Album Reviews

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

(Roswell/Columbia) UK release date: 10 November 2014

foo-fighters-sonic-highways Meh. Another Foo Fighters record. Seven albums under their belts and stacks of fantastic moments, sure. But does anyone really need another Foo Fighters record, only three years after the last one? They unquestionably remain one of the biggest bands on the planet as recent surprise gigs as The Holy Shits confirmed, with frenzied fans clamouring for the few tickets available at the tiny venues once the clandestine manoeuvre was revealed. But even so…

The Greatest Hits is a must have for any discerning rock fan, but consistency within studio albums has often been difficult to achieve. Unfortunately, the trouble with the albums is that as good as they are, none of them really stands out as a classic, whilst their singles reel off like a long list of essential rock tracks. As collections, they’re just a touch too ‘samey’.

Like Dave Grohl’s Sound City side project from last year suggested, he perhaps realises that he’s maxed out his musical creativity and turned to accompanying visuals to embellish his work, and eighth effort Sonic Highways is given a similar treatment, this time with a companion HBO TV series. A tribute to a legendary studio with a host of collaborating artists that used the hallowed space is one thing, but when a band’s meat and drink albums attract the same necessities then it’s probably time to be concerned. As the cover art and title depict, Sonic Highways attempts to capture a tour of American musical history with more collaborators coerced into contributions, each track recorded in a different city.

Once again, it’s the singles that rather obviously stand out from the crowd; the first was the track recorded in Chicago featuring Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, Something From Nothing. A twanging guitar intro leads into typical Foo’s vocal chord progression on its journey to a cacophonous conclusion after some thrilling guitar riffage. Second single Congregation is even better, more melodic verses and uplifting bridge joining the best guitaring on the record to provide a classic Foos track.

Other moments are indifferent. Subterranean is a slower, acoustic led six minutes of average rock approaching, but not quite achieving, anthemic status whilst a pounding bass and scrawling guitar riff help to up the tempo for Outside but again it’s only so-so. In The Clear includes typical, chugging guitar with an unexciting chorus: “There are times I feel like giving in”, Grohl declares. Well we don’t want you to do that Dave, but we’ve heard better and – probably selfishly – expect better.

I Am A River is a decent enough, phenomenally soaring effort of seven minutes but the repetition of the song title throughout its chorus is detrimental to its overall appeal, a latter string section failing to counterbalance the lyrical overuse. The Feast And The Famine explodes in electrifying fashion, hinting at Queens Of The Stone Age efforts in parts. But What Did I Do?/God As My Witness is without doubt the most intriguing track of all. At times sounding like middle of the road rock along the lines of REO Speedwagon, the segue effort stutters along like a power ballad until a blinding spot of guitar soloing from Gary Clark Jr takes over.

In all fairness, Foo Fighters have probably had their day. They’re not going to change the world musically anymore, as the deviation into visuals confirms. But they’re still capable of chucking out the odd thrilling track. Perhaps it’s time to concentrate fully on the music again, take a few years collating their best songs and come back for one last crack at a classic. In the meantime, unfortunately Sonic Highways only delivers occasionally.

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