It’s hard to keep people interested in something for 20 years. Dave Grohl has been tasked to do this with the Foo Fighters, and he’s done a pretty good job by creating albums in a less than conventional way. In their last effort, the band went back to the garage, literally, and recorded on tape to try to return to the basics. For their eighth studio album, the Foo Fighters did something even more unique: record the album’s eight songs in eight different cities in attempt to infuse that city’s known sound into each song.
Although “Sonic Highways” is an interesting concept, it just doesn’t quite come to light. Yes, this album is another great Foo Fighters record, but the infusion of each city (Chicago, Arlington, Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seattle, and New York) into the songs is as minimal as it can be. The powerful arena-rock sound that most people know from the Foo Fighters is still present on each track.
There is a lot going on musically, however, with guests like Gary Clark, Jr., Joe Walsh, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Zac Brown lending their talents– talents that ultimately get swallowed up by the expected Foo Fighters power-rock chords. It is nice to hear the funky organ hit in “Something From Nothing”, Zac Brown’s back-up vocals in “Congregation”, and the beautiful string arrangement at the end of “I Am A River”, but other than little moments of flair or references to places or people, this is most definitely the same old Foo Fighters sound. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just wish the infusion of different sounds was more pronounced. “Sonic Highways” is a bit of a missed opportunity for the band, who had the chance to take this much farther and diversify their own musical evolution, eight different ways. Despite playing it a little safe, this album is still a wonderful rock album, possibly the best Foo Fighters album in quite some time.
“Sonic Highways” is also accompanied by an 8 episode documentary series that is being aired on HBO. These episodes go much more into the history and sound of each region, and are a great companion piece to the album.