Indisputably so, the Foo Fighters have steadily led at the forefront of rock music, and after twenty years of making music, it is safe—if not necessary—to characterize this band as an American classic. To what I’m sure is everyone’s delight, the band decided to celebrate its 20th anniversary in an unusual way while making their latest album, Sonic Highways.
After years of playing drums for legendary grunge band, Nirvana, David Grohl has long since moved up as front man and songwriter for the Foo Fighters. And although I would argue 90% of the time that the cut-off age for being in a rock band is 40 (take a hint, Billy Joel Armstrong), Grohl forcibly shatters this notion with the debut of the latest album.
Sonic Highways manages to accomplish quite a few impressive feats in a relatively compact amount of time. The album’s main allure is not necessarily in the songs themselves, but, rather how they came about. In order to ensure that their two decades strong of making music was not left unheard, the Foo Fighters recorded each one of the album’s songs in different cities: Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle, and finally, Washington D.C. HBO accordingly released a documentary which premiered on October 17th (also titled Sonic Highways) to track the band’s musical journey across the country.
What I found most impressive, however, was that each track, along with being recorded in a different city each time, features a different artist from his corresponding city. Each artist, though varying widely from one another, has an impressive resume. Featured artists include Rami Jafee, Rick Nielsen, Bad Brains, Zac Brown, Gary Clark, Jr., Joe Walsh, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Ben Gibbard, and Tony Visconti. Sonic Highways seamlessly merges the styles of these incredible musicians with the Foo Fighters’ hallmark rough sound, accomplishing something both unanticipated and familiar at the same time.
Rightfully so, my favorite songs on the album were the ones that the musical guests audibly stood out as the addition of these guests gave the band a much-needed refresher. “Congregation,” Sonic Highways‘ third track (accompanied by Zac Brown) is the catchiest song on the album. Brown’s harmonies with Grohl’s coarse voice made for an unexpected contrast. My favorite song, however, is “Subterranean” (featuring Ben Gibbard). I’ve been a die-hard Death Cab for Cutie fan for a while, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear Gibbard’s contribution to the song. Gibbard’s introspective nature seemed an obvious choice, backing the chorus “You might think you know me, I know damn well that you don’t.” The album’s closing song, something of a cross between a ballad and an anthem, “I Am a River,” (featuring Tony Visconti on guitar), appropriately ends the album.
Though I typically don’t enjoy the harder-rock genre, this album threw me for a loop. And for all the Foo Fighters fans out there, Sonic Highways is essentially an early Christmas present. So unwrap and enjoy.