When you accompany your album with a HBO TV series and proclaim it as an ‘ode to American music’ you set the expectations bar pretty high. Sonic Highways would have had to be the next White Album for it to have lived up to the stupendous sea of hype surrounding it. No-one can carry that off, not even the Foo Fighters, and they’re the biggest modern rock band we have.
Sonic Highways is certainly an epic album, I’ll give it that. There aren’t any short punchy songs on display. These are all five minute numbers with progressions and guitar solos and lyrics delivered like a Martin Luther King speech.
Some people might want an epic album. Personally, I prefer something a little more intimate and in my face. Wasting Light and indeed its predecessor, Echoes Silence Patience and Grace, both achieved this through raw production. The loud bits were cacophonous, and the soft bits were like a whisper and everything felt very close in proximity as if Grohl and co were in the room with me.
This new record instead feels like it’s been played from a stage and I’m somewhere in the seated area. In essence, I feel like I’m having music played at me instead of to me.
The exception to this is ‘The Feast and the Famine’. This track has all the punkish youthful angst I adore and has the catchiest chorus on the record.
There are occasional moments when the epic side works too. ‘What did I do?/God is my Witness’ has quite a nice bouncy feel to it although I do hate when people bring God into rock (Grohl probably isn’t a hardcore Christian, which makes it worse). ‘Subterranean’ was also a surprise. The melancholy chord progression reminds me of something Swedish prog metallers, Opeth, might have once pulled out of the bag. Saying that, have Dave Grohl and Michael Akerfeldt ever been seen in the same room together?
Overall, Sonic Highways has its moments when the epic factor does work. Were these parts contrasted with more up-close-and-personal-numbers like ‘The Feast and the Famine’ it might make the album a bit more exciting. I feel with Sonic Highways that I’m listening to a classic rock album with none of the modern edge. The catchy hooks are also missing. Wasting Light was full of crowd-pleasing choruses and even if some were a little clichéd lyrically, they stuck out more than what’s on offer here.