Foo Fighters-Sonically ‘Safe’ Highways

Written by @KralTunes

Someone needs to explain to me how THE FOO FIGHTERS became hailed as one of the most important rock bands in recent memory. Even with all of their success, they are the epitome of ‘safe’ rock music – they take no real chances in their sound. (Not for nothing, my boss @ tonight at dawn has always said the have never had any real ‘edge’. So, did I miss something? Now I don’t dislike the band at all, but since their first couple of albums, they have not produced a full album of strong material. Yet, since Wasting Light was a much better album than they had put out since the nineties, I had hope for the new release.

Honestly, it was really the concept behind Sonic Highways that piqued my interest; they recorded one song in each of 8 cities with the respective local legends. The Foo Fighters’ goal was to record a song that encapsulates the aura of each city’s music scene. In addition, they filmed an HBO miniseries that dedicates each episode to the music history of each city. In other words, The Foo Fighters have some lofty goals to meet.

The question is – will their music live up to the hype?

Something From Nothing” is a decent enough classic rock-tinged opener.  Imagery of fire and matches litter the slow build into the explosive conclusion (lighting the fuse).  From there, the band takes us back to their familiar ground; “The Feast And The Famine” is the standard punk staple (which I like, by the way), while tracks like “In The Clear”, “Outside” and “Congregation” sound like every mid tempo FF song in existence (“In the Clear” is particularly bland – how can you water down New Orleans?).

Things are not looking too good by this point.

Murky “Subterranean”, recorded in Seattle, fits in well with the cities grunge-y dark past, while also sounding like a distant relative to  Queens of the Stone Age’s “Long Slow Goodbye – just not as good.  Closer track, “I Am A River”, finishes things off with a repetitively booming chorus which will surely become a sing along for the masses on tour.  The album ends as it began for me, decent enough.

The one standout for me was “What Did I Do?/God As My Witness” (Austin); featuring the excellent Gary Clark Jr., the track starts as a lighter, bouncier style rock song than FF usually presents. The mid-song morph into more of an anthemic track is an unexpected, but very welcome (this is as close to QUEEN-like as they have ever tried before, and it works extremely well).

To sum up the ‘experiment’, FF did not live up to the interest of their concept. Foo Fighters are at their best writing punchier, poppier tunes; they should be commended for trying something new at the very least, but these longer songs do not play to their strengths. One thing I learned later was that the band arrived in each town with the music already produced; it was only the lyrics that were to be ‘inspired’ by each city.

A more interesting test would have been to allow the influences of those music scenes into the writing of the actual music; a task that would probably have been extremely difficult to accomplish, but could have spawned much more interesting results.  Instead, it’s an interesting effort that ends up with a very Foo Fighter sound. It’s not bad, but nothing to write a postcard home about, let alone a miniseries.

On the plus side, the documentary series is interesting for the historic footage and background alone.  If Grohl made this without integrating his band into the mix, it would still have been great. However, I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how the Foo Fighters became so damn important to American music?  The fact that I have to watch Dave Grohl discuss the history of American music with POTUS is enough for me declare NAY, good sir!!

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