April 13, 2011


Will Foo Fighters Resurrect Rock?

Kevin Winter
Kevin Winter

On Tuesday, the Foo Fighters dropped their seventh studio album, Wasting Light. Bolstered by an arsenal of rave reviews—and a sonic reunion on one track between Dave Grohl and his ex-Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic—it’s expected to sell like gangbusters. (Adding to the hype: Wasting Light, the group’s first studio release in four years, was also produced by Butch Vig, who helmed Nirvana’s landmark Nevermind.) This release is particularly significant because Grohl (recently anointed by at least one respected outlet as The Perfect Rock Star) is considered to be the a sure thing when it comes to the charts: the type of artist who can draw his built-in fanbase out of the woodwork, and defibrillate his genre back to life.

Some stats: The largest-selling rock album last year was John Mayer’s Battle Studies; it finished at No. 19 overall. The next rock album, Norah JonesThe Fall, landed at No. 28—and that’s presuming you actually consider Norah Jones a rock act. Meanwhile, not one of the top 50 rock singles of 2010 actually charted on the Dr. Luke pop-dominated Hot 100’s year-end list.

Over the last year, album sales in general dripped 12.8 percent, while rock sales dropped 16 percent. Yet as others point out, rock—splintered into other categories such as metal and alternative genres—still may reign mighty, moving 188 million units last year. So basically rock is profitable, even if it’s not popular in the mainstream anymore. That, however, might be starting to change.

A buzzy, jam-tastic Grammy performance of “The Cave” by England’s Mumford & Sons, plus a live turn and shock Album of the Year win for The Suburbs by Canada’s Arcade Fire unexpectedly jolted indie-rock sales in late February, after the program’s broadcast. Last month, an American band finally made a dent on the charts. The Strokes’ fourth album, Angles, opened at No. 4, moving a decent 89,000 units. Still, those are modest achievements.

With albums (possibly, optimistically) expected later this year from powerhouses such as Rage Against the Machine, The Shins, Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers, No Doubt, Blink-182, and Metallica, that rock-sales trend could surge. Though maybe counting numbers is moot. Yesterday, it was announced that U2—whose last album, No Line on the Horizon, was released two years ago and actually underperformed—is currently embarking on the most successful tour of all time. (That epic jaunt is expected to ultimately reap more than $700 million worldwide.)

Last year, U2's was the second-highest grossing tour in the States, sandwiched between Bon Jovi and AC/DC, thus underscoring what relics like The Rolling Stones and the Eagles have been reminding us for years: Perhaps modern-day discussions about piracy and pop appeal are burying the lead. “Sharing music is not a crime. It shouldn’t be. There should be a deeper meaning to making music than just selling downloads,” Grohl has said. “To me, the most important thing is that people come and sing along when we pull into town on tour.” The fact that the Foo Fighters’ chart performance might just thrust rock back into public consciousness? Consider it bragging rights.