Concrete and Gold is an album that is difficult to form an opinion of. It is certainly an improvement on the somewhat bland Sonic Highways, but it is also not the best Foo Fighters album. However, it is actually quite good – as long as you don’t expect anything new.
A lot has been made of the involvement of Greg Kurstin in giving Concrete and Gold more commercialised pop production. What this actually means is that there are densely layered backing vocals, the use of phaser guitar effects, more prominent use of bass guitar, and the occasional use of orchestral instruments. This is often effective but is also occasionally unnecessary and downright annoying. This is the case during Make It Right where a repeated vocal sample is grating against the AC/DC style riff. If you are being generous when discussing the album you could describethe effect of Kurstin’s involvement as subtle, if not, you could say that it makes negligible difference.
Dave Grohl’s ability to produce densely layered tracks and not commercial pop production is what really shines in Concrete and Gold. Although these two are not mutually exclusive, Kurstin indeed adds further layers. The most noticeable effect of this is that the pace and tone of the album can change at the drop of a hat to great effect. Sunday Rain is one of the best examples of this. It starts with a riff which sounds like Stairway to Heaven if it was performed by Oasis, then takes a turn into a slow verse with vocals reminiscent of Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics at his coolest. The song smoothly transitions from its quieter moments to a wall of sound in the choruses. The bridges add a hint of the Beatles, something that is not surprising considering Paul McCartney plays the drums on the track, and sound startlingly similar to John Lennon’s Gimme Some Truth. This culminates in a song that doesn’t drag despite its 6-minute run time.
This album also shows a bit of personality. Allusions to the band’s obsession with Queen with the line “I don’t want to be Queen” sung immediately before launching into the Foo’s best impression of Queen and the chaotic piano at the end of Sunday Rain are both little flourishes that add to the album. Little things like this are one of the reasons that comparisons can be made to the Beatles. It is, however, massively unfair to make comparisons with Sgt. Pepper as most albums, Concrete and Gold included, look mediocre next to it.
Obvious Beatles comparisons aside, Concrete and Gold has various other musical debts. The riff that makes up the centre of Make It Right is very much inspired by AC/DC, Concrete and Gold (the song) has more than a passing resemblance to War Pigs and Happy Ever After (Zero Hour) has a guitar solo that would not be out of place on a Bob Marley record. This is all contained within the 90’s rock revival sound that has become synonymous with the Foo Fighters.
Usually I would spend a long time talking about the lyrics of an album but the Foo Fighters have never really been one for thought provoking lyrics or thematically coherent albums. Concrete and Gold engages with themes in a superficial way in one song before moving on to another. Concrete and Gold includes love songs, vaguely political songs and some apocalyptic imagery. Having said this, there are some things that are present throughout the album. Everything has a vaguely dark feel. This is somewhat reminiscent of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnake’s Modern Ruin but is less pervasive. Even the love song Dirty Water includes lines like “you’re my sea of poison flowers”. Happy Ever After (Zero Hour) reads like a sarcastic Perfect Day but never quite reaches the sarcastic heights of Shiny Happy People. Concrete and Gold is also the closest the Foo Fighters have ever come to politics, however, by this point references to Trump are almost obligatory. A final running theme is questioning everything. These questions include “where is your Shangri-la now?” and “what is truth?”. However, these are all left disappointingly unanswered. Ultimately the lyrics are designed to be sung along to but never really have much meaning.
Concrete and Gold is a solid addition to the Foo Fighter’s discography and I suspect a good album to play live. However, it offers no real change to their usual music, and there isn’t one song that really stands out.