REVIEW: Foo Fighters – ‘Sonic Highways’

Sonic Highways Review Foo Fighters

Artist: Foo Fighters
Album: Sonic Highways
Genre: Rock
Label: Roswell Records

Sonic Highways, the eighth studio effort from American rock ‘n’ roll staple Foo Fighters, isn’t so much a testament of a band reaching the pinnacle of its career as much as it is a band defining a sound 20 years in the making.

With a majority of the record comprised of maddeningly huge, arena-ready riffs, the record has moments of true and utter brillance; but those moments are compromised by the fleeting instances of lethargic and distasteful songmanship by a band held to the highest standard in all of music. Songs like “Something For Nothing” and “The Feast and the Famine,” are quintessential Foo Fighters rock songs. These tracks are hard-hitting to the bone; the type of tracks that make your spine tingle and set a fire in your eyes the same way classic rock ‘n’ roll did for the generation past. These two back-to-back numbers contain a sense of urgancy that picks up where Foo’s last record, Wasting Light, left off. It sets the pace for the record at fast and contagious.

Sonic Highways, the eight-track release, comes in partner with the HBO series of the same title. Mastermind Dave Grohl and company travel to eight different United States cities with hopes of discovering the musical history of each one and accordingly capturing that history and essence in one track on the record, which is lyrically written and recorded in that city. The idea of Sonic Highways, both the record and television show, is commendable. It’s a brilliant showcase of the rich and deep history of our country by a band that is making a strong case as one of the greatest in that history. The idea of Sonic Highways is one of the coolest pieces of music journalism ever seen in the digital age. Guest appearances from Zac Brown, Gary Clark Jr, and others make it that much more interesting. But the purpose of reviewing this record isn’t to idealize the truth and passion it displays for American music history, because it truly is a meritable display of the above. No, the idea is to look at the music presented — and while the idea has the tenacity to be talked about for years to come, there are tracks on Sonic Highways that do not meet the standard expected from America’s ambassadors of rock ‘n’ roll.

The record losses steam on the back end; it’s that simple. Maybe the band grew wearisome of such a daunting task as traveling from city to city and recording in this manner, or maybe the cities representing the second half of Sonic Highways (Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seattle and New York) just call for music that lacks the timbre and power shown in the first half (Chicago, Washington D.C., Nashville, Austin). Only speculation can tell what causes such an abrupt shift in energy on the record.

That’s not to say a song like New York’s 7-minute number “I Am A River,” will have a better or worse chance of standing the test of time over the poignant and diverse number, “Congregation”; only time will give us that answer. “I Am A River” just doesn’t demand the same irrefutable attention a song like “Congregation” does. It doesn’t beg you to come back and listen over and over; it doesn’t give you anything to take away other than the internal decision not to return to that track. The same can be said about Seattle’s number, “Subterranean.” Yes, Grohl has spoken publicly about his outlook on the down-tempo and dreariness of Seattle and that’s shown in the song — but it just lacks the moxie needed in a good Foo Fighters track.

That’s not to say Sonic Highways doesn’t have some of the best moments listeners have heard from Foo Fighters in the band’s 20-year dominance. “What Did I Do? / God As My Witness” (featuring Gary Clark Jr.) is one of the best songs heard from Foo Fighters, ever. The warmth from the mix in the Austin-influenced track to the lead guitar sass in the first section of the track to the Queen-worthy ending; it’s a testament to the potential of this band’s sustainability and reminds us why Foo Fighters are the best of a generation. The track is a gem ready to hold its own against the best of its kind.

Sonic Highways isn’t Foo Fighters’ worst record, but it isn’t the band’s best. It contains some of the best songs we’ve heard from the band in this decade and beyond, as well as some of the most forgettable of the band’s career. The idea of documenting American music through the art of a rock ‘n’ roll song is worthy of the highest praise — and many of the tracks (hear 1-6) are worthy of that praise. It isn’t The Colour and The Shape — nor should anyone think it will be. It’s mostly a good collection of Foo Fighters songs better than a majority of the band’s early ’00s discography. It shows listeners this band can still deliver an undeniably unique sound under the most peculiar of circumstances.

SCORE: 7.5/10
Review written by Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt)

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