Following the success of their Grammy-winning album Wasting Light (2011), the Foo Fighters’ eighth studio endeavour, Sonic Highways, attempts to trump its predecessor by extending its recording process to eight iconic studios across the U.S. More akin to a concept album, each of the eight tracks captures the spirit of their respective cities of recording, infusing both the lyrics and the music of the album with various historical and cultural references. As each track was released “One by One” on the album’s companion HBO television series under the same name, the hype train was ready for boarding—but it never left.
The first three tracks on the album encapsulate the best sounds of the band in recent memory: “Something From Nothing” is a brilliant opener, capturing that sweet union between tear-jerking softness and head-banging heaviness explored in Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace (2007), while “Feast and the Famine” and “Congregation” tap into Wasting Light’s hard rock sounds with their breakdowns and throat-wrenching screams.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the album sloughs down into mediocrity as the band begins to explore various new genres and sounds due to what seems to be a forced adaptation to each city, resulting in lackluster tracks. This is most prominent in “What Did I Do?” where the result is a cheesy, stadium rock ballad that is begging, not only for the audience’s lighters, but the question: Can this really be the Foo Fighters?
While Sonic Highways offers an interesting concept on paper, it ultimately fails precisely due to its concept. In order to properly comprehend the lyrics and musical styles of the record, it seems one must ‘tune in’ to HBO and find out.