A band two and a half decades into their career and as comfortably situated as Foo Fighters usually has two options. More than a few bands at similar points have chosen to double down on their strengths, do what they’re good at, and deliver something that pleases, albeit doesn’t really excite, their fans.
Foo Fighters could have chosen to release a low-stakes album, but they have opted to take the other, bolder route available to them. Medicine at Midnight (★★★☆☆) is a slicker, glossier take on the band’s normal raw, post-grunge sound, one that dials down the rock in favor of crisp production and relentless positivity.
At just 9 tracks that clock in at 36 minutes, Medicine at Midnight is a tightly contained album. Nothing on it feels superfluous or out of place, a timely reminder that despite the rawness and carefree abandon that Foo Fighters’ music usually exudes, there is always a meticulous thoughtfulness behind the songwriting. At its best, their approach results in some genuinely great moments, such as the tense buildups of “All My Life,” the addictive nah-nah-nahs of “Making a Fire,” and the stunning controlled chaos of standout single “Shame Shame.”
As tight and focused as it is, the album would have benefitted from some breathing room. Having the metal-inflected “No Son of Mine” coming in right after the funky, ponderous “Medicine at Midnight” is not so much jarring as slightly disorienting. The mellowness and retro shimmer of “Chasing Birds,” on the other hand, feels like it was written for a different album entirely. Medicine at Midnight is certainly full of well-crafted songs that mostly hold up well on their own, but taken together, they leave the impression that Dave Grohl and company were trying to do too much in too little time.
Some unevenness is more than forgivable when a band is in uncharted waters, but even their new musical direction is far from the risk it has been hyped up as. For better or worse, despite the new direction in writing and production, Foo Fighters still sound very much like themselves. Despite all that has been made of their in interviews and publicity around the album, the unfamiliar elements come off as window dressing over the familiar grungy riffs and Grohl’s unmistakable vocals.
With that said, Foo Fighters deserve credit for making a bold, if slight late-career shift in the direction of a more pop-rock sound. The album was recorded before the pandemic and had it been released last year as scheduled, its release would have been perfectly timed to ride 2020’s wave of dancefloor-ready pop-rock. It’s clearly an album that would shine at a big summer festival.
Medicine at Midnight might be an uneven work, but as we collectively face down another quiet year for live music, its tracks might just be the pick-me-up we all need.
Medicine at Midnight is currently available for streaming, download, and physical purchase. For more information visit foofighters.com.
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