Various Artists, ‘Sound City: Real to Reel’ – Album Review
There was a time when musicians couldn’t correct mistakes with a computer program. They either rerecorded a song until they got it right or released it as is, complete with slip-ups. It made the music more real. More human. And it’s an era that Dave Grohl eulogizes and celebrates in ‘Sound City,’ a documentary he directed about a Los Angeles recording studio that was state-of-the-art in the 1970s – when Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Neil Young made records there – but closed in 2011, when it became clear that it couldn’t compete with technology on some kid’s laptop.
But Grohl did more than just make a movie about Sound City Studios; he gathered some pals and music legends and plugged in the analog consoles one last time to record some new songs on the vintage equipment. ‘Sound City: Real to Reel’ features performances by members of Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, Rage Against the Machine and Grohl’s old band Nirvana, all of whom made albums at the studio during its lifetime.
The recordings certainly sound warm and dynamic; there’s glowing clarity to the mixes that you just can’t get with digital processing. The music is spacious, revealing bits and pieces in the corners that would otherwise be stripped away by post-production editing. At its best, ‘Sound City: Real to Reel’ recalls the hard-rock stomp of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ which was recorded at the studio in 1991.
Grohl plays on all 11 songs — sometimes drumming, sometimes singing, sometimes adding guitar. He spaces out with members of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on the psych-rock ‘Heaven and All.’ Stevie Nicks sprinkles nostalgic gold dust on ‘You Can’t Fix This.’ Members of Slipknot and Kyuss, along with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, add brooding rock muscle to ‘From Can to Can’t.’ And the surviving members of Nirvana pair up with Paul McCartney on ‘Cut Me Some Slack,’ the toughest song the former Beatle has recorded since ‘Helter Skelter.’
But there’s also a sense that ‘Sound City’’s party was a whole lot better if you actually were there. It occasionally comes off like a secondhand story told by people who have cherished memories of their experiences. It doesn’t necessarily or always make for great music. Almost half of ‘Real to Reel’’s tracks are forgettable. They’re not songs; they’re tribute concepts. And for the most part, that’s good enough.