Dave Grohl has led his beloved Foo Fighters to the top of the rock and roll scene over the last 20 years, making it arguably one of the most vivacious rock bands of our time. With each album, Grohl has pushed forward. From There Is Nothing Left to Lose to One by One, the band has had its fair share of success. In order to continue along that road to success, the Foo Fighters have taken on what seems to be its most ambitious project yet, Sonic Highways.
The rockers traveled across the country as they created this album, writing and recording eight new songs in eight unique cities. Accompanied by an HBO crew, the band interviewed key figures in music during their time in each area, including Willie Nelson in Austin and punk icon Ian Mackaye in Washington, D.C. This resulted in an eight-part documentary that was aired on HBO, creating new fans and building up hype for the album among the old. The point was to find inspiration in these music icons, and to transmit the energy of the eight cities into the final product.
In some sense, the Foo Fighters did just that. “The Feast and the Famine” reflects upon the riots in D.C. following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Something From Nothing” details Chicago legend Buddy Guy’s story of his very first instrument (“A button on a string / And I heard everything”).
Despite modest success in channeling these eight cities, however, the overall product reflects neither the scope of the “sonic highway” or the expectations of fans. The album might feature a few of the Foo Fighters’ classic riffs and mix in the group’s iconic whispers and screams, and so, yes, the influence of these music legends did make its way into the tracks somehow, but instead of creating a new sound, these elements of Americana get lost in the Foo’s own formulaic sound. These guest stars don’t find the room to establish themselves on Sonic Highways, and any element of innovation is suffocated under the weight of the band’s long-running career.
The album still has its finer points, and opening track “Something From Nothing” is certainly one of them. The song’s start will be familiar to fans—a sliding guitar riff. As the song proceeds, however, it becomes surprisingly funky and soon takes a turn into heavier territory, building and building until it reaches a full-scale rock and roll aesthetic. “Congregation” similarly showcases some unexpected shifts, as it increases in intensity and volume, thanks in part to Zac Brown’s infusion of Nashville style into the track. Even “Subterranean” incorporates some pop elements and new melodies into its standard Foo sound. These songs definitely stray from the band’s straight and narrow path, showing signs of true innovation.
Some innovation, but not enough, as many fans will lament. Overall, this was a good album, but it’s hard not to wish that it had been a bit more adventurous. Perhaps the project was too much for the Foo Fighters to tackle—taking on entirely new influences is difficult for a band so connected to its own history. The Foo Fighters didn’t implement the cross-country concept as well as it could have, and they didn’t make the album as experimental as promised. Fans will be left with a sense that they’ve been cheated, as Sonic Highways fails to cross onto any new continent of sound.
Featured Image Courtesy of RCA Records