People like to say that the Foo Fighters are a band with plenty of great hits, but not great albums. To say Foo Fighters don’t put together excellent records is not a fair knock.
I could write an entire thesis defending Foo Fighters albums, but for now I’ll just say their first three albums – Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape and There is Nothing Left to Lose – are classics, jam packed with hits and underrated B-Sides. I can also admit at the same time, there are circumstances where the hits over albums idea rings true. “All My Life” is far superior than the rest of the songs on 2002’s One by One. “The Best of You” was miles ahead of the pack when stacked up against the other tracks on 2005’s In Your Honor. Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace had three strong singles with “The Pretender”, “Long Road to Ruin”, and “Let it Die”, but the rest of the record was just okay.
This brings us to 2011. The Foo Fighters had three gems in the early years of their discography, but were coming off of three straight records that were….alright. After a brief hiatus, singer/guitarist Dave Grohl reuniting with Nevermind producer Butch Vig and guitarist Pat Smear officially rejoining the band, the Foo Fighters were ready to do something big. The final result was Wasting Light, one of the best albums the band ever made.
From the very start of the album, you can tell the Foo Fighters – Grohl, Smear, drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Chris Shiflett and bassist Nate Mendel – weren’t messing around. The band slowly builds momentum in the opening seconds of track 1, “Bridge Burning”, as each instrument slowly makes its entrance. Eventually, a storm of guitars and drums drop into a signature Dave Grohl scream. “These are my famous last words / My number’s up bridges will burn,” Grohl shouts, immediately letting know what kind of Foo record you’re in for.
“Rope” is a shining example of how each member of the Foo Fighters are at their best on this album. From Grohl’s vocals to Hawkins’ powerful drums to the soaring guitars of Shiflett and Smear to the steadiness of Mendel on bass. The time away clearly allowed the band to recharge and the new music benefitted from this. “Rope” is basically a jam session and you can feel the positive vibes blaring out of your speakers.
While we get the Foo Fighters being the rock legends they are throughout Wasting Light, they weren’t afraid to experiment a bit. With a little help from Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü, “Dear Rosemary” sounds like no ordinary Foo Fighters song. The combination of harmonies and the back and forth between Grohl and Mould remain some of the strongest moments on an album that’s filled with them.
With songs like “Monkey Wrench” and “All My Life”, the Foo Fighters have shown they’re not afraid to turn their amps up to 11 and lean into a heavier sound. However, no song in their catalog goes harder than “White Limo”. “White Limo” is the Foos doing their best Motorhead impression (Lemmy was appropriately in the music video for the song) and it’s three minutes and 22 seconds of the band sounding like they drank a Redbull and a large coffee at the same time.
“Arlandria” is one of those songs that will be stuck in your head for an entire day after you listen to it. Whether it’s the pre-chorus into the chorus or the way Grohl sings “You are not me, Arlandria, Arlandria / You and what army, Arlandria, Arlandria?,” there’s plenty of earworms littered throughout the track.
The high point of Wasting Light comes right in the middle with “These Days.” This is a track that simultaneously allows you to catch your breath a bit after a rush of a first half, but also cuts deep and makes you reflect on life. While it may sound like it’s another Foo Fighters song geared towards radio rock, there’s actually plenty going on under the surface on this one.
“Back & Forth” and “A Matter of Time” are far from the best tracks on the album, I’d still say they’re better than most Foo B-Sides. The album may slightly plateau for a moment, the final three tracks drive home the point that Wasting Light deserves a spot near the top of their discography. “Miss the Misery” has arguably the catchiest guitar riff on the record and it’s the
“I Should Have Known” is the “ballad” of the record and it’s truly a special track because it gives us a second Nirvana reunion. Not only was Vig producing, but Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic joined his former bandmate to play bass and accordion on the track. Novoselic’s presence couldn’t have been more fitting, as Grohl wrote the song for those in his life he’s lost, including Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
Wasting Light comes to an end with the best final track the band has written with “Walk”, which puts an exclamation point on the Foo Fighters’ strongest work since 1999. Much like the opener, “Walk” is all about the build that eventually comes to a head. This time, the song explodes in a powerful bridge near the end of the track that finds Grohl’s voice slowly picking up steam before we get one last yell from the frontman.
What’s still admirable about this record is that each track on Wasting Light feels like it belongs and isn’t just thrown on the album to be filler. If these songs were to go toe-to-toe with one another, they’d all have the ability of putting up a good fight, even if it was a B-Side like “Dear Rosemary” going up against a single like “Rope”. Just when it seemed like the Foo Fighters might never release another classic, they proved all the doubters wrong with Wasting Light.
Ten years later, Wasting Light remains a high point in the band’s arc. Part of that is because the 2010’s didn’t necessarily have the Foo Fighters strongest works. There were enjoyable moments on 2014’s Sonic Highways and 2017’s Concrete and Gold, but as a whole they didn’t deliver in the way the best Foo Fighters albums do. (The Foo Fighters would eventually redeem themselves with Medicine At Midnight, their strongest LP since Wasting Light.) Wasting Light was unique in the way it was able to give a subtle nod at the band’s Nirvana roots, they learned how to walk again by building on their best sound and the result was a record full of anthems that still sound incredible today.