When Taylor Hawkins introduced us to the Coattail Riders back in 2006, we got our first glimpse into the mind of the one other guy Dave Grohl admits is a better drummer than him. The debut was a musical patchwork based on Hawkins’ favorite classic rock records, leaning heavily on 70’s icons for inspiration. With just a few friends and a home studio, he pulled off a great modern rock record that provided him an excuse to wail on the kit in ways that he couldnt with the Foo Fighters (at least on record, live is a different story). Back for round two, Hawkins has stepped up his game, bringing in some big name collaborators and a more polished sound thanks to a new recording studio. The end result, Red Light Fever, is exactly the sum of its parts; a little bit Foo, a little bit Queen, and a whole lot of Hawkins crushing the skins.
Bringing in the likes of Brian May, Roger Taylor, Elliot Easton (Cars), and Mr. Grohl means the guitars are going to be huge. The Queen influence is heard right out the gate on Not Bad Luck, working with May and Taylor’s high harmonies. The two lend out scorching solos to amp up the rock with Hawkins slamming away, delivering simple poignant one liners. Its a quick, punching intro that sets the bar high for the album.
From there, classic and modern rock are traded and blended with Your Shoes keeping with the Queen solos and backing vocals adding a Foo-like modern aesthetic. With so many guitars firing off its hard to pay attention at times to the man of the hour, but that seems to be the point of this record, to build a more rounded out sound than just having great drums. The album’s best tune, Way Down sticks to chunky riffs, big choruses, and guitar solo bridges for a Tie Your Mother Down-like moment that will get your head banging like its 1979. To really show off and make us feel inferior, Hawkins delivers a head spinning drum intro on Its Over, igniting a rhythm that keeps the song moving into In Your Honor territory before capping off where they started with more pummeling drum work.
A few flat moments do surface, however, like the slow burning Hell to Pay. The track’s neither good nor bad, it’s just alright, which seems to be a trend when Hawkins isnt going all out. It feels like hes still learning how to be a song writer. No doubt that’s a natural process for any musician, but on record, it’s a problem. Simply because it creates a very scattered effort, where he can blow you away on one end, but come off as dull and unexciting at the other. Hole in My Shoes is a great example of this. It starts off rather staple, almost begging to be skipped, but by the end, you’re back to rocking out as if its a whole new song. Progressive rock tends to do this, but successful prog rockers manage to keep things intriguing. Just because a song has key moments doesn’t mean the whole thing will stand out.
Outside of songwriting, however, Hawkins does challenge himself. On quite a few tracks, he stretches out his raspy pipes and explores unfamiliar territory, at least vocally. Never Enough has him hitting high notes without cracking, while “Don’t Have to Speak” brings back his subdued vocals to make way for layered guitar work. The two features culminate in album closer I Still Dont Think I Trust You Anymore, a heavy modern rock number that finds Hawkins screaming out and sounding bigger than ever before. He does have one Dave Grohl for inspiration.
All in all, Red Light Fever is a collectible for loyal Foo fans coming out of the wood work. The album incorporates every trick the stadium rockers have been known to use, only it’s a different sort of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s more straight forward, the type you bang your head to, and the sort thats hard to disagree with. For detractors of modern radio rock, have no fear. Its just modern and classic enough without slipping into either genre, leaving you some solid tracks to pick our and a few to pass. As an incredible musician, hes still figuring things out on the songwriting side. Its obvious he had plenty of help this time around, even more so than the first installment, and for the most part it really pays off. At this rate, Hawkins is on his way to becoming more a songwriter and less a background drummer. So, keep listening.