A turbocharged Foo Fighters blast through “Concrete and Gold,” the ninth studio album by a rock band that has been working since 1994 and can still headline arenas. The album is a tenacious attempt to retain the classic-rock virtues that Foo Fighters cherish while using all the flexibility of a digital era.
When Foo Fighters were formed after the suicide of Kurt Cobain and the dissolution of Nirvana, Dave Grohl, who was known only as Nirvana’s drummer, turned out to be a songwriter and singer who could dish up a steady supply of fierce riffs, anthem-topping melodies and believable angst. The lyrics presented him as a seeker, an embattled underdog, a guy seizing his last chance, a defender of vanishing glories — roles that became truer in the next decades.
In the 1990s, grunge and its radio-friendly “alternative rock” descendants were at the center of both rock and pop. But more recently, the old rock paradigm — a fixed band making albums together, year after year — has been destabilized and pushed aside by the free-floating collaborations of dance music, hip-hop and pop, while the electric guitar was dethroned, to be treated more like an accessory than a cornerstone. What once was a vanguard, and then a mainstream, is now a subset of classic rock. Yet Foo Fighters have been proud to be classicists, keepers of the flame.
Grohl staked his position with “Sound City” — a 2013 documentary he directed about a hallowed, defunct analog studio — and with “Sonic Highways,” the 2014 Foo Fighters album (and HBO series) recorded in music cities like Austin and Nashville with songs touching on local histories. He was a defender of vanished glories, a respectful heir of a long tradition.
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On “Concrete and Gold” Foo Fighters reflect the entire timeline of the classic-rock format; there are homages to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, glam, thrash and grunge. But the band has a new producer, Greg Kurstin, who has collaborated with Adele, Pink and Beck. With him, Foo Fighters now shuffle genres, even within songs, more suddenly and whimsically — more digitally — than ever. Previous albums presented studio-enhanced versions of the band onstage. Here, Foo Fighters can switch configurations in an instant.
“Run,” released in advance of the album, signaled the new style-hopping prerogatives. It has the kind of desperate yet yearning refrain that Grohl has delivered again and again: “Wake up/Run for your life with me.” It begins with pretty guitar arpeggios — the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” in a hall of mirrors — but escalates to a buzzing, thrashing guitar riff backing distorted vocals, and whipsaws between half-speed arena chorus and fast headbanger. It hits hard without worrying about naturalism.
The songs churn through personal and political turmoil, maintaining the old grunge desperation. In “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” a walloping power ballad, an unabashedly overwrought Grohl sings, “My mind is a battlefield/All hope is gone/Trouble to the right and left/Whose side are you on?” In “Dirty Water,” he declares affection in ecocatastrophe terms — “I’m a natural disaster/You’re the morning after all my storms” — as the music evolves from gentle neo-psychedelic pop to full rock blare behind an environmental warning: “Bleed dirty water/breathe dirty sky.”
Grohl and Foo Fighters wear their influences so openly — Pink Floyd in “Concrete and Gold,” Led Zeppelin in “Make It Right,” the Beatles all over — that they still come across as earnest, proficient journeymen, disciples rather than trailblazers. But in 2017, there aren’t many disciples left, while Foo Fighters keep honing their skills.
Foo Fighters: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, Ford Idaho Center, 16200 Idaho Center Blvd., Nampa. $51, $81 and $101. ICTickets. Opening: Bob Mould