The landscape of alternative music has changed frequently over the 27 years that Foo Fighters has been around. Over the course of the band’s ten albums, Dave Grohl and company have taken their own roots and incorporated various influences. Over the last three decades, Foo Fighters has been one of the few bands to consistently release great rock music and maintain a presence on the charts. Even so, Medicine at Midnight feels like a transitional album, an attempt to draw new fans with its more modern aesthetic while paying homage to the nineties alt-rock music of the band’s early work.
Medicine at Midnight is the most upbeat and poppy Foo Fighters album. While the band has always incorporated elements of melodic pop as far back as “Big Me” in 1995, this is the slickest and most radio-friendly album to date. Tracks like “Shame Shame” and the title track are beat-driven, rhythmic songs that fit nicely in current alternative radio playlists. The guitars and headbanging are toned down, with the songs’ grooves taking the forefront. The former is built around a simple three-note muted riff and a melodic chorus. “I found a reason and buried it beneath the mountain of emptiness,” Grohl croons amid a swirling string section.
While taking some songs into more modern territory, Foo Fighters continues to pay respect to its roots with aggressive guitar rock. “No Son of Mine” shows the band’s metal influences, with its rapid palm-muting, Taylor Hawkins’ bludgeoning drums, and Grohl’s fiery vocals. “Here we are, the living dead; hand to God with one foot in the grave,” Groh howls, a Gospel choir heard beneath the menacing rock.
“Cloudspotter” has some of the album’s best riffing, with Grohl and Chris Shiflett laying down dirty blues-rock that gains intensity until it bursts into a mosh-pit chorus of frenetic power chords. Musically, the song is enough of a banger to overcome the weak lyrics of the chorus (“bang, bang, bang, you’re so mean; go and look good, go and look good”).
Whether heavy guitar rock or more rhythmic pop, most of Medicine at Midnight is energetic. Only twice do they slow it down, on the twangy ballad “Chasing Birds” and on the slow-burning “Waiting on a War.” The latter starts as a slow strummer, just Grohl crooning with an acoustic guitar. “Just a boy with nowhere left to go; fell in love with a voice on the radio,” he sings. As the song slowly builds, Shiflett’s distorted guitar comes in, Hawkins pounds out a fast marching beat, and the song shifts to the power section of the power ballad.
Most of the songs on Medicine at Midnight combine the modern style and the raw rock attitude. “Making a Fire” features great guitar rock moments and “nah nah” vocals from background singers. The sunny synthesizer lines in “Holding Poison” contrast Grohl’s nasty six-string antics. Most songs are also mixed differently than they would have been on previous Foo Fighters albums, with the rhythm section higher in the mix, string sections, and synthesizers fleshing out the distorted guitars, and a pop sheen placed on top. Medicine at Midnight has the pop hooks to bring in new fans and the heavy riffs for longtime fans, continuing Foo Fighters’ trend of releasing reliably good music with a broad appeal.