Originally published and still available on Gigslutz (10/11/14).
It has been three whole years since the last Foo Fighters album, and as any music fan is made to be very well aware, the ‘nicest man in rock’ is not one to hang around. In that space of time, Dave Grohl has dipped his fingers in a few more pies – to name a few; filling in on drums for Queens Of The Stone Age and RDGLDGRN, directing a documentary about the studio, Sound City, and the HBO television namesake of Sonic Highways, covering the gestation of the band’s eighth album.
At a mere eight tracks long, it is definitely a short effort for the comeback of one of the biggest bands on the planet. Taking previously constructed ideas, lyrics were written in the city where recording was taking place; the eight, great American cities in question being Chicago, Washington D.C., Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seattle and New York. The idea of making songs in part-homage to the musical meccas of choice is certainly a novel one, especially in conjunction with each song’s HBO counterpart unveiling the process behind each song, and even more so when you consider the guest features on each track. Joan Jett, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Joe Walsh, Bad Brains, Zac Brown, Gary Clark Jr, Rick Nielson and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, each help pay tribute to their birthplace or adopted hometown under the eye of esteemed producer Butch Vig, who also worked on the Foo Fighters’ previous album, Wasting Light.
What quickly becomes apparent is that without prior research, which track pertains to which city is near unidentifiable. That statement alone would be enough to undermine the whole project, but it is worth remembering that Foo Fighters have always had their own unswerving sound. Crowd-sating, anthemic, stadium rock has always been their thing, and it is certainly delivered in spades on Sonic Highways. None of these eight tracks could be considered filler, with opening track and lead single ‘Something From Nothing’ being a full-bodied affair, its dramatic riff (uncannily akin to Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’) building to a loud climax. ‘The Feast and The Famine’ is a similarly helter-skelter ride whilst ‘Consequence’ is more radio-friendly, and the most intriguing the album gets is the emotionally evoking guitars in ‘I Am A River’.
Any of the songs on Sonic Highways could be successful singles, but that does not conditionally make them forward thinking. It is, therefore, a shame that in embarking on their most zealous project yet, the Foo Fighters have ultimately failed to succeed on their promise. Sonic Highways is good but it is neither as great or as aspiring as its premise, and what is left is a formulaic collection of songs that loyal fans will no-doubt adore, but which offers little more than momentary entertainment to the casual listener. To say that this was an ambitious venture would be an understatement, but to call it bloated and overblown would be crass, and Grohl and gang’s love letter to the United States is unfortunately overshadowed by the documentary series that it is twinned with.
More of my writing can be found over on Giglsutz.