Let’s talk about Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highway album!

What does a do-no-wrong media darling, who’s been on top of the pop-rock pile for 20 years, do when the ideas stop coming? If you’re Dave Grohl, you record Sonic Highways, Foo Fighters’ ultimately flawed 8th studio album. The record has seen mega-hype as the accompaniment to an eponymous documentary series on HBO (now midway through its run) of Grohl and co.’s travels to eight cities with legendary music production credentials, during which they both interview legendary locals and draw inspiration for their latest album.

 The final product is intended to be a love-letter to the American music landscape, both past and present. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Grohl’s aversion to evolution, the record comes off as more of a pastiche than anything else, with bits and pieces of the American canon tacked on to otherwise straightforward Foo’s songs. This leaves the new material nuanced and fresh but also sounding like the record they should have made circa 2006 to avoid stagnation. Most prominent in terms of ‘influence’ are shades of Queen and Cheap Trick, evidenced by admittedly amazing key-changes and arena-rock build-ups certain to get a rise during their imminent visit to these shores, and Grohl goes out of his way to veer into Eagles territory with campy 60’s leads, but most of the songs never quite advance beyond tribute, rather than successful fusion. Essentially, there’s a lot of nostalgia on offer, but none of it presented particularly innovatively, despite cameos from Bad Brains, Joan Jett and Joe Walsh.

The American musical palette is incredibly varied and this album had the potential to be a full-on spectacle, a smorgasbord of the various trends and talents throughout pop-history, or failing that, a new musical direction for Foo Fighters that might’ve seen a noticeable blip in the genre’s heart-beat. Alas, it’s neither, and though songs like ‘The Famine and the Feast’ and ‘Congregation’ make solid bids for the latter, something is perennially lacking. The album fails to hold-up as a singular ‘concept’ – none of it flows, and the novelty of 8 different recording locations will be lost on the majority of the album’s listeners, particularly towards the final two songs, which sound like bloated, rehashed Grohl material from the acoustic side of In Your Honour. As a collection of new songs, the album stands strong, and has a few breath-taking highlights shot-through with the emphatic musicianship of the Foo’s, but it fails to complement the full and potential package that this endeavour could have been.

Fans might argue that the album should be construed within context – it’s more retrospective than forward-looking, not meant to be progressive at all; in that case, well done to the Foos – they’ve managed to build enough of a nostalgia-hype to make a success of a lacklustre, flawed memorial to what-has-been. Some might argue that this is indicative of the state of modern music in general – don’t you f*cking dare try to hard or feel too strongly about anything. Then again, if you’re Dave Grohl, does it really matter? He’s had the feast, and famine doesn’t look forthcoming anytime soon.
Standout tracks: “Congregation”, “Feast and the Famine”, “In the Clear”
Avoid: “Subterranean”

6.5/10

Download Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways on iTunes here!

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Foo Fighters South African tour details, Cape Town Stadium 10 December 2014 & FNB Stadium 13 December 2014. More details here!

Find out more about Sonic Highways TV Series here!

Free Foo Fighters South Africa tickets coming soon…

 

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