During the first episode of Foo Fighters Sonic Highways—the HBO docuseries about the making of the group’s new album—singer-guitarist Dave Grohl notes that 2014 is the 20th anniversary of the first Foos demos. Two decades and eight studio albums are a long run for any band, so it’s unsurprising that they’ve employed conceits in recent years to keep things interesting: 2011’s Wasting Light was recorded on analog equipment in Grohl’s L.A. garage, and for their latest they decamped to different cities—Nashville, New York, Seattle—to record with local musicians from each area.
That could make for a schizophrenic album, but listeners probably won’t notice every zip code’s influence as much as Grohl does. Nirvana producer Butch Vig, never afraid to apply liberal amounts of studio polish, keeps things focused. If anything, the impact may be more obvious lyrically: Opener ”Something From Nothing,” recorded in Chicago, weaves in the life story of local blues legend Buddy Guy. (Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen also plays on the song.) The start-stop rhythm and punk-inflected bombast of ”The Feast and the Famine,” recorded in Grohl’s hometown of D.C., bear some of the album’s most prominent local flavor, and it’s one of Highways‘ high points. Unfortunately, the last two tracks are its weakest; the six-minute ”Subterranean” drags, and though strings lend closer ”I Am a River” some cinematic pomp, the song never quite finds its focus. As solid as Sonic Highways is, the entertaining making-of stories may ultimately overshadow the album. B
”The Feast and the Famine,” A punkish ode to Grohl’s hometown
”In the Clear,” A triumphant anthem