24 November 2014
Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways
An album of eight songs recorded in eight different studios, in eight different cities with different guests - but with the same producer. This is an ambitious undertaking, one which would not have been cheap to do either even for a band as well off as the Foo Fighters. I have to be honest I was really hoping to avoid this album until after the end of year blogs, not because I am a Foo Fighters hater (I know a few of them) and not because I was not interested in the album's concept. I am a little scared it is going to have no consistency and will such a little. Their last album 'Wasting Light' was not the most exciting thing I have ever heard. In fact it was a letdown for me, not when comparing with their early classic works but even with 'Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace'. It was the alternative rock equivalent of 'St. Anger' - it was the sound of men trying to make a garage album after years in amazing studios. Granted, at least Mr Grohl and Co did actually make it in a garage; it also used only analogy recording equipment and had Butch Vig at the helm - the man who produced 'Nevermind' by Nirvana. The end result (for me at least) was a record that sounded as if it was trying too hard. The principle was admirable, it gained a lot of praise and for all of that it still did not click with me. So after that one, the idea of another strange idea for a studio album was not one that I am looking forward to at this point. So, after being requested to do this (and with the other lads flat out refusing) it is down to me to see what the end result of this experiment is.....
Starting the album is “Something For Nothing” which was recorded in Chicago, Illinois, with an appearance from Rick Nielsen (from Cheap Trick) on this track (each of the tracks has a special guest on it as well as being recorded in a different location). Coming across as a mixture of the track “Word Forward” from ‘Greatest Hits’ and with a Stevie Wonder keyboard halfway through the track, this song is not exactly the most exciting number to begin with; to be quite honest I was expecting to be asleep by the end of the track. The ending though is a little bit ballsier then it’s light beginnings. A decent enough opening to this album, which is followed on by “The Feast And The Famine” recorded in Arlington, Vurgina (near Washington DC) and comes across as a throw back to their ‘Colour & The Shape’ days. Now if this had have been the sort of thing that ‘Wasting Light’ had have been about, it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting. It is the first Foo Fighters track which has rocked out for many years for this blogger; in fact I would say it is the best song they have laid down since “The Pretender” and it shows that the band still have that quality about them to rock out when it is required. After this is “Congregation” which was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee which is a halfway house in styles between the more melodic style of Mr Grohl and co and that need to have the distortion peddle to the floor. You always get this sort of number on a Foo’s release, it must be some sort of clause in the agreement he signed with Satan at some point. It does not have anything specifically wrong with the song, it is a decent song but it is more like “Times Like These”; for me that is a song which has never worked, but I know it is a crowd favourite for the band. If you like that number, chances are that you will do the same here. Track four is called “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” and was recorded in Austin, Texas. It has a strange style compared to more of the song. It is strangely addictive and not in a good way. I found the stop/start nature of the beginning and middle annoying, the lyrics below par and the tune (at least on first listen) to be dull. But after a few listens I can report that the tune itself is very good, I have not changed my opinion on the lyrics or the stop/start section. Makes a great riff just average, tragic.
“Outside” was recorded in Los Angeles, California and starts off the second half of the album with a slow brooding number that sounds like it will be a corner stone of their live set very soon. It is very classic rock in feel and the riffs just keep rolling off as the solos keep on coming as well. To be honest from a three man guitar front that is not Iron Maiden, these guys do know when to make the solo sound beautiful. The one in the middle of this song is special and elevates this song which again is something that the Foo’s have not done for an awful long time for me. Acoustic opened “In The Clear” was recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana and which follow the more sombre side of the Foo’s back catalogue such as “Big Me” & “Everlong”. If anything it actually reminds me a little of a song by Ben Folds did with a group called The Bens called “Bruised”. It has sections where the guitars are all loud and noisy, mixed with the tender moments of regret and anger that powers this type of number. It is one of the best songs on this album and the second half is turning into a bit of a monster so far. Penultimate track “Subterranean” which was recorded at Seattle, Washington does something that was not expected. Created with Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie, it is a dance rock number from the band and it is sort of at odds with the rest of the album. Now the unexpected nature of the track will have a few fans of the Foo’s tearing up their Generation X badges and crying tears into a jar to drink later. For me, I do not mind the song; it is a really brave move that changes the record and keeps in the spirit of experimentation. But Mr Grohl’s voice is not quite right here, if it had been David Bowie though I reckon the world would have collectively creamed their pants. Ending the album is the more traditional rock sounding “I Am A River” which was recorded in New York, New York and brings a taste of grunge and the desert at the same time. I was surprised that song does not have Josh Homme’s on it, but it does have Tony Visconti and Kristeen Young. It is a great ending track that reminds you that whilst the Foo’s are over twenty years old and have many albums after them, that they are still trying different stuff and making something different. Even the drawn out ending does not diminish the brilliance that the ending track accomplishes.
I think we can safely say that this is probably the most interesting and relevant Foo Fighters record in an awful long time. As an experiment recording in different cities, it is obvious that it has had an effect on the overall tone of the album and it makes for each song having its own distinct sound and quality. With only two of the tracks being average (and in one case – “Subterranean”) bat crap crazy, I must admit that I have enjoyed this album a lot more than I was expecting. It will probably not change the views of people who dislike the band, but overall I think it is their best album since the gigantic “The Colour & The Shape”.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
Top Track – I Am A River
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the Foo Fighters website here
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