There comes a time in every band’s career when experimentation with sound takes over its discography. Seminal alternative band Foo Fighters have followed suit, straying from their normally hard, post-grunge sound toward a more pop-influenced 10th album after seeing mild hints of the new sound on 2017’s Concrete and Gold. Concrete and Gold found the band incorporating bits of pop into its pure hard rock sound to limited success. Medicine at Midnight, released Feb. 5 after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, claims to boast danceable Bowie vibes but lacks the dynamic and vibrant energy of the album’s inspiration. Instead of taking the hints that pop wasn’t the right path to go down, Foo Fighters forged ahead — much to their own chagrin.
“Making a Fire” is a saccharine pop-heavy introduction to the album, starting out rather promising with drummer Taylor Hawkins’ familiar percussion permeating the first few seconds. But those first few seconds are the only ones that’ll bring a genuine smile to fans’ faces, as the song descends into a bubbly mess. “Shame Shame” begins the same way as “Making a Fire,” holding some merit in the beginning, but it soon drags on with boring repetition, the same few beats playing for the entire four minutes.
This isn’t to say that Foo Fighters has entirely lost their rock superhero prowess. The magic is still there, and the individual components of each song have integrity. Frontman Dave Grohl’s voice is still as powerful as ever and the trio of guitars are sufficiently crunchy across various songs. When all of these elements are put together in a cohesive composition, however, you can’t help but feel baffled as to where the band’s rock setup has disappeared to. Despite Foo Fighters heralding Medicine at Midnight as a pop-oriented album, a sense of longing for the band’s previous music clings to every shred of recognizable sound on the record.
A bit of the old Foo Fighters shines through on “Cloudspotter,” the rough riff and vocals like a familiar face. Unfortunately, the track eventually dissolves into the streak of pop fiasco running through the album by the time the chorus comes around. Other songs such as the title track and “Chasing Birds” is enough to pique interest upon first listen, slightly funky and soft respectively. Still, they lack the star quality and emotion the band has sacrificed for catchiness and canned wannabe anthems. The poster song for this is “No Son of Mine,” which sounds vaguely like Metallica after the band commercialized its sound — so the resemblance isn’t a good thing.
Medicine at Midnight is certainly something different, but it feels suspiciously off. Whether it’s the poor experimentation with pop or the band’s inability to have more than one decent song on it, the album is rather disappointing. Most of the tracks feel empty, a lukewarm attempt on part of the band at making uplifting, easily digestible music. Fans aren’t asking for another The Colour and the Shape — although it would be a nice treat — but something with the robustness of Wasting Light or even just the humanity of any of Foo Fighters’ previous works would’ve been better than what Medicine at Midnight ended up being. The songs simply do not have their intended effect, far from spiffed up arena rock launching itself into the hearts of the listeners and staying put.
This isn’t a case of an identity crisis like that of other bands who have fallen prey to experimentation. Foo Fighters are very much present in this album, but their execution and their cognizant choice to make a pop album fall entirely flat. And even if there are hints of the band’s previous musical glory, the fiery, carefree nature of Foo Fighters is but a ghost on Medicine at Midnight.