Words by Nicholas Parco
The current state of rock music is far from what is once was. Top 40 radio is king and the genre has had trouble producing household names at the rate it did decades ago.
A big exception to this is the Foo Fighters. Over the course of the band’s history, Dave Grohl and company have been arguably the most consistent American rock band around, producing hit after hit. With seven albums under their belt, the band decided to experiment, in a peculiar way, for their newest release titled Sonic Highways.
Accompanied by an HBO series that gives a week-by-week glimpse into how all eight songs were written and recorded in different cities, Sonic Highways is different from anything the Foo Fighters have done, and that is not necessarily a good thing.
The album opener “Something From Nothing” was recorded in Chicago with the help of Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. Lyrically, it is a standout on the record, which becomes more obvious once you’ve watched the HBO episode highlighting the song (more on this later). The song is full of classic Grohl screams, but what is hard to get past is how obviously similar the guitar sounds to Dio’s “Holy Diver”.
Following that is “Feast and the Famine”, one of the wordier songs Grohl has written. Written about the DC punk scene, which Grohl grew up in, this track is one of the best on the record, as the front man’s passion and pride in where he grew up particularly stands out.
A song that has received a lot of critical acclaim is “Congregation”. The band teamed up with Zac Brown for this one, and it is evident in the twang of Telecaster-sounding effects on each guitar. A rarity for a Foo Fighters song, a tempo and key change takes place right in the middle of the track in one of the more refreshing parts of the album. For the second time on the album though, the lead guitar riff is not much of an original one. Instead of Dio, this time they take from Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song.”
One of the best guitarists in rock, Gary Clark Jr., joins the Foos on “What Did I Do / God As My Witness?” About Clark’s hometown of Austin, musically the track is on par with some of the band’s best work. The downfall however, is how preachy the lyrics are. It’s pretty odd hearing Grohl sing about God healing his soul. Clark’s solo towards the end before the song fades out is a high point on the record though.
As the album continues past the halfway point, it becomes obvious that it’s not on the same level as previous Foo Fighters material. The concept of writing songs about the musical history of different cities is definitely ambitious. What is not fair to Foos fans though, and there are quite a lot of them, is that the HBO series seriously highlights and adds to every song on the album– it is the perfect supplement to the album. But fans shouldn’t have to tune in every week to a show on a premium television network to “get” the record. Instead of making a television show, maybe the Foo Fighters should’ve focused their energy on creating original guitar riffs and writing the big choruses there are so known for.
© November 10th, 2014
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