Album review: Foo Fighters, 'Sonic Highways'

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Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways
Foo Fighters latest album, 'Sonic Highways,' is available worldwide on Nov. 10, 2014. (Album art)

Shortly after their last studio album, Foo Fighters announced they would be taking a break with Dave Grohl off to work on last year's rock documentary Sound City. This year we learned that his passion for rock history doesn't stop at recording consoles and studios.

With the release of the Sound City, Grohl announced Foo Fighters' new album and companion television series, "Sonic Highways." Each song on Sonic Highways is focused on a different American city and its musical traditions.

Those familiar with Grohl's background, and his recent role as the unofficial ambassador of modern rock, won't be surprised by the cities featured on Sonic Highways. The television series started in the home base of the irreverent In Utero engineer, Steve Albini. Preaching the blues and punk roots of Midwest, Foo Fighters picked Chicago as the city where they would present the lead song from their eighth studio album. You won't hear the Big Black or Naked Raygun influences on "Something from Nothing," but rest assured — Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen joined them in the studio.

Sonic Highways also marks the twentieth anniversary since the band formed to record their hit heavy debut album. Over the past two decades the band that once existed in the halo of Nirvana has emerged as Grohl's true legacy. Nirvana may have changed the direction of rock music in the 90s, but Foo Fighters have consistently produced hit songs for twenty years. Stepping out from behind the drum kit to be a successful frontman and principal songwriter is no small feat in the rock world.

The Butch Vig-produced Sonic Highways is a conceptual album that detracts from the band's formula for catchy alternative riffs. Without the context of the television series, the songs patiently move from guitar driven verses to roaring choruses as if nothing was left on the proverbial editing floor. Without the companion series, Sonic Highways sounds more like a mass of studio recordings than a collection of songs. Yet, Grohl's passion for music and rock and roll redeems anything lacking on the album. His genuine interest in sharing his perspective on the history of rock is infectious. Even my Mom has taken an interest in the series. Here is the text message exchange that shows the power and responsibility Grohl has with HBO as his soapbox.

My Mother: "Did you ever see this group Foo Fighters?"

"Nevermind. I am sure you have. Anderson Cooper was just interviewing the main person (who played with Nirvana) who has done a documentary on American rock as it came out of 8 cities. Bye."

Me: "Yes, they are one of the biggest rock bands in America."

So before you write off the new Foo Fighters album, call a friend, watch the documentary, and then listen to the album. You might learn something.

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