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Album Review

Imagine a rift. A fault line. One that runs deep, but one that you could nevertheless straddle. On one side is hope. On the other, despair.

At the moment, the fault line is rumbling. Shifting. And you're not sure which side you're going to end up on after an impending earthquake knocks everything down.

That's the metaphor I'd suggest for the Foo Fighter's ninth studio album. Foo frontman Dave Grohl dares to hope at times, pining for the better of those two outcomes. But he can hear the rumbling, too. And he's not optimistic about what's likely to happen in the end.

But, hey, if you've got to straddle a faultline at the end of the world, you may as well rock out a bit, right? And so Grohl & Co. do exactly that on an album that unmistakeably bears sonic witnesss to rock icons such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Black Sabbath.

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This album's frequent tension between optimism, pessimism and realism is evident from the outset. "There's one thing I have learned," Grohl sings in "T-shirt." "It gets much better/It's going to get worse." Then he adds, "And you get what you deserve," a philosophical observation that could be both supported or critiqued by different passages of Scripture.

"Run" suggests that the best people can do in difficult times is to stick together and to keep moving forward. "Wake up/Run for your life with me." The song laments Grohl's sense that important (though unidentified) national values are being obliterated: "We are the nation's stakes/If everything's erased/What are you gonna do?"

"The Sky Is a Neighborhood" seemingly calls both sides of our political division to account: "Trouble to the right and left/Whose side are you on?" "Arrows" laments the quiet struggle of a poor-but-fierce woman who pined for a better life than the one she ended up living. She apparently considers a pregnancy something that brings hope into her brokenness: "I want a new life/Forming inside of me/Blessed and born/Into this fire." (Admittedly, the song doesn't offer any more context than that regarding her desire for a child, and there's no hint of a husband here, either.)

Jarring lyrics in "Concrete and Gold" juxtapose constant struggle ("My desperation/Is this a curse?") with honoring one's marital vows ("'Til death do us part/For better or for worse"). This title track also suggests that the best parts of who we are may be hidden from view: "I have an engine made of gold/Something so beautiful/The world will never know."

Objectionable Content

Apart from two f-words in the song "Make It Right"—the most obvious content concerns—the biggest overarching issue here is how Grohl's perspective on our culture often lapses into grim, smoldering futility. On "Run," for instance, we hear, "The rats are on parade/Another mad charade/What you gonna do?" In "Make It Right, " he sings bitterly, "Hope on the train to nowhere, baby/Don't you wanna hitch a ride?" There's also a sense on this track that it's everyone for themselves: "Got no soul to keep/Ain't no brother's keeper/ … I don't need a martyr."

Despair similarly pervades "The Sky Is a Neighborhood" ("Mind is a battlefield/All hope is gone"), and the possibility of violence is hinted at, too ("Thoughts like a minefield/I'm a ticking bomb"). More pessimism pervades "Dirty Water," which wonders whether our culture is irrevocably, destructively tainted. And "Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)" suggests that in the face of imminent destruction, "There ain't no superheroes."

Sarcastic lines on "La Dee Da" compare our current president to cult leader Jim Jones: "Turn up the American ruse/ White House, Death in June/Jim Jones painting in a blue bedroom." We also hear what could be interpreted as a misuse of God's name ("Keep your pretty promise to yourself/Dear god"), as well as lyrics that perhaps endorse same-sex marriage ("Love/Who I like/ … You can't shame me").

"Arrows" includes a passing astrological reference to "Queen Gemini." It also suggests that a disappointed woman traded her longings for rage ("Arrows in her eyes/Fear where your heart should be/War in your mind"). "Sunday Rain" and "The Line" both include references (again, just in passing) to being "high." The latter song suggests that truth is either difficult to identify or something that's unwanted: "Yes or no?/What is truth?/But a dirty black cloud coming out of the blue?" Grohl then adds, darkly, "I was wrong/I was right/I'm a blood moon born in the dead of night."

Summary Advisory

… and not.

Grohl himself seems quite aware of both tensions. In a recent cover story interview with Rolling Stone, he said of his political leanings, "I'm not an outwardly political person. But it's pretty easy to figure out where I fall on the map." Indeed, though he never names names, you can't miss which side of the spectrum he's coming from—and his outlook on our country's future is anything but optimistic, as track after track demonstrates.

Still, Grohl says he wants his band to rise above the divisions that scar our cultural moment. "When the Foo Fighters go out and tour, we play to everyone," he said. "I like to think that music is something that can bring two opposite sides of the spectrum into the same arena for three hours of relief. There's a part of me that thinks I'm better at giving people hope. So that's where I'd rather be."

In some ways, Concrete and Gold accomplishes that goal. More frequently, Dave Grohl's good intentions devolve into anger and pessimism about which side of the fault he'll be on when our cultural earthquake stops rumbling.

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September 15, 2017

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Adam R. Holz

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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