Foo Fighters

Sonic Highways

Sonic Highways

Reviewed By Simon Milburn
Published 25 November, 2014
Link: Official Website

It’s a long way to the top...

I’m trying to figure out what has changed with radio these days. When Dave Grohl returned to the music scene with his new project called Foo Fighters and a lead single titled “This is a Call” in 1995, there was only one major radio station in Australia that would play it and it sure as hell wasn’t the gaggle of stations that swing from Grohl’s and many other “once deemed unsuitable” acts collective nutsacks these days. The likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam were totally off limits to anything other than Australia’s famed youth network, Triple J, back in the day. Now, it seems that Foo Fighters and their brethren are hot topic amongst some of those radio stations who shunned them almost two decades ago. My how things have changed, eh?

The funny thing is though that the change is not to do with Foo Fighters as such. For all of its rawness, their self titled debut is as radio friendly as anything they’ve done since. It’s a case of arrogant radio stations waking up and coming around to the party. Perhaps it’s a little overdone and heavy handed these days because it really does feel like some of these radio stations are pimping new and exciting rock bands. Regardless of where you stand as far as Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters go, from this reviewers opinion, Grohl is doing today exactly what he wants to do today, just as he did two decades ago several months after the demise of Nirvana.

There’s no doubt the band’s position as one of the biggest rock bands in the world has afforded them some luxuries as far as recording goes but the band’s approach to studio album number eight is something else. The premise behind it is simple – the location that a band records in affects or influences the output. So the band chose to record each song on Sonic Highways in a different studio in a different city and the result is, well, inconsistent as you might expect.

Stepping back an album, 2012’s Wasting Light was the most focussed Foo Fighters album since 2002’s One by One. Although Grohl’s enthusiasm and passion for music cannot be denied, the lack of stability surrounding the recording of the band’s latest effort suggests that the band have lost their way a little with the tracks on offer here, and it shows.

It’s a solid start with “Something from Nothing” and “The Feast and the Famine”. Both are typical rockin’ Foo tracks right up there with “Breakout”, “White Limo” or “All My Life” amongst others. But the rest of the album is hit and miss. Truth be told, it’s more the second half of the album that suffers than anything. In fact, I’d almost go so far to say it’s more miss than hit. For the most part, the second half of Sonic Highways is anything but engaging. As much as it’s Foo Fighters doing their thing their way, when the songs themselves just don’t engage, then holding the listeners attention is going to be an uphill battle all the way. 

It’s fair to say it sounds like Foo Fighters but at the same time it doesn’t. Clearly, Grohl’s vocals define the sound but musically, the second half of the album moves at a pedestrian pace rarely delivering a hook that pulls the listener back in. It almost feels like the somewhat half assed “we’re going on hiatus soon” release Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace from 2007 and with the benefit of hindsight, I feel my review of that album doesn’t hold up. If Grohl and Co. were all about soaking up the vibe of the city they were recording in and expecting that to flow through the album, then one of two things holds true – the cities were so disparate that the end result is disjoint and inconsistent overall, or, the result is exactly what it should have been and be damned with the overall flow of the album.

The final verdict though is not that great. Where Wasting Light simply oozed the energy that Foo Fighters are capable of live, the simple fact of the matter is that Sonic Highways, for all its good intentions, comes up well short of the mark. It’s half top shelf tracks and half tracks that just don’t deliver. All the good intentions surrounding the album that marks the band’s twentieth anniversary don’t quite add up and quick frankly I’d rather the band delivered another dependable, fun, rockin’ studio album as they did two years ago. Instead we have Sonic Highways. Make of it what you will.

Roswell Records/Sony Music Australia

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