Legendary rocker Dave Grohl and his merry band of rockers have returned with a creatively conceived, powerfully performed record, not quite as consistent as Wasting Light, the surprisingly great Foo Fighters release from 2011, but a beautiful effort. Comprised of eight tunes, each recorded at a different studio in various cities, Sonic Highways, available pretty much everywhere as of November 10th, is an evolution for the gritty, mostly bearded rock outfit, and the result of said growth is mostly impressive.
In true Foo Fighters fashion, the songs are all heavy, anthematic, easily relatable, and facilitators of fine headbanging. However, there’s something more profound in the material, and each tune is very unique, especially seeing the fluid nature of past releases. This can be attributed to the manner in which Grohl and company wrote and recorded the songs; the band utilized eight known studios, one for each tune, giving a distinct flavor to how the album feels overall. As well, each song draws inspiration from the city the studio is located. Eight songs with eight different rock & roll muses.
Before getting into specific songs, it must be said that this release has one strange flaw; that it almost works better as a hefty collection of singles and not as a united album. The concept of having a different studio and city for each tune makes the album not flow as well as previous records from the Foo Fighters. True, some of the material before Wasting Light did tend to vary less than the ideal, but one aspect of rock & roll that I’ve always loved is the idea that an album has a unified vision, and the songs flow in a certain order for a reason. And Sonic Highways feels a bit disjointed.
Beyond that, though, almost all the individual songs rock are of good Foo Fighters stock. You can really get a feel of each city and studio, the downside being that it’s a much better experience if you listen to the song on its conjoined episode of the Foo Fighters Sonic Highways TV documentary series about the album. Again, the songs work better as singles than as an album, and that’s a mite bit disappointing.
The two best tracks on the album are the first single, and first track, “Something From Nothing,” a powerful Foo standard with an excellent crunchy breakdown. Better than the album is the emblematic studio that helped shape the song; Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio is a wacky homegrown studio, Albini the sound wizard with an uncompromising punk attitude. The track pays homage to musicians who came to Chicago and built sonic legacies from nothing, and Grohl grinds this point home with a controlled cacophony of growls and roaring guitars.
“What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” is the other standout track on the record. It’s a rocking romp of a tune, and switches gears toward the end, changing from a passionate mix of loud blues and classic rock to a stadium pleaser that’ll be sure to make everyone wish they still owned a lighter. This song, the fourth single on the record, is both sweepingly raucous and meticulously vehement, probably because it takes its inspiration from Austin, Texas. It was recorded at KLRU-TV Studio 6A, the filming location of Austin City Limits, and features some blues brilliance from Gary Clark, Jr. So far, listening to this tune over and over has been a little better than getting through the whole album.
My conclusion here is that Grohl and the Foos took on a little too much here, trying to plunge into the creative deep and coming out with some eminently passable material. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are loud and enjoyable, but with the particular passion driven into each song, something is missing from the overall performance, and a rock band that prides themselves on their music has created something that’s better with television accompaniment. Very much worth many listens, but munch on that thought awhile.