Foo Fighters, ‘Sonic Highways’ – Album Review
Foo Fighters continue to prove themselves as one of rock's most ambitious bands and with 'Sonic Highways' they've undergone a massive undertaking to provide a love letter to the great music scenes of America.
However, much like the scenes represented, there's a great variety in what you get, and 'Sonic Highways' may not flow as smoothly as a traditional album. That being said, you have eight songs that are distinctively Foo Fighters and representative of the locations in which they were recorded.
'Something for Nothing' opens the disc and is a clear high point on the album. The track has a little bit of everything on it from the "metal chill" guitar riffs of special guest Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick to the '70s-sounding keyboard work of Rami Jaffe and a blistering guitar part from Chris Shiflett about midway through. (Yes, one of the riffs does sound an awful lot like the one on Dio's 'Holy Diver.') The song starts off with Dave Grohl in a melodic vocal, but by the end finds him defiantly belting, "No you can't make me change my name / You'll never make me change my name / Pay no mind now ain't that something / F-- it all, I came from nothing!"
Grohl reached into his Washington, D.C. roots to pull out local hardcore punk heroes Bad Brains for a guest appearance on the single 'The Feast and the Famine.' The track opens with more abrupt beats from drummer Taylor Hawkins before the song devolves into an unabashed rocker featuring driving guitars and Grohl's aggressive vocals.
'Congregation' pulls it back a bit, with country superstar Zac Brown sitting in for a more melodic track. But don't worry Foo fans, despite the presence of Brown and the setting of Nashville, this is no country song. It's still a solid rocker and pushes the up-tempo, foot-stomping beat later during the track's breakdown. 'What Did I Do? / God as My Witness' serves as the perfect follow-up to 'Congregation,' a catchy number that features the talents of Austin guitar favorite Gary Clark Jr. Add in some bluesy piano from Jaffe and the Foo's knack for penning infectious guitar licks and you've got one of the better songs on the album.
'Outside' kicks off the latter portion of the disc, with Foo Fighters managing to find the bridge between post-modern '90s alt-rock and jangly late '60s California harmonics. Helping them pull that off is a man who knows a thing or two about the California sound -- Eagles / James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh. Foo Fighters pull out the chugging guitar lick that previously served them well on 'All My Life' at the beginning of 'In The Clear,' but this is no rehash thanks to an increasingly anthemic beat and some backing by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
While most of 'Sonic Highways' pushes the pulse, late album track 'Subterranean' offers a more contemplative Foo Fighters. Launching with dreamy sounding acoustic guitars and a vibe more attune to special guest Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, 'Subterranean' is strum-along goodness and a little bit of a curveball. But it's the perfect palate cleanser for the epic finale, 'I Am a River.' The song starts off with a bit of that dreamy vibe carried over from 'Subterranean,' but ebbs and flows as it progresses. Aided by producer-turned-guitarist Tony Visconti, the track builds into a triumphant chorus.
As a project, there's no denying the overall success of what Foo Fighters accomplished in representing the respective music scenes, but as an album it feels a bit disjointed at times. However, the craftsmanship is top notch and the disc is well worth your time even if the "highways" don't always make the smoothest of transitions.
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