Dave Grohl gets overly ambitious with HBO series ‘Sonic Highways’

Dave Grohl, and producer Butch Vig (center) work on a song.

Two and a half stars

Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways Fridays, 11 p.m., HBO.

Last year, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl directed Sound City, a feature-length documentary about the long-standing LA recording studio of the same name, documenting jam sessions with various musicians as the framework for recounting the studio’s storied history. He must have been pleased with the results, because he’s expanded the concept to eight episodes for the new HBO series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways, and has allowed it to take over the entire production of the new Foos album. Each episode of the series finds the band in a different illustrious studio in a different American city, with Grohl interviewing various luminaries to explore the city’s musical heritage, which he then distills into lyrics for a new Foos song.

It’s an inherently self-important concept for a band that has always come off as refreshingly down to earth, and Grohl’s ambitions, noble as they may be, generally outstrip his abilities as a filmmaker and lyricist. The hour-long episodes are simultaneously too short to encapsulate the entire musical history of a city (with just 10-15 minutes devoted to, say, the blues in Chicago or the output of Dischord Records) and too long to document the recording of a single Foo Fighters song. While Grohl’s clout lands him plenty of impressive interviews, they rarely go below the surface, and he jumps around too often to delve deeply into any single subject.

Although Grohl plays up his personal connections when possible (in the two episodes available for review, he interviews his cousin in Chicago and highlights his formative years living in Washington, D.C.), the narration is full of ponderous overstatement, a criticism that’s never applied to Grohl’s music. At the end of each episode, we hear the finished song inspired by the city, and while there are a few recognizable lyrical motifs from the preceding interviews, they’re so abstracted that having heard them earlier is almost a distraction. The songs themselves are typically strong Grohl compositions: catchy, energetic, old-school rock. Foo fans might want to skip the protracted TV series and just pick up the album when it’s released next month.

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