Foo Fighters are clearly one of, if not the biggest, rock band currently going. It`s kind of a redundant point to state really. But has the fame and comfort that comes with it gotten to Dave Grohl‘s head? I don’t mean in an egotistical kind of way, I mean he’s one of the most straightforward and humble rock stars I can think of, but in a songwriting perspective, does Dave and co. have what they used to? Or have they found a comfort in a routine that has gotten them where they are now? For me, the answers lie in their latest studio album Sonic Highways.
If you don’t know the story behind the album, I’ll go through it quickly; Dave Grohl, in his newfound love for doing documentaries, decided to make a new album and record every song in a different city while documenting each city, its impact on music history and its impact on the specific Foo Fighters song being recorded in that city. It’s an interesting concept in that it makes people more curious to hear the album, and that’s all the opinion on that matter I’ll discuss.
I’ll get right into the content of Sonic Highways by speaking of its opening track Something From Nothing. It is a lackluster album opener, mostly because I didn’t love it at first and I like it less and less every time I hear it. For a band who has started albums with such dynamic long playing tracks like Burning Bridges, All My Life and This Is A Call, to start an album with such an explorative track such as Something From Nothing just doesn’t seem right. What seems even more odd is having it as the lead single. Without completely panning it I will say that it has a good build up throughout the track, which is something Dave Grohl and co. have done so well in the past. It just sounds a little lazy.
Matters only get a little better with The Feast And The Famine. This time around we get a faster more intense track, sure to please long time Foo Fighters fans, and I must admit I like it more the more I listen to it, however it just sounds like it’s been done numerously on the previous seven Foo Fighters albums that precede Sonic Highways. That’s only a minor complaint, even though at first I was very disappointed with the track, I’ve grown to like it. Especially the breakdowns when Dave sings “is there anybody there” with such emotion.
The first song that I truly liked from first listen on the album is Congregation. Its opening riff reminds me of Interstate Love Song by Stone Temple Pilots, but not to the point where I think it was a rip-off or anything, it’s just something that I hear. The pre-chorus of the song is what hooks me. It’s also one of few songs that I actually hear the influence of the city that it was recorded in (Nashville) mostly in its guitar solo. Otherwise the song is your standard Foo Fighters hard rocker.
My mixed emotions for the album are summed up perfectly in What Did I Do?/God As My Witness. As a two part song, it represents both my opinions of the album; the What Did I Do? segment of the song sounds like many past Foo Fighters songs. It’s not one that I dislike or anything, but it really doesn’t stand out. It’s the second part, the God As My Witness part, where the album in itself takes a drastic turn. This part of the song is much slower and more emotional, the melodies sound like the best thought out melodies on the album and the band seem to change the way they play off of each other for these two and a half minutes.
The song I was most anxious to hear months before the album’s release was Outside, before even knowing its title or anything else about the song other than the fact that Joe Walsh would be making a guest appearance on the album, which ended up being this song. It has a feel similar to many songs on Foo Fighter’s 2011 album Wasting Light. For all intents and purposes this song doesn’t pull any tricks on Foo Fighters fans who like their faster rockers, but for a Joe Walsh fan such as myself, the guitar solo won’t disappoint. I’ve spoken to a few people who couldn’t care less who Joe Walsh is and they regard Outside as among the albums lesser tracks, which I find odd because as a song, aside from Joe’s guitar solo, I find it to probably be the best of the albums harder rocking tracks.
In The Clear is supposed to have a jazz feel because it was recorded in New Orleans. The only thing about the song remotely jazz related is the inclusion of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band which is only heard in the intro and segments of the chorus. Musically the song should be much better, I mean Dave Grohl is a much better song writer than the simple chord progressions heard on this track. It’s the vocal melodies that make this song really good. In fact, I think in respect to vocal melodies on the album, In The Clear is most consistently the best track on the album.
In an all around songwriting perspective – musically, vocally, everything – the first excellent song on Sonic Highways is Subterranean. It can feel a little long during certain listens (the song runs at 6:08) but that doesn’t change that this is the kind of songwriting I’ve been expecting from the band throughout the entire album. It is a slow song with a lot of emotion, similar to God As My Witness. It doesn’t quite hook me the way God As My Witness does, but that doesn’t make me appreciate the song any less.
The final song off Sonic Highways, I Am A River, really is the albums swan song. It is a last try and grabbing at its listener’s emotions and pulling them in. An over seven minute track, surely among the longest in the bands entire catalogue (the second longest if I’m correct) the song just keeps building up more and more until it hits the first chorus, then it maintains that emotional intensity throughout the rest of the song. Just like Subterranean, this is the kind of songwriting I’d had hoped for through many points of the album. It’s a shame it had to wait all the way to the end to get to, but it was worth the wait.
I can’t help but look at Sonic Highways as a disappointment. The thing is it’s not a bad album, it’s good – better each time I listen to it – I just feel the world’s greatest current rock band had more in its arsenal than what they gave us here. It does however still get an exceptionally good rating because my expectations for Sonic Highways were so high that I even consider the rating I’m giving this album to be way too low. Most of the album sounds like they were afraid to step out of their comfort zone. For the people out there who’ve never listened to Foo Fighters and start off with this album (it seems unlikely, but this will be the case for many people) I kind of wish they’d rather start with an album potent with fantastic tracks like The Colour and the Shape, There Is Nothing Left To Lose or Wasting Light, just to hear the band at their best.
“What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” –
I guess I covered this pretty well in the review; how it sums up the album by having both of its parts represent both of my sides regarding my opinion of the album. I feel for that reason, it will give curious listeners an idea of what the album sounds like. They listen to What Did I Do? and hear the same Foo Fighters songs they’d heard before, but then they’ll listen to the God As My Witness half of the song they hear something really special and are given hope that there may be other songs on Sonic Highways with such dynamic.
8 (Out of 10)
|1.||“Something from Nothing”||4:49|
|2.||“The Feast and the Famine”||3:49|
|4.||“What Did I Do? / God As My Witness”||5:44|
|6.||“In the Clear”||4:04|
|8.||“I Am a River”||7:09|