Dave Grohl is never far from the media’s attention and there’s no doubt as to why. As one of the largest personalities to contribute to music in the last two decades, Grohl and the musicians he chooses to associate himself with have inspired many over the course of a twenty year history. Now it’s time to take a look back, with Foo Fighters’ latest musical endeavour is a cross country journey to take influences and write a song to represent each break along the way in Chicago, Washington D.C, Nashville, Austin, L.A, New Orleans, Seattle and New York.
Sonic Highways opens with ‘Something from Nothing’ immediately showcasing Grohl’s range. He easily transitions from tentative murmurs into the mid range and ends in his signature bellow. Grasping at breaths, it’s a strong opener but takes a short while to break in – led by a ‘Holy Diver’-style guitar riff laid over some pretty questionable Stevie Wonder-esque keyboard funk.
‘Congregation’ is one of the early indications that Foo Fighters have a strong suit and it lays in melodies. This proves to be one of the highlights only emphasised by the inclusion of country and western giant Zac Brown. At times there are hints of the past, ‘What did I do? God as my Witness’ – a steady blues laden guitar accompanying Taylor Hawkins’ rhythm is all these guys need when it leads to such a triumphant crescendo of “God as my witness, yeah it’s gonna heal my soul tonight”. It’s the first real anthem of Sonic Highways and is the personification of how the Foos can juxtapose soft ballad-like writing with the full throttle rock approach.
‘Subterranean’ is one of the last pit stops on the band’s journey; a contemplative piece that acts as respite before reaching the destination and aptly recorded in Seattle where Grohl first found success with Nirvana. Unfortunately, at this stage the car is hot and the AC is broken. For a track like ‘Subterranean’ to work it has to be sincere. The penultimate track seems, at times, lazy and although its broody nature is understandable and each track so far has inhaled its surrounding to give breath to the Foo Fighters’ impression of that sound, there are still a lot of ‘could have been’ moments when listening to this record.
Luckily the destination is worth the wait and for the second time, you feel as though Sonic Highways is worthwhile. Opening sans Grohl, building to what sounds eerily like an M.I.A cover of ‘Paper Plans’ it isn’t until the three minute mark that they stamp two capital Fs across the track. Finishing fantastically, this song leaves high expectations for their live performances; they can easily drag a ten minute performance from this one piece of writing and the fans are likely to lap it up.
All in all, it takes far too long for Sonic Highways to actually gain any sort of pace and although the concept in general is quite remarkable, the ultimate outcome could be better. Hugely successful collaborators slip by far too easily on the album format without the listener being made aware; names like Joe Walsh (James Gang/Eagles) on ‘Outside’ is a huge inclusion and I’m sure in the accompanying documentary piece this is one of the focal points. The project itself will no doubt be as successful as Grohl’s last, Sound City, but possibly it was better left to HBO to release this as an accompaniment to their work rather than vice versa.