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Foo Fighters, ‘Sonic Highways’ – Album Review

RCA

The undertaking of the Foo Fighters’ latest album, ‘Sonic Highways,’ was undoubtedly ambitious. The eight-track record coincides with Dave Grohl’s eight-episode HBO series sharing the same name. A virtual love letter to American music, each episode explores a different city: Chicago, D.C., Nashville, Austin, L.A., New Orleans, Seattle and New York City.

The series finds Grohl interviewing the musical greats that helped define each city’s sonic landscape and legacy — from D.C. punk trailblazers Bad Brains and Fugazi to the Nashville twang embodied by Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. Grohl used these experiences to write and record a song in famous studios in each of the eight cities.

The premise, then, would have Grohl and company taking these massive influences to drive the Foos’ trademark stadium garage-rock sound in new directions. However, what could’ve become a major left turn in the band’s 20-year career instead stays true to their signature belted-out anthems, shredding guitars, curled-lip screams and obligatory ballads.

Throughout the ‘Sonic Highways’ series, Grohl is adamant about maintaining their sound rather than letting the rock-and-roll road trip concept take the new album into territory too far gone from being a recognizable Foo Fighters album.

Each track features a guest artist from its featured city. Granted, sometimes these artists fade into the background due to Grohl’s sheer determination to not venture too far from the Foos’ sound; can you really distinguish another guitar from Joan Jett in ‘I Am a River’ or Rick Nielsen in ‘Something from Nothing’?

However, in other moments, the concept adds a needed dynamism to the record, like Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s brass section in the standout track, ‘In the Clear,’ and the raw Bad Brains vocals heard on ‘The Feast and the Famine.’

By taking inspiration from rather than relying on Grohl’s music history lesson, ‘Sonic Highways’ stays markedly true to the Foo Fighters catalog while pushing Grohl’s songwriting into new ground.

Next: You Think You Know the Foo Fighters?

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