Wasting Light (2011)
There are two main things to know about the making of Wasting Light. After touring with the band in support of Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace and for Skin And Bones, original guitarist Pat Smear (also the second guitarist in Nirvana’s latter days), rejoined the fold for the recording and writing of what would become Wasting Light. As a result, the band had expanded to having three full-time guitarists, which may initially seem excessive — Foo Fighters music, after all, has rarely had room or need for virtuosic guitar duels. The combination is powerful, though, the layering of three guitars resulting in some tangibly increased muscle behind Wasting Light.
Grohl also had a vision for how this one would be produced. Hoping to recapture the rougher sound of his earliest recordings under the Foo Fighters moniker, he planned to strip away the embellishments of Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace as well as the cleaner production of the last few albums preceding Wasting Light. He called in Butch Vig, who had produced Nirvana’s Nevermind, and decided they were going to record the entire album on analog equipment in his garage. From that description, if you didn’t know the Foo Fighters, you might expect a pretty raw-sounding record. And, well, this isn’t exactly a charmingly sloppy home recording. It still sounds like a big and expensive rock album, but it does capture an energy absent from many other Foo Fighters albums, a consequence not only of all the guitars here but also the fact that they recorded the entire album live.
Even if Wasting Light doesn’t sound as loose and homemade as Grohl might’ve intended, it does present a Foo Fighters that sound radically revitalized. This is also thanks in no small part to the fact that Wasting Light is the strongest collection of songs the band had to put together in over a decade, and by a longshot. After the bland One By One, the over-extended In Your Honor, and the uneven Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace, Wasting Light feels almost revelatory, a parade of unshakeable riffs and choruses. There were instant classics in “Arlandria” and “These Days,” an unrelenting and contained epic of an opener in “Bridge Burning,” and the thrashing “White Limo” actually making good on Grohl’s intent to recall the band’s earliest material (the only Foo Fighters songs it has anything to do with are “Weenie Beenie” and “Watershed” from the self-titled debut). The idea of going “back-to-basics” can be such an eyeroll-inducing stereotype for a rock band, and so often results in aging musicians trying to capture the spontaneity of their most youthful endeavors but coming up with something stultified. Conversely, burning away the detours of the mid-’00s is the best move the Foo Fighters have made in a long time. After years of ambivalence, Wasting Light yanked me back into paying attention to this band. As of right now it’s the masterwork for the latter half of their career, and hopefully promises the possibility of more great things to come.