Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways (Album Review)

Eight. That’s been a recurring number lately in the world of Foo Fighters. There are eight songs on their brand new album Sonic Highways, each recorded in a different city. All the album previews have been eight seconds long, whilst this is also their eighth album. For this new record, the Dave Grohl-fronted sextet took this special approach to recording Sonic Highways in conjunction with an all-revealing HBO series of the same name. In it, we see exactly how all eight songs were recorded in different cities, with different local legends. The result of this long process, the fantastic Sonic Highways, is released on Monday, 10 November.

Comeback single Something From Nothing opens the hotly anticipated record (their first since 2011’s magnificent Wasting Light) with calm guitars and Grohl’s slightly restrained vocals, with Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear’s swaggering guitars entering not too long after. Recorded in Chicago with members of Cheap Trick, the song fully picks up pace just over halfway as Grohl emphatically shouts “fuck it all, I came for nothing”. This is where the mood switches completely from FM-rock to classic Foo’s as Grohl further claims “I’m something from nothing, you are my fuse”, which precedes a ferocious scream of “all rise”. Something From Nothing’s ending is one of the most intense moments on the album, setting the bar very high for the rest of the record. And they do so with utmost ferocity and style, as The Feast and The Famine strips back the grandiose and aims for a more old-school Foo Fighters feel. It’s like a mix between My Hero and Monkey Wrench, which really isn’t half bad at all. Recorded in Washington D.C., it’s a short and sharp love letter to the city which produced the likes of Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown and Fugazi. Its lyrical reference to the Washington Monument demonstrates Grohl’s ability to soak himself up in a city, with much of the recording process seeing him write the lyrics at the very end. Congregation, recorded the American country music capital of Nashville, brings back the grand Foo’s sound with a catchy and upbeat riff preceding references to Tallahassee and Nashville’s rich religious background. Special guests the Zac Brown Band don’t feature too much until the song slowly breaks down and builds itself up in a powerful climax which sees Grohl sing of the need for blind faith as opposed to false hope. A manic howl of “open your eyes, step into the light” slowly brings the track back down to earth.

A crescendo of guitars and drums signals the start of What Did I Do?/God As My Witness, which was recorded in Austin, Texas. This one sees Grohl make use of clever lyrical interplay in both parts of the song, turning the tables on who the lyrics are aimed at each time. The first half of the track is quite straightforward and simple, with a classic rock solo entering just after 2 minutes. By this point, it doesn’t seem to be getting very far until God As My Witness turns the ‘epic’ switch on. Grohl sings of putting words into our mouths, before telling us that it’s for him to know and for us to find out. Whatever that may be, we’re not sure about, but we don’t really take notice as Grohl serenades us and asks for delivery whilst he emotionally wails, “god as my witness, yeah it’s gonna heal my soul”. This is the album’s biggest moment thus far, and it’s just made for the stadiums and festival fields of the world. Los Angeles track Outside, recorded with Joe Walsh of The Eagles, was partly premiered during secret shows this year as a mid-section to classic track The Pretender. The Eagles influence is very clear, with layer upon layer of guitar present amongst lyrics referencing “the lone state road” and police sirens. The song stays at an upbeat pace throughout as a big chorus precedes an even bigger mid-section. This mid-section, which further emphasizes the intricate layering, is given a basis point courtesy of Nate Mendel’s smooth bassline and Taylor Hawkins’ tight drumming. As the guitars all come to intertwine, the intensity builds ahead of a full-on rock blowout.

The New Orleans-flecked In the Clear follows, which also harks back to earlier Foo’s with its distorted strumming the verses and big, radio FM chorus. In terms of city influence, In the Clear has the biggest connection to the city it was recorded in, with New Orleans’ Preservation Jazz Hall Band making a big appearance throughout the track. The various brass instruments add an extra layer of grandiose to its anthemic chorus, as the song builds up in an effervescent outro. Penultimate track Subterranean, a product of Seattle, features Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie on guitar duties in Sonic Highways’ weakest track. Although it’s a fairly decent track in itself, it lacks a bit too much power and goes on for a bit too long. It is, however, a perfect soundtrack for a late night drive on an empty interstate highway, something which is also present on the Sonic Highways artwork.  It does build up slightly towards the end, making way for album closer I Am a River, which was recorded in New York City with special guest Joan Jett. Buzzing synth noises precede plucked guitars and lovely ambient noises, before the song properly comes to life just after a minute. Clocking in at seven minutes, it’s the longest track on the album. As with all the songs on this album, lyrical imagery is done extremely well as Grohl namechecks Soho and the Subway on this epic track. It seems like it’s about to get epic very briefly, before calming down again and adding more layering. “Can we recover love for eachother?” sings Grohl, as he graciously asks “Is that what you really want?” over a mix of chugging guitars. It becomes a full-on tearjerker halfway through, as Grohl emotionally wails the track’s title over and over again. This is the cue for the album to come to an end, with I Am a River ending in such sublime beauty that’s it hard to sum it up in words alone. Just as with God As My Witness, this song is also made for the big venues all over the world. You can just picture it in front of you now – 50,000 lighters (or mobile phones, whatever suits you best in this modern world) in the air as a group of old men wrap their arms around eachother and shout at the top of their lungs. It’s a great scene to see, admit it.

And with that, Foo Fighters have offered up what may well be the best album of their career. A lot of people criticize the band for various reasons, but once Sonic Highways hits the #1 spot all over the world, critics will slowly drown in all the rivers that Dave Grohl has referenced through this masterpiece of an album.