REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 8 – New York – “I am a River”

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways 8 – New York – “I am a River”

New York City.  The end of our journey, and the very last song on Sonic Highways.

We’ve had a hell of an education so far.  New York is the final stop, the “greatest city in America” according to Grohl.  If you make it there, you can make it anywhere, says LL Cool J.  Every style of music could be heard just by turning the dial.  Tin Pan Alley, Billy Holiday, Woodie Guthrie, Lou Reed, New York Dolls…the scene was eternal and endless.  The streets, and the recording studios, were tight and crammed with people.

CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City, the folk singer-songwriter scenes all formed a potent mix of styles.  The Ramones and Dead Boys emerged, as did the hip hop scene.  Hip hop started in New York, in the Bronx, but soon spread to Brooklyn and Queens and Long Island.  Guys like the Beastie Boys made the jump from punk rock to hip hop, because the attitude was the same.  “Rap seemed like a party, and then Public Enemy came out,” says Grohl.  They introduced a militancy that hadn’t existed in rap before.  Chuck D was influenced by the things he saw around him in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.

Woodie Guthrie did something similar.  He “wrote what he saw” which is something Dave Grohl tried to do, for a change, on “I am a River”.  Dave noticed that things are all connected, the stories and the people.  “I am a River” also refers to an underground river that runs beneath Electric Lady studios.

Jimmy “Shoes” Iovine became one of the most powerful men in music, and he was right there recording John Lennon and Elton John in the late 70’s.  Electric Lady studios, built by Hendrix, was the place for artists like Kiss, Bowie and Zeppelin to record.  But Dave chose the Magic Shop, in Soho.  Owner Steve Rosenthal has a collection of vintage keyboards to use (and bands like Coldplay did use them).  So did Norah Jones, Arcade Fire, and David Bowie.  The Magic Shop isn’t in the nicest part of town, but it does have an incredible sounding drum room.  Butch Vig recorded Sonic Youth’s Dirty there.  The room even has a Neve board.

When MTV stopped playing rock and roll, the Magic Shop had to do something to survive.  Now, the main income in made in another room, restoring old classic recordings for permanent storage.  The future, says Steve Rosenthal, is “cloudy”.  He doesn’t know if recording studios are obsolete in the face of laptops and easy home recording.  The final interview presented is with President Obama, who thinks it’s more important to produce art than to consume it.  “It’s all about the garage band, the juke joint, the jazz club.  It’s about people rejecting what’s already there to create something entirely new.”  It’s the American dream he says.  Play some rock and roll, take a chance, and make it.  Obama refers to “musical rivers” that connect us, bringing us back full circle.

Finally, “I am a River” closes the Sonic Highways series and album.  It has a long, slow and meandering Floydian intro, and a pleasant easy melody.  Dave mentions the “water” beneath the “subway floor”.  It’s your typical Foo Fighters closer. It builds from quiet to more epic, with choruses of shimmering guitars.   It’s nothing new for Foo Fighters, but it is basically everything you expect for a closer.  A youth string section joins them to end the album in style.

As an album, we applaud the Foo Fighters for the concept and vision of what into making it.  Without the TV series, however, we would have no inclination about what makes each song different.  Sonic Highways would remain “just another Foo Fighters album,” all but interchangeable with the last two.  That’s unfortunate.

Episode 4.5/5 stars

Song 3.5/5 stars

Album 4/5 stars

Series 5/5 stars



  1. Like a few folks around here I’m tapped out on these guys. A few months ago I had Colour and Shape on vinyl in my hands but put it back on the shelf as I always liked those first two Foo albums.
    Maybe someday …maybe lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I could live with Colour as my only Foo album, if I had to. It was a very special album to me in 1997 and I still like every single song. I don’t play the other albums and can barely remember the deep cuts at all!


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