Dave Grohl is indubitably the most likeable personality in the world of rock’n’roll – but is that enough to sustain the musical empire that he’s created with Nirvana, Them Crooked Vultures, and now the eighth incarnation of seminal rock band Foo Fighters? The short answer is yes, but the shorter answer begins with an ‘n’ and ends with an ‘o’. Sure, he’s made his mark on multiple genres, and there’s no way the music industry is ever going to forget such an iconic leading man – but we’ve got a feeling that the latter part of his work isn’t going to be looked back on as fondly as his earlier material. The past decade has seen the Foo Fighters rehash the rocking, arena-ready model of tunes that they carefully constructed and built up over the first half of their existence as a group. Everything sounds practically the same – sure, it makes for a great live show, especially when you’ve got such a focused concentration of amped-up musical talent on stage, more so than most other fly by night musical bands. What we don’t understand is how it’s possible for the evolution of such a group to stagnate in such an abrupt fashion – practically every other album on their catalogue sounds akin to each other.
In fact, Sonic Highways is probably the most diverse of the lot – perhaps travelling to eight different locations (while filming a HBO documentary) for what has to be one of the most expensive records ever made did help them, but just a little bit. Yes, it sounds very Foo Fighters, and yes, there’s no mistaking them for any other band, but we think that for the first time that isn’t necessarily a good thing; they’ve gotten a little complacent, perhaps. ‘Something From Nothing’ is the perfect example of this. It wouldn’t sound out of place in just about any other Foo Fighters album, except that this time it sounds like they’re borrowing from not just their previous work, but they’ve also literally taken a page out of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’. Come on, Dave, a megaband can’t just rip a riff off one of the archetypal songs of the ‘80s. And on top of that, they had the cheek to ask Rick Nielsen to pretty much just layer that very riff with a baritone that can barely be heard – and say that he’s the featured guest on that track.
Thankfully, the very next song seems to redeem the Foos just a little bit. Sure, they didn’t delve into the depths of hardcore punk with featured artistes – Grohl’s old mates from Scream – with ‘The Feast and the Famine’, but it’s still a harder-hitting piece than anything else on the record, and a really good one at that, just to tease us a little bit that they’ve still got it. But wait, there’s more. ‘Congregation’ (recorded with country legend Zac Brown) doesn’t show much of the Nashville sound, it’s still what you’d expect from the band, with a patient build to a laidback filler chorus (that you can barely pick out from the rest). ‘What Did I Do?/God As My Witness’ starts with a small piano-driven intro into a slight CCR-driven mould (that would drive fans crazy live), before it stops and continues with the second part of the tune that’s goes into power ballad territory and fades off predictably. ‘Outside’ begins with a bassy undertone that excites us just a little bit before transitioning into formulaic Foo material – with a little more push. We have to admit, the hooks on this album are a little catchier than what we’ve been getting for a while now, even if the music isn’t.
The enigmatic New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band doesn’t even get much attention besides a short cameo in the ‘In The Clear’ riff, which is just a waste of time and talent. ‘Subterranean’ did carry a little bit of Seattle (and Ben Gibbard) with it, but nothing much else. The conclusive track, ‘I Am A River’, ends things with Joan Jett barely featured on the overly theatrical track (complete with strings to boot). You couldn’t even hear the queen of glam-rock if you tried. If Grohl and co. actually sat down with the intention to properly collaborate and write with these artistes, we might actually see something groundbreaking. These guys are all stalwarts and legends of their respective genres, and it’s pitiful to see the Foos just regulating them to sidemen, while hyping them up to the nines. You probably wouldn’t even recognise that the band had brought in outside help if they didn’t mention it at all.
Basically, a Foo record with a little bit of spice. Just a little bit.
LISTEN TO: ‘The Feast and the Famine’
IF YOU LISTEN TO THIS YOU’LL DIG: Them Crooked Vultures
1. Something From Nothing
2. The Feast and the Famine
4. What Did I Do?/God as My Witness
6. In the Clear
8. I Am a River