It still sounds weird to say it, but the Foo Fighters might just be the biggest rock band in the world. Sure, U2 still sells more tickets to their concerts by virtue of being U2, but in terms of how important they are to the state of rock music, no one touches them. They are the only rock band that can place singles on the radio, cross over, and appeal to pretty much everyone. If people are saying that rock is dead, the Foo Fighters are the only mainstream answer to that criticism.
Part of being the biggest rock band in the world is buying into that mythos, which the Foo Fighters have now done. Their last album was an attempt to write songs that cascaded hook upon hook, tossing away great choruses as bridges, and trying to write the ultimate catchy rock songs. I don’t think it quite did that, but “Wasting Light” was a very good album with several of the best songs they band has ever written (“Arlandria” and “Dear Rosemary”). Trying to top that would be tough, and the band decided to expand their scope accordingly.
Being epic is not something that can be forced. You either have ideas that are big enough to support that kind of bombast, or you don’t. If you try to force yourself to be epic when it isn’t your forte, the result is going to sound like a hollow echo of what was intended. That is the dilemma that every band that tries to do more than just write songs faces, and it’s what drags the Foo Fighters down.
Dave Grohl is a great songwriter, but these are not his best songs. “Sonic Highways” tries to be an epic album that tells the story of America, but all of the effort that goes into that strips away the band’s personality. Rather than hearing the band hitting on all cylinders, the album sounds like a spit-polished version of who they’ve always been. The charisma they have always had is gone, as are the hooks.
That is the biggest problem with “Sonic Highways”; the hooks aren’t there. The one thing you could always count on with a Foo Fighters record is great hooks. The run of singles they have put out is incredible, and yet there is nothing here that can approach any of those previous songs. “Something From Nothing” was the nominal single, but it lacks anything resembling a catchy melody. It’s fine as an album cut, but when it’s the catchiest thing on the album, or is believed to be by the band and record label, it’s a major problem.
“The Feast And The Famine” is the only song here that brings much of a hook to the table, and that makes it the best song here. The “God As My Witness” half of it’s track is solidly melodic, but all of these songs are melodic in the same way that chamber music is. It’s pretty, but there’s nothing below the surface. A song here and there like that would be one thing, but it’s a factor on every song on the album. There just isn’t enough here in the songs to make them engaging as more than background music. The band has, in a way, created the Muzak version of themselves.
I wanted to like this record, because I am a fan (even if I’m the lone person whose favorite is “One By One”), but I just can’t do it. “Sonic Highways” is an album that tries too hard, and doesn’t have the gravitas to back up its posturing. By trying to prove that the Foo Fighters are the biggest rock band in the world, they sound smaller than ever. It’s a shame, because rock could have used another great Foo Fighters record.