Two for the road

March 14, 2021

Foo Fighters politely nudge the boundaries on Medicine at Midnight while Weezer recruit an orchestra for OK Human

Artist: Foo Fighters

Album: Medicine at

Over the course of two and a half decades, the Foo Fighters have become one of the sturdiest pillars of rock music. Yet all too often, their work has been more competent and enjoyable than experimental and adventurous. Medicine at Midnight, their tenth studio release, is a prime example of that assertion. It is well made, but sounds just like every Foo Fighters album(s), albeit slightly different. But mostly the same. But also kind of different. But not really.

Apparently their aim, this time around, was to create a David Bowie-inspired anthemic record filled with uptempo tunes, and in that mission the group mostly succeeds. You can hear the Bowie influences on tracks like the funky lead single ‘Shame Shame’ and the mellow ‘Chasing Birds’. But, for the most part, instead of pushing boundaries, the band chooses to politely nudge them, landing on a sound that is more familiar than inventive or transformative.

It’s also striking, though, that instead of the intriguing structure of ‘Shame Shame’ or the ‘70s groove of ‘Medicine at Midnight’, it is the more standard issue Foo tracks like the instantly catchy ‘Holding Poison’ and ‘Love Dies Young’ that actually stand out.

Dave Grohl (whose daughter, Violet, is among the singers providing backing vocals on this set) is undeniably talented. Grohl’s expressive voice can still rouse a stadium, and his enduring, dependable band remain the flag-bearers of a vital genre. The issue, from the standpoint of a long-term fan, lies perhaps in the fact that we’ve heard the group make similar songs before, and we’ve also heard them make better tunes.

Medicine at Midnight is not a mess by any means. Far from it. It’s solid. Nothing exceptional though. Perhaps the Foo Fighters and producer Greg Kurstin just aren’t the most inspired pairing. If you grew up listening to the Foo Fighters, you might walk away from this record wishing you’d opted to listen to one of their older albums instead.

Highlights: ‘Making a Fire’, ‘Holding Poison’, ‘Love Dies Young’

Artist: Weezer

Album: OK Human***1/2

It’s (finally) a good time to be a Weezer fan. While much of their recent output may have divided listeners, both the Matt Damons and the Leslie Joneses of the Weezer fandom are likely to agree that the band’s latest release, OK Human, is a whole lot of fun.

The rock outfit has recruited a 38-piece orchestra for a set of chamber pop tracks that puts together catchy tunes and beautiful arrangements to create a charming record that is almost as enjoyable as the group’s early work.

The album is mostly sonically uplifting (even when it thematically isn’t), its vibe often similar to the ‘60s pop releases that inspired this material. The gentle orchestral backdrops beautifully complement Rivers Cuomo’s melodic compositions. Standouts include tracks like the lively ‘Grapes of Wrath’, an ode to classic literature (that could easily double as an Audible commercial), and the wonderful ‘Aloo Gobi’, a lament about being stuck in a boring routine featuring the most random (albeit thoroughly amusing) reference to South Asian cuisine.

Lyrically, the set may not be very sharp – and at times might even wander into awkward territory (‘Numbers’, ‘Screens’) – but the sincerity usually makes up for any lack of poetic dexterity as does the contagious presentation. The songwriting is often charmingly personal and Cuomo – a very effective vocalist despite his limited range – is always witty and affable.

There isn’t a massive, outright shift in sound on this, the band’s fourteenth album (which has arrived in place of the delayed Van Weezer that is now expected to be released in May), but the orchestral touches work really well with the band’s style. And while OK Human won’t exactly redefine the music industry or even the group’s place in it, if you are a Weezer fan, then this set is likely to bring you a considerable amount of joy.

Highlights: ‘Grapes of Wrath’, ‘Aloo Gobi’, ‘Here Comes the Rain’

Two for the road