Monday, November 10, 2014

Album Review: Sonic Highways


Sonic Highways is the eighth studio album by Foo Fighters. The recording process for the album is unique: the group visited eight different cities across the United States and wrote and recorded each song in a different city, with local legends sitting in on the recordings.

1. Something from Nothing
Sonic Highways starts out on a great note with "Something from Nothing". The song was recorded in Chicago, with Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen as a featured artist. The song starts out quietly but eventually builds to be an all-out rock rampage, in a manner that reminds me slightly of "Let It Die" from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. I'll admit that I wasn't a huge fan of the song when I heard it for the first time, but listening to it more has made me like it a whole lot. After listening to the whole album, I can easily say that "Something from Nothing" is my favorite track.
Rating: 4.5/5

2. The Feast and the Famine
"The Feast and the Famine" was recorded in Washington D.C., with the members of the hardcore punk band Bad Brains providing backing vocals. This song seems to be the hardest rocking song from the album, filling a similar role in the album as "White Limo" from Wasting Light. In contrast with "White Limo", though, this song is less like metal and more like punk. Personally, I think that the screamed vocals, especially in the chorus, are a little overboard, but that doesn't mean that this is necessarily a bad song. Similarly to "Something from Nothing", listening to the song more has made me like it more.
Rating: 4/5

3. Congregation
Zac Brown provides guitar work for "Congregation", which was recorded in Nashville. "Congregation" reminds me a lot of "Long Road to Ruin" from Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. However, after comments made by Grohl in the Wasting Light documentary, Back & Forth. about how the band thought they were too worried about melodies with that album, this reversion seems a bit odd. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I really liked "Long Road to Ruin", but "Congregation" just seems like it lacks originality.
Rating: 4/5

4. What Did I Do?/God As My Witness
This song, or mashup of two songs, was recorded in Austin, Texas, and features guitarist Gary Clark Jr. The influence of Austin is very clearly heard in this song, especially in the chorus of "What Did I Do?". Gary Clark Jr.'s guitar work is fantastic in this song, and it really fits the feel of the song; his solo in "God As My Witness" is great. However, the feel of the song just doesn't really feel like Foo Fighters. This was one of my biggest worries about this album: that too much influence would seep in and take away from the Foo Fighters sound.
Rating: 4/5

5. Outside
"Outside" was recorded in Los Angeles and features legendary guitarist Joe Walsh. Listening to the song for the first time, I thought it was recorded in Seattle, as the bass intro seems very grunge-y. Maybe it's because this was the first song I hadn't heard before, but it seems like Sonic Highways seems to start to decline with "Outside". The song is rather reserved, with low-pitched melody lines and an echo effect on Grohl's voice. The guitar solo reminds me a lot of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold", with reserved bass underneath a loose lead guitar. I don't know exactly what it is, but "Outside" just doesn't grab my attention.
Rating: 3.5/5

6. In the Clear
"In the Clear" is the weakest song from the album. It was recorded in New Orleans and features the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The first half of each verse is just one chord repeated, with the first verse in a manner similar to "Arlandria" from Wasting Light. It doesn't seem to work as well here, though. The vocals during this part actually reminds me a lot of "Dear Rosemary", also from Wasting Light. The chorus constantly has stops and starts that seem a bit too out of place. The bridge prominently features the brass of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but the melody seems kind of uninspired.
Rating: 2.5/5

7. Subterranean
For a song recorded in Seattle, the birthplace of grunge, I was expecting a grunge-y song out of "Subterranean". However, it features Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie, and the song seems to go with a sleepier, more indie route. If I had to use one word to describe "Subterranean", it would be 'sleepy'. It plays like an indie rock track, reminding me of The Shins. This is not the Foo Fighters style at all, and that's what irks me the most about "Subterranean". If this song was performed by The Shins, I would like it a lot more, but it feels wrong coming from Foo Fighters.
Rating: 3/5

8. I Am a River
Sonic Highways's final track, "I Am a River", was recorded in New York City and features Joan Jett. Guitar harmonics from "Subterranean" serve for a perfect segue into this track. The track's intro is very quiet and soothing, reminding me of Cloud Cult. It actually sounds really nice, but once again, it isn't in the Foo Fighters style at all. By the time the chorus comes around and the intensity picks up, the song is too slow for any real intensity to be felt. The song's feels quite retrospective (I think that's the word...); once again, if this was recorded by Cloud Cult, I'd like it a bit more.
Rating: 3.5/5

I'm going to just flat-out say it: I was disappointed by Sonic Highways. In many of these tracks, my fear came true: the songs were too influenced by their surroundings and lost the Foo Fighters sound of hard rock. Songs like "Subterranean" and "I Am a River" aren't intrinsically bad, but they sound wrong coming from a Foo Fighters album. The album definitely has its high points, notably with "Something for Nothing" and "Congregation", but even those songs sound like previous Foo Fighters songs. I guess the bottom line is that Sonic Highways is a good rock album but a sub-par Foo Fighters album. To be fair, Wasting Light set the expectations extremely high, but even so, Sonic Highways seems to fall quite a bit short.
Overall Rating: 7/10

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