Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: November 10th, 2014, via RCA
The Foo Fighters highly anticipated follow up to 2011’s Wasting Light, Sonic Highways, looks to continue the Foo’s legacy as one of the few 90’s bands to not only maintain their original success, but to surpass it, two decades onward. As you could have guessed, they accomplished this with flying colors.
Dave Grohl, singer, guitarist, drummer, song writer, producer, and (especially in the last few years) an advocate for rock and roll, and authentic music, is always looking to write and record music in a unique fashion. An example of this would be how Wasting Light was recorded completely in Grohl’s garage, something which is completely unheard of nowadays. This time around, the Foo Fighters chose to record each song off their new album in a different, iconic studio across America. The band reached Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Nashville, Washington D.C, Austin, Chicago, and Seattle. In addition to this already impressive accomplishment, each song features a different musician who has recorded in that very studio at one point in their career. The list of featured musicians is very diverse, from Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilson, to blues man Gary Clark Jr. and even the lesser known Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, whom the Foo’s played a surprise gig with earlier this year in a New Orleans club. They allowed the inspiration of each studio’s history and affiliated genre of music recorded there in the past to seep into their own creative process, writing and recording each song in their respective studios. This task must have been difficult to do, let alone doing it on eight different occasions, which likely explains Grohl’s remarks, “I’m never fucken doing it again!”
The album itself is quite excellent. The music is very much what you would expect from a Foo Fighters album. That being said, it’s refreshing to hear the influences from different musical styles from the different studios and featuring artists. For example, Bad Brains’ punk influence can be clearly heard on “The Feast And The Famine” and the guitar solo on “Outside” is very much that of Joe Walsh. This crossing of genres and sounds when paired with the tone and texture associated with the Foo Fighters makes for an excellent combination.
The first track, “Something From Nothing”, was released earlier in October as the albums lead single. For the past month or so, the song has been on my own constant rotation and had built up a large sense of excitement for the rest of the record. After listening to Sonic Highways, I can say it matched my own personal excitement. “Something From Nothing” is by far my favorite song. It’s has many groove changes, going from a solemn and slower intro, to a funkier mid-section which featured a small, Motown inspired keyboard solo by session pianist, Rami Jaffee, who is heard throughout the album. The song builds up in to a very heavy, hard rock ending with loud power chords, screaming vocals, shredding guitar, thrashing drums and even slide guitar. The song follows the tradition the Foo Fighters have stuck with for a large part of their career; they have always done a fantastic job of writing a simple song and building on the original idea with variations along with new elements which gives the song a sense of direction and climax. While some songs are better than others, there is not a bad song on the album. “What Did I Do/God Is My Witness” is a very close second for me. The tune features Gary Clark Jr. and brings along both the influence of the blues and gospel music to the song. The guitar solo is unmistakably that of Clark and is certainly the highlight of the song. The brassy tone of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band accenting the lead guitar part during the end of “In the Clear” is another subtle moment which the Foo Fighters could not have reached by themselves, but sounds very good. The dark textures on “Subterranean” and “I Am A River” is almost peaceful to listen to, giving the album a sense of balance when compared to their faster, heavier “The Feast and the Famine” and “The Congregation”, both of which are also great rockers.
Unfortunately for Sonic Highways, it is tasked with following up a legendary, earth shattering recording. Wasting Light was one of the greatest albums to come out of 2011 and was loved among fans and critics alike. It is very unlikely that Sonic Highways will have the same effect on its audience as Wasting Light did, despite it being an excellent album. This trend is not uncommon and can be seen throughout history: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute is not Blood Sugar Sex Magik; Guns N’Roses Use Your Illusion I & II is not Appetite For Destruction, just like Pearl Jam’s Vs. is not Ten. All of these albums were, in my opinion, phenomenal, and are some of my favorites, but just like Sonic Highways, they do not measure up to the standard set by the previous album. I listened to Sonic Highways without bias, by all means, it is an excellent album, one that fans of the Foo Fighters will love and even those who aren’t would enjoy. Without a shortage of good musical material, Grohl and the boys have struck gold yet again with Sonic Highways. The album delivers the classic Foo Fighter sound we all love, while providing a new twist through varying influences and the contributions of musical icons of differing styles. Not only are there a mix of different musical genres, but the band has a solid combination of upbeat, heavier songs, with slower, softer ones to create a nice contrast. The more I listened to the album, the more I loved each song. Sonic Highways continues the trend the Foo Fighters seem to abide by: great music, accompanied with a unique process of writing and recording. Sonic Highways is a must have for anyone who claims to be into modern rock and roll, and demonstrates a new method of writing music, which can lead to highly interesting, genre crossing results.
1: Something From Nothing (Featuring Rick Neilson)
2: The Feast And The Famine (Featuring Bad Brains)
3: The Congregation (Featuring Zac Brown)
4: What Did I Do/God Is My Witness (Featuring Gary Clark Jr.)
5: Outside (Featuring Joe Walsh)
6: In The Clear (Featuring The Preservation Hall Jazz Band)
7: Subterranean (Featuring Ben Gibbard)
8: I Am A River (Featuring Joan Jett)