To landmark their 20th anniversary, Foo Fighters released their eighth studio album, Sonic Highways, in 2014. Following on from 2011’s analog Wasting Light, this latest album release sees the affable rockers break the mould once again by recording each track in eight different American cities.
At each pit stop, the band opened their doors to a HBO film crew who captured this ambitious recording process, as well as Dave Grohl interviewing a number of famous musicians including Slash, Alex Turner, Josh Homme and Willie Nelson, which created the television series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways – a visual supplement to the album. This unique show gives fans a greater insight to story behind each song, allowing them to follow the journey the band took whilst recording the album, and witness the influence each city, and its musicians, had on the band whilst writing each track.
The album kicks-off with “Something from Nothing”, a track that finds it roots with the blues scene of Chicago, and refers to Buddy Guy’s coming to the city and the story of his first instrument, “A button on a string/And I’ve heard everything”. Similar to past songs such as “The Pretender” and “Walk”, the song starts at a slow tempo and gradually accelerates into a stadium-filling anthem, building up to Grohl’s signature growl, in which he screams, “F- it all/I came from nothing”, before sinking into the heavy breakdown which introduces Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson (guitar) as a guest appearance.
“The Feast and the Famine” was inspired by the Washington D.C. punk scene. The track reflects on the outbreak of riots the city experienced following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. With its fast paced guitar riffs, and politically influenced lyrics, the presence of punk is very noticeable, bringing to life an important part of the capital’s music scene and history.
“Outside” takes us on a journey of escape from the chaotic lifestyle of L.A. into the secluded desert of Joshua Tree. The ethereal song was recorded in the renowned Rancho De La Luna, and refers to the studios deceased co-owner Fred Drake, “There you are dancing at your altar/Beautiful earthling blessed in Kashmir”. As well as the history of Rancho De La Luna, the Sonic Highways episode focuses on guitarist Pat Smear’s involvement with Joan Jett whilst in his former punk-rock band The Germs. Whilst speaking with Grohl, Jett refers to the L.A. glam-rock scene in the mid 70’s, which also plays a key influence on the lyrics of “Outside”, “Girls were boys and boys were girls/Finding glitter in the litter”. Guitar legend Joe Walsh also rocked up to the desert to lay down a simple, yet ever so effective guitar solo which, along with Mendel’s bass line, creates an unearthly finish to the song.
Listeners are also transported across the states to Nashville (“Congregation”), Austin (“What Did I Do?/God As My Witness”), New Orleans (“In The Clear”) and Seattle (“Subterranean”). The album comes to an epic close at New York’s Magic Box with “I Am A River”. Lasting over seven minutes, the track draws to a climax with Grohl emotionally singing, “I am a river/I am your River”, on top of a string orchestra providing the record with a phenomenal ending. Although this may be the Foo Fighters’ shortest album with only eight tracks, when accompanied with the Sonic Highways television series, it proves to be their most ambitious yet.