Foo Fighters’ recent album best to date

By all means, “Sonic Highways” could have been a disaster.

The album has only eight tracks, most being five-plus minutes and all recorded in a different U.S. city with a different guest musician. The album seemed destined to become a spotty selection of songs rather than the rock n’ roll experience we’ve come to expect from frontman Dave Grohl.

Even after 2011’s garage-rock throwback, “Wasting Light,” this – paired with a fresh HBO documentary series of the same name – seemed to be the band’s most ambitious idea yet. Fortunately for us, it’s also their strongest musical effort to date.

The band released four of the songs leading up to the album’s release and each sounds even better in context.

“Something From Nothing,” is the slow-building barn-burner we expect – in the same vein as past openers “The Pretender,” and “Bridge Burning,” – but with a bluesy twist and lyrics surrounding the Great Chicago Fire.

From this point forward, the album not only properly reflects on its musical history but spans Foo Fighters’ career – a prime example being “The Feast and the Famine,” whose rip-roaring chorus not only touches on the punk and hardcore background of Washington D.C., but also wouldn’t sound out of place on the band’s landmark “The Colour and the Shape.”

Foo Fighters are at their best when experimenting. “Congregation” is one of the strongest cuts here, taking a play straight from the Lynyrd Skynyrd handbook and writing a top-notch southern rock song with none other than Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band.

This influence is a good sound for the band, and one we’ve seen before – albeit briefly – throughout “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace.” Similarly, the Los Angeles-inspired “Outside” is dark and driving – not unlike the band’s most popular single, “Everlong.”

“Subterranean” reflects Seattle’s indie-rock vibes beautifully, revisiting “There is Nothing Left to Lose” and featuring Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie on backing vocals. His contributions are just subtle enough to be haunting, but one is left wondering where the track really could have gone had they been more prominent.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only song on the record lacking energy is “In the Clear,” a Foo Fighters song we seem to have all heard before. Sure, the song is spotted with horns, but not enough to actually hook us.

So, while “Sonic Highways” absolutely could have been a disaster, it turned out to be anything but. It’s short tracklist succeeds in cutting out any filler that plagues some of Foo’s past releases, while the songs’ long runtimes allow them to fully realize their most ambitious ideas – from the smooth piano intro and gospel influence of “What Did I Do?/God as My Witness” to the Dio-inspired riffs of “Something From Nothing.”

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding this release about whether or not rock and roll is dead. Even without “Sonic Highways,” the answer seems to be a resounding no. Fortunately, if other releases have yet to reassure you that rock music is still good and fine in 2014, “Sonic Highways” is here to put that thought to rest.

 

AARON MOOK

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