Headed On The Highway
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Doing a studio tour of various cities, (Chicago, Austin, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, Washington, DC and New York) with the idea of catching the vibe of each studio seems like a cool concept. Hauling in guests from each location would also seem like a way to make each track sound distinctive (Joe Walsh, Gary Clark Jr, Zac Brown among others). It's also a tie-in to the HBO (and now BluRay) series of the same name. But there's something a little awry with the concept. The songs all have the same vibe. The Foos may have been sucking it all in while making "Sonic Highways," but the listener doesn't get to share that experience.
There are moments when you get some of the action, like when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band contributes their sound to "In The Clear" (recorded in New Orleans). But they are pretty much buried in the mix, so you just get a minor variation to the basic Foo Fighters' sound. Joe Walsh has a cool solo in "Outside," but it doesn't burn in your mind that it's Walsh. Same for Zac Brown's vocals on "Congregation" (recorded in Nashville). If you want to hear a real Brown Collaboration, dig his work with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell on "Heavy Is The Head" from Brown's own "Jekyll and Hide." The lone exception is Clark's solo in "What Did I Do? / God As My Witness" (recorded in Austin). It's the one guest star who really leaves an impression.
And that kind of sums up the experiments. What you're left with is a pretty good Foo Fighters album. The songs still roar like they should ("The Feast and The Famine" and "Congregation"). They even try a little sonic soul with "I Am A River," "Sonic Highways" climax (which splits the difference, strings recorded in Los Angeles, the meat of the song in NYC). If you weren't aware of the concept of the album, you'd probably just regard it as the Foo Fighters doing what they do best. That's probably all you really need to know about "Sonic Highways"...it's Dave Grohl and the men in their element.