Foo Fighters are nothing if not innovative and engaging. While they have been disciplined in maintaining that distinctive Foo sound, they have often thrown caution to the wind with regard to the process behind that sound. ‘In Your Honor’ saw the band record a two disc set, one loud and one not-so-loud, and ‘Wasting Light’ was recorded with analogue equipment. However, ‘Sonic Highways’ is without doubt the most ambitious idea that has been pulled out of the bag so far.
Spending a week in eight different cities around America, interviewing local musicians, recording in eight different studios and drawing on all this inspiration to craft eight songs is truly a novel idea, if not a daunting one. This is not a challenge for the faint-hearted and it could have very easily resulted in a poor, inconsistent and self-indulgent musical calamity if done wrong. This reasonable concern is rendered null and void when the overall quality of the record becomes evident.
Coupled with an eight-part mini-series of the same name, ‘Sonic Highways’ is a great musical package. Make no mistake, this is a Foo Fighters album. Contrary to what some may have imagined, the band did not talk to Dolly Parton and write a country song, and they did not travel to Chicago to write a blues song. The influence comes out in the stories and quotes that can be found in Grohl’s lyrics, not in the music.
For the most part the lyrical approach works, but there are moments on the record where there is an obvious sense of copy and paste which feels semi-arbitrary and contrived. For example, in opening track Something From Nothing Grohl sings ‘Looking for a dime, and found a quarter’ which is a direct quote from an interview with Buddy Guy. After seeing the interview clip, it just sticks out like a sore thumb, while sounding almost uncomfortable within the confines of the music. However, this is the exception rather than the rule.
In The Feast and the Famine the band merges some old school punk with their own contemporary style. Elsewhere the band is joined by Joe Walsh for desert-inspired Outside where he adds a smooth guitar solo to the mix. Add the anthemic I Am A River and What Did I Do?/God As My Witness and the ominously languid Subterranean to the mix and that’s a surprisingly vibrant record right there.
The end result may not be the musical revolution that might have been expected from such a monstrous undertaking, but it is a solid record on its own merits. The road trip idea undertaken by the band was largely an opportunity for them to take the road less travelled. At the same time the audience is treated to a record worthy of a place among the Foo records that preceded it while also getting a rare peek behind the curtain.
‘Sonic Highways’ further demonstrates the bands sincere appreciation for their craft and has secured their musical integrity once more. Nowadays it is as important as ever to be innovative in the world of music. Hats off to the Foo Fighters. More of the same please.