Every new Foo Fighters record brings with it an increasingly insecure expectation that perhaps the band will regain a fraction of the alterna-rock goodness that was their 1995 self-titled debut and its follow-up, The Colour and the Shape. The usual expectations are heightened on Wasting Light with the inclusion of steady-handed super-producer Butch Vig, the long-overdue return of guitarist Pat Smear, a guest appearance by Krist Novoselic, and what is supposedly a strict adherence to analog-only production. Listeners’ opinions of the band’s seventh album will largely be decided by how excited they are by those last four details, and ultimately, how they reconcile the fact that, despite those things, Wasting Light appears to be just another good, if forgettable, entry in the Foo Fighters catalogue.
Then again, “mixed bag” might be a more adequate description. Dave Grohl has jettisoned much of the filler that has plagued the band’s last few albums, particularly Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, but has simultaneously abandoned the hooky-heavy power that fueled the band’s original climb from out of Nirvana’s colossal shadow. As a result, the band relies much more heavily on chunky guitar movement than riff-crafting. The growing aversion to anthemic songs is puzzling given that the obvious high points of Wasting Light are those that strive for stadium-pleasing melodies: The hard-soft, angry-calm dynamics of “These Days,” for instance, where Grohl’s customary growl finds a home in the surge of a buzzing chorus, as well as the playful, chunky buildup of “Back & Forth,” or the intense, husky drive of “Dear Rosemary.”
Unfortunately, tracks such as those are the exception, as listeners will be forced to deal with pieces like “White Limo,” a “Monkey Wrench” clone that lacks any of that song’s polish or fun, and the clumsy, confused “Arlandria,” which attempts to reconcile a loud-quiet dichotomy, but ends up being bland, nondescript, and a minute too long. When Grohl screams, “Fame, fame, go away, come again some other day,” in a phlegm-addled rage toward the track’s conclusion, it has little of the sincerity or impact the band once rendered with ease. The additions of Vig, Smear, and Novoselic end up doing little except reminding listeners of better days, when the Foo Fighters could deliver something as raw and witty as “Stacked Actors” on the same album as catchy pop-rock gems like “Generator” and “Headwires.” With its long stretches of banal rock, Wasted Light is capable of no such feat.