foo fighters

REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways – summary

The Meat Man was always pushing.  “Watch this, listen to this.”  To his credit, he introduced me to a lot of music this way.  He wasn’t so open to my suggestions, but Roky Erickson is a personal favourite now that I discovered through Meat, by watching the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways series.  Most of things he pushed me to watch or listen to never stuck.  A few, like the Moody Blues and Roky, did stick through multiple years.

Over the Christmas holidays of 2014, he pushed again and we spent an entire day watching the Sonic Highways series.  I took down his comments, and wrote eight reviews on the fly in a single day.  Eight hours of viewing, eight hours of writing.  I resented a lot of his pushing, but this time, the push was really worth it.

I wanted him to return in the new year to help me finish and get the series posted.  What he realized then, and I did not, was that the series was already finished.  It didn’t need any polishing.  Sure, it could have used some more connective tissue but the key words were all there.  I waited and waited for his return, but he was simply not interested in revisiting.  So the reviews sat there unpublished for nine years, until I finally decided to post them now.

I’ve never written a song by song review of an album before so this was something that only ever happened once.  I’m grateful that I did it and I hope you enjoy it.  I owe Meat a thanks for pushing me this time.  I haven’t played the album since.


Sonic Highways 1 – Chicago “Something From Nothing”


Sonic Highways 2 – Washington – “The Feast and the Famine”


Sonic Highways 3 – Nashville “Congregation”


Sonic Highways 4 – Austin – “What Did I Do?/God as my Witness”


Sonic Highways 5 – Los Angeles – “Outside”


Sonic Highways 6 – New Orleans – “In the Clear”


Sonic Highways – 7 Seattle – “Subterranean”


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


4/5 stars (album)

5/5 stars (series)


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REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 7 – Seattle – “Subterranean”

A HUGE thank you to Uncle Meat, who found the original writeup for this episode of Sonic Highways in his email.  Now the series is posted complete.  Thank you!!

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways – 7 Seattle – “Subterranean”

Seattle. The home of Nirvana and the birthplace of the very first Foo Fighters demos. It’s a place Dave is intimately familiar with.

Low black clouds, rain and long isolated winters really informed a lot of the gloom Seattle was known for. Dave didn’t know anything about the city before he moved there. “It’s really cold,” a young Dave says on an old home movie. Today, it is a place for both bright and dark memories. It’s become more commercialized, too.

Robert Lang studio is a weird, stone building that a killer drum sound. No walls are parallel and all surfaces are uneven. Robert Lang would trade studio time to help pay excavating costs, and he’s still not done building it. It has rooms deep underground. He almost got buried alive a couple times. A neighbor’s wall collapsed. It was also the last place Nirvana recorded. Since Nirvana, Death Cab for Cutie, Dave Matthews Band, and the Presidents of the United States of America recorded there for the vibe. Foo Fighters returned a few times.

Seattle didn’t have much going for it in the 1970’s except for Heart. Even Heart weren’t really associated with Seattle, because they were always out touring. A new wave/punk scene started bubbling under, as it tends to. But rock bands didn’t tend to stop in Seattle; it was too far out of the way. The scene had to create itself, because that was the only way for live music to exist there. Sub-pop records put out records by the Melvins, Green River, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and more. There was no thought of commercial success.

The bands were sloppier than what was on MTV, and the scene was typified by small sweaty shows with loads of audience interaction. Nirvana were actually latecomers and didn’t even have a name with they started recording. They weren’t expected to go anywhere, but they quickly found their footing. Meanwhile, bassist Nate Mendel was playing with Sunny Day Real Estate, who later became 1/2 of the first Foo Fighters lineup. Dave Grohl recorded about 40 songs towards the end of Nirvana, by himself, which were not meant for public consumption. The songs range from hilarious crap to future Foo Fighters hits. They weren’t meant for Nirvana either, since Kurt already wrote songs so naturally.

Nirvana exploded. So did Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden. Seattle became the place to be, and grunge became the fashion. It became a commercial business. When Kurt died, Dave had to discover his love of music. As for Seattle, new people and new scenes soon took the place of the old, though the old still persists and inspires.

“Subterranean” was recorded in that studio deep underground. Hawkins played the drums, and Dave the cymbals, in order to get better separation. Dave makes a great “lead cymbalist”. Regardless of the setting, the band make recording look like a shitload of fun. Ben Gibbard from Death Cab joins them on guitar for this Beatles-vibed ballad. There’s also some Floyd in the grooves. It’s good to get a slow song at the stage of the album, and it fits the gloomy mood of Seattle. You might even read some Layne Stayley influences into the lyrics about being “deep in the dirt”.

Episode 4.5/5 stars

Song 4/5 stars


Sonic Highways 1 – Chicago “Something From Nothing”


Sonic Highways 2 – Washington – “The Feast and the Famine”


Sonic Highways 3 – Nashville “Congregation”


Sonic Highways 4 – Austin – “What Did I Do?/God as my Witness”


Sonic Highways 5 – Los Angeles – “Outside”


Sonic Highways 6 – New Orleans – “In the Clear”


Sonic Highways – 7 Seattle – “Subterranean”


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


REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 4 – Austin – “What Did I Do?/God as my Witness”

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways 4 – Austin – “What Did I Do?/God as my Witness”

Austin.  Classic riffs such as “Smoke on the Water”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Stairway” ring out from the studio hall.  “Just something new I’m working on!” somebody says.  Time to record another new Foo Fighters song in another city.

Austin is a little pocket of “different” in Texas.  Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers is not the kind of guy you expect to come out of Texas.  Willie Nelson, though, seems like a natural.  He returned to Texas from Nashville to become an artist in his own right, and in turn he helped but Austin on the music map.  It was now OK to have long hair, and cowboy boots.

Austin City Limits was their version of Grand Ole Opry.  It was the stage you had to be on.  It was one of the few TV shows that made bands sound good instead of weak and thin.  Artists from all genres have played it.  Though Austin City Limits have since moved to a new facility, the old one is still there, and that’s where Grohl wants to set up and play.

Austin was home to the Moving Sidewalks, which housed Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.  It was also home to the 13th Floor Elevators, adding a psychedelic edge to the music scene.  Roky Erickson of the Elevators invented it, and was behind numerous aggressive spaced-out rock songs.  Townes Van Zandt was another cornerstone of the scene, and Steve Earle went to Austin looking for him.  Jimmie Vaughan formed the Fabulous Thunderbirds there, even though he was told there was no point in forming a blues band.  Stevie Ray came along at age 17 to play with Albert King.  Gary Clark Jr. started out as a kid who started hanging out at Austin City Limits, but could play the blues like devil hisself.

As always, punk came alone.  The Big Boys, the Jesus Lizard, the Butthole Surfers presented an unorthodox but creative front.  These guys listened to both punk and funk, and tried to combine both.  South by Southwest (SXSW) became a critical music festival that gets 10,000 applications from bands a year, to play in only 2300 slots.  The challenge now is that since the scene has grown so much, and got so commercial, how do you keep Austin weird?

Grohl is psyched to find an old piano under a tarp in the studio that had been played by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, and Tom Waits.  He had to have it on the album.  Indeed, it’s right there at the beginning of the song, which soon transmutates into something more typical for Foo Fighters.  There is a lyrical reference to the “13 floor”, and the urethane wheels of the skateboards that were central to the Austin punk scene.  Regardless, “Where Did I Go?” is pretty stock, coming to life a bit more in the second section, “God as my Witness”.  The structure is not unlike “Layla”, and ends better than it starts.  It’s almost gospel at the end, as if the Nashville carried over into the Austin.  Gary Clark Jr. throws down a great classic rock lead on a Gibson SG.

Episode 4/5 stars

Song 3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 3 – Nashville “Congregation”

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways 3 – Nashville “Congregation”


“Wow, Kevin Costner has played the Grand Ole Opry.  Rad.” – Pat Smear

Dave sits down to play an acoustic at the legendary Bluebird Cafe.  It’s a daunting task for a rock drummer, to sit and play bare acoustic songs by himself on that historic stage.  He was admittedly a fish out of water, but in a “refreshing way”.  Nashville, according to Foo Fighters, is the coolest city in America.  Dolly Parton says Nashville is all about the songs.  It was the “Hollywood of music, for the south” according to The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.  Steve Earle, who arrived in 1974, says Nashville is “university for songwriting.” However some artists like Willie Nelson had to leave Nashville in order to find solo success.

It’s big, big business; a country “hit factory”, from Dolly Parton to Carrie Underwood.  Johnny Cash to Kenny Rogers and Lady Antebellum.  By the time you get to Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift, it doesn’t sound much like what it used to anymore.  Zac Brown is an exception.  Dave Grohl thought it was pretty cool that Zac would barbecue food for his audience before the show.  Brown on the other hand really wanted Grohl to produce them.  And Dave had never even heard one song before, but grew to love his “outsider” stance and lightning guitar licks.  He could be in Slayer, says Grohl, he’s so fast.  He started out picking intricate classical lines on a nylon string guitar.

Grohl became such a fan that he decided to record at Brown’s own studio, one of the oldest in town.  It is a huge beautiful building; a church built in 1901.  The wood paneling inside lends it a cottage-y feel, but it’s also wormy wood that has great acoustics.  The drum sound is once again massive and deep, but the band didn’t have the song ready until they got there and Dave figured out the arrangement in the studio.  Dave was inspired by a beam in light through one of the old church’s music — no shit.

It’s a suitable inspiration.  Cash sang gospel, so did the deeply religious Elvis.  Blues was also an influence to later Nashville artists.  Jukeboxes were a big inspiration.  Pianist Tony Brown first turned on to country via a George Jones song on a jukebox.  Emmylou Harris told him to check it out; the song brought him “to his knees”.  The single was an important format.  An album was essentially just a compilation of previously released singles.

Foo Fighters lead guitarist Chris Shiflett is a country-head, and he had the best time in Nashville.  The barbecue food looks incredibly succulent.    “Congregation” is surprisingly Journey-like, but with Lizzy harmony guitars.  Arena rock: it’s the choice of notes.  The middle section then goes into an odd, jazzy guitar part played by Zac Brown.  “Open your eyes, step into the light!”  This is definitely a hard rock anthem.

Episode 4.5/5 stars

Song 4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 2 – Washington – “The Feast and the Famine”

Back in 2014, Uncle Meat asked me to sit down with him and write up Dave Grohl’s series / album Sonic Highways episode by episode, song by song.  Eight hour day at minimum.  I said OK.  I took meticulous notes.  Then we never finished it.  So I’m posting them all now, nine years late, as-is and unrefined.

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways 2 – Washington – “The Feast and the Famine”

Washington DC.  Home of the Bad Brains.  PMA: Postive Mental Attitude.  Time to record another song.

The episode begins with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Dave grew up in nearby Virginia, a place that feels like home.  The stark poverty surrounded by the upper crust is the inspiration for “The Feast and the Famine”.  It’s an ugly reality that cannot be ignored.  There was also racial segregation.  The only white people that the kids in Bad Brains saw were their school teachers.

DC didn’t have much of a rock scene in the 70’s, but it did boast some pretty wicked funk.  “The art form that should have been popular instead or rap.”  It’s based on something called the “pocket beat” which switches up the hits to make something new: “Go Go music”.  Pharrell is on hand to offer his perspective of growing up with Go Go funk.  It’s repetitive but irresistible.

Grohl goes to Inner Ear Studios in Virginia, a studio responsible for some early classic Black Flag records with Henry Rollins.  Don Zientara was the producer who was responsible for virtually every punk record to come out of Washington.  Bad Brains bassist Daryl Jenifer says that speed was the key for their brand of punk rock.  Faster and more aggressive, says Rick Rubin. Mike D from the Beastie Boys says that Bad Brains were the best show he’d ever seen.  The original Inner Ear studio was in a house in the suburbs, a crazy juxtaposition of the punk and the normal.  The records were released on Dischord records and other indi labels.  The labels started out of necessity; they cut, folded and glued the record sleeves together themselves.  Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi) has many great stories about the scene at the time.

Virginia band Scream attracted young Dave as a highschool kid.  When they needed a new drummer, Dave gave them a call.  To his surprise, they actually hired him.  He went on to record the pretty crap album No More Censorship, but he was doing it!  When he wasn’t doing that, he was protesting apartheid in Washington.

The new Inner Ear doesn’t seem much bigger inside, but the drum sound that Taylor Hawkins gets is a killer.  It’s the studio that bassist Nate Mendel was most looking forward to, because of all the records he loved that were made there.  The band start working on a stuttery, syncopated riff.  It’s rhythmically interesting, but the melody reeks of punk rock.  It combined the punk/funk relationship in Washington DC.  It has the speed and melody of punk, but with the rhythmic chops of funk.  It’s not a basic, straightforward punk song due to the interesting stuttering rhythm.  To Meat, it sounds like Foo Fighters.

Episode 4/5 stars

Song 4/5 stars

REVIEW: Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways 1 – Chicago “Something From Nothing”

Back in 2014, Uncle Meat asked me to sit down with him and write up Dave Grohl’s series / album Sonic Highways episode by episode, song by song.  Eight hour day at minimum.  I said OK.  I took meticulous notes.  Then we never finished it.  So I’m posting them all now, nine years late, as-is and unrefined.

FOO FIGHTERS – Sonic Highways 1 – Chicago “Something From Nothing”

Chicago.  20 years.  Time to do something special. Something they’d never done before.

The assumption is that the environment in which you record, affects the finished recording.  The history of each city resonates in the grooves.

Buddy Guy, Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Rick Neilson, Jimmie Vaughan, Billy Gibbons, and more are all on hand to talk about the Chicago blues.  It all started with Muddy Waters – “Muddy was the magnet.”  The blues clubs in Chicago grew into a phenomenon.  Buddy Guy came to Chicago “looking for a dime, but found a quarter”.  These blues roots later influenced the guitar work of Cheap Trick’s Rick Neilson.  Coming up, he played with all the greats before finding his own fame.

The Foo Fighters enter the Chicago studio of producer Steve Albini, a tenacious bastard of a producer clad in coveralls, to see what will happen.  Dave Grohl is a big fan of his drum sound, having worked with him before on In Utero, and he knows he will get a huge drum sound here.  Butch Vig is the producer for the sessions. Albini, though, was initially attracted to Chicago for its infant punk scene.  He was an “annoying kid” who hung out with the band Naked Raygun, who really kicked off the scene.  Even Dave Grohl’s Chicago cousin Tracey had a punk band called Verboten.  Punk was coming up in Chicago.  The record store Wax Trax was critical to the growing scene.  Grohl himself bought records there when visiting his cousins in town.

“Something From Nothing” begins to emerge from that funky “Holy Diver” riff.  Chris Shifflet lays down a noisy, fast guitar solo with the raving encouragement of his bandmates.  Rick Neilson lays down some thick chords, even though the Foo Fighters already have three guitarists!  Lyrically, a lot of the song comes from Buddy Guy’s own story coming up in Chicago.  The record company wanted him to change his name.  “Buddy Guy isn’t a stage name.”  How wrong they were!  Buddy Guy used to make rudimentary musical instruments with buttons and strings, and that made it into the lyrics.

The result is a powerful, epic song of massive proportions.  It snakes its way through multiple riffs and sections, but it’s that “Holy Diver” riff that first hooks you.  “Funky Diver”, maybe.  It’s a clear sonic assault.  This is, by far, Uncle Meat’s favourite Foo Fighters song.

Episode 4.5/5 stars

Song 5/5 stars

“Have A Cigar” by the Foo Fighters on the Sunday Song Spotlight

Rest in peace to drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died tragically at age 50. The B-side “Have A Cigar” (originally from the 1999 “Learning to Fly” single) is a Pink Floyd cover sung by Hawkins, later appearing on the album Medium Rare.


REVIEW: Play It! ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation – Various Artists (1997)

Play It! Volume Seven – ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997 EMI promo)

“Woah!  I own ‘Song 2’.  How about that.”

That was my first reaction upon revisiting this old promo CD from the Record Store days.  I really didn’t know that I had that song, and I’m sort of glad that I do.  This was a freebie, and not a bad one as it had some rarities on it.  In fact there’s only one artist on this disc I’d flat-out skip.  Let’s dive on in.

The first track is a rarity:  an unadvertized single edit of “Temptation” by the Tea Party.  “Temptation”, crossing the new sample-driven sounds of the late 90s with classic exotic Zeppelin, was huge.  The single edit snips off the extended intro.  Industrial rock band Econoline Crush is up second, who also had a big album (The Devil You Know) at the time.  “Home” was a memorable fast-paced single, but their big single “All That You Are”  is also included as track #14.  Far more mainstream, “All That You Are” was omnipresent in 1997.  It’s still a little too over-familiar to be enjoyable.

Skip Meredith Brooks.  I’ll be happy if I never hear the novelty song “Bitch” ever again.  Brooks has a second track on this CD, “I Need”, which suffers due to the spoken word verses.  No thanks.  Skip ’em both.  “I Need” reminds me of what I hated about 90s music.

Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” were two of the greatest singles of 1997.  Fast paced, drums-a-blazing, and perfectly rifftastic.  In ’97 Grohl could do no wrong.  He released one of the few perfect albums of the year.  ’97 was Peak Foo — prove me wrong.  Flawless songs, still not taxing on the ears.  Probably never will be.

Queensryche had a new album in 1997, the ill-fated Hear in the Now Frontier.  “You” wasn’t one of the most notable songs, and here on this mainstream compilation, doesn’t fare well.  I don’t think EMI knew what to do with Queensryche, so hey let’s pick a song with 90’s intonations and throw it on this store play disc.  A second Tea Party song, “Transmission”, is its full unedited length, combining the same ingredients as “Temptation” but at lower velocity.  “Song 2” follows that, I song I’m admittedly not bored with at all.  A second Blur track later down the line, “M.O.B.” boats a cool riff and pop sensibilities.

I Mother Earth were riding a wave with their second album Scenery and Fish.  I’m not a fan of that disc and I can usually do without “Used to Be Alright”.  Fortunately Megadeth bring some metal to the proceedings.  From the underrated Cryptic Writings comes “Almost Honest”, a hard rocking single with nary a glimmer of thrash.  Great song from a period when Megadeth were quite adept at writing mainstream metal.

Rarities ahoy!  Moist’s “Tangerine” is remixed here, a mix that is far more industrial than the album, but that’s why remixes go on weird compilations I suppose.  Always fascinating, Glueleg are up next with “Dragonfly”, one of their catchiest numbers, still maintaining their weird genre-bending tendencies.

Alice Cooper steps in with a live version of “School’s Out”.  This being 1997, that automatically means it’s the one from A Fistful of Alice.  It’s a little strange hearing “School’s Out” on a compilation of all-new material, but I suppose EMI didn’t have confidence that a new Alice song (“Is Anyone Home?”) would attract new buyers.  But they were more likely to hear Radiohead’s “Let Down” and buy OK Computer instead.  It’s a stunning ballad that might have been unfamiliar to those who hadn’t bought the album yet — the exact people this CD was aimed at!  The CD closes on the slide-inflected “Faded” by Ben Harper.  It’s choked by unnecessarily grungy production.

Record companies rarely sent us free CDs, because we were a used CD store and they assumed we’d sell ’em.  What they didn’t realize was that it was usually guys like the asshole at CD Plus that would be selling their free CDs.  We’d try to be educated about what we bought, and avoid the promos like this one.  If a customer left it behind for us to take for free, it was up for grabs.  As a store-play disc, this would have been pretty good, assuming we had all those albums in stock to sell.

2.5/5 stars


REVIEW: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (remastered)

FOO FIGHTERS – The Colour and the Shape (Originally 1997, 2007 Sony Legacy edition)

Sometimes, an album is just perfect.  Nothing needs to be added or taken away.  It is simply right the first time.

The Foo Fighters got it right the first time when they released The Colour and the Shape in 1997  At 47 minutes, it was already a bit longer than the average album, but what a towering 47 minutes they are!  There is a reason that The Colour and the Shape is consistently the album that all others are compared to.  It’s that one magical, flawless album that can never be equalled no matter what Dave Grohl & Co. come up with next.

The Colour and the Shape was a product of its time and all the things Grohl was going through.  The drummer (William Goldsmith) was fired mid-way and Dave re-recorded all the drums himself, bar two ballads.  Maybe that’s one reason that the album is so special.  When Dave plays the drums, the energy level goes through the roof and comes out the speakers.  That’s what happens on “Monkey Wrench”, “My Hero”, “Everlong”, “New Way Home” and “Hey, Johnny Park!”, five of the most exciting tracks.  The energy simply cannot contained.  The Law of Conservation of Energy dictates that it all comes out of your body as you rock to this album!

Of one were to give a negative critique to any of this album, it might be Grohl’s screaming on “My Poor Brain” and “Enough Space” among others.  It is true:  Grohl chips the paint with his voice from time to time.  This works though, as an appropriate contrast to the soft melodies of “Walking After You” and “February Stars”.  The album is well rounded.  It joyfully careens from those heavy blasts, to quiet acoustic bits of pop glory.

The Colour and the Shape has the songs, it has the riffs, and mindblowing drums.  It has the vibe, and it reeks of passion.  Whatever Grohl was going through at this time, it ended up in the music.  The production by Gil Norton is a bright contrast to the lo-fi of the debut album Foo Fighters.  It simply cannot be improved upon.  Even the lyrics go full circle.  Listen to “Doll” and “New Way Home” and see if you catch it.

When Sony Legacy added seven bonus tracks, it beefed the album up to well over an hour.  If you listen to the CD as a whole, it completely changes the listening experience, and not in a good way.  It’s Coke vs. New Coke.  Adding essentially a third side of B-sides doesn’t make it better.  It would be advised to collect the original Foo Fighters singles from which these tracks were taken.  And if you do, you’ll get more songs that weren’t included on the Sony Legacy, such as live and acoustic versions.  Of the bonus tracks, the Gary Numan cover “Down in the Park” is particularly exceptional.  The new liner notes by bassist Nate Mendel are quite cool.

The Colour and the Shape is one of the best albums of 1997, if not the very best of that year.  It’s tough to beat and adding bonus tracks didn’t do the trick.  Therefore, The Colour and the Shape gets two ratings:

Original 1997 CD:  5/5 stars

Sony Legacy 2007 CD:  4/5 stars


#528.5: Klassik Kwote of the day – “Side Project”

The Foo Fighters took a break in 2001.  Their new album, to come later as One By One, was not going well.  The band were infighting, and the album was put on hold.  Around that time, Josh Homme hooked up with his old buddy Dave Grohl and invited him to play on the new Queens of the Stone Age album.  Dave was growing wearing of frontman duties in his own band and was happy to just be a drummer again for a little while.

The resultant QOTSA album, Songs for the Deaf, was a smash hit.  Dave Grohl’s presence brought them a higher profile than before, but it was also just a flat-out kick ass record.

One of our store managers, Joe “Big Nose” was a Queens of the Stone Age fan going back to Kyuss.  Though I was not there personally when this happened, Joe likely had an internal meltdown when a customer asked:

“Hey, do you have that new side project of Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters?”

I bet there was steam coming out of Joe’s ears!