appeals to a large number of groups of people, which was in part their intention with this release. In an interview with NPR, Dave Grohl admitted striving for McKenty’s goal of making rock “fun again”. On writing Medicine At Midnight, Grohl said, ‘”instead of making some acoustic record, where we’re riding off into the sunset of our career as, you know, distinguished gentlemen of rock and roll.” It was like, “No, no, no, let’s open a bottle and let’s get down!”’
So is the new Foo Fighters album going to save rock? I don’t think so. Rock has lost its cultural relevance, and its fanbase is not ready for rock to become “fun again”, as was seen by their vilifying of Machine Gun Kelly for his latest pop punk album. Grohl and the rest of his band have, nonetheless, set on an admirable mission that they completed successfully, and the numbers of streams this album has received already, in a year where streaming services are the only source of revenue for musicians, speak for themselves. Despite the obstacles it faces, Foo Fighters latest release is a strong case for the relevance of rock in 2021, and is worth a listen by any number of music fans.
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