The Foo Fighters’ new album is loaded with interesting ideas that rarely mesh

Foo Fighters
Brantley Gutierrez
Annie Zaleski

Two and a half stars

Foo Fighters Sonic Highways

Dave Grohl is nothing if not ambitious. After directing and producing the 2013 documentary Sound City, he decided to continue his filmmaking ways in conjunction with the new studio album from the Foo Fighters. The result is Sonic Highways, an eight-episode travelogue series on HBO and an eight-song record with songs crafted in (and inspired by) eight different cities.

Like the TV series, Sonic Highways the album features some high-profile guests, including Cheap Trick guitar wizard Rick Nielsen, Austin hotshot Gary Clark Jr., country upstart Zac Brown and classic-rock legend Joe Walsh. The problem is that these artists barely make a dent. Although standout “In the Clear” features blaring horns from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Gary Clark Jr. helps create a bluesy, Southern rock vibe on “What Did I Do?/God as My Witness,” Sonic Highways mutes their distinct talents underneath the usual Foo wall of guitars, banshee-screech vocals and pummeling drums.

Walsh’s appearance on “Outside” doesn’t take off, for example, until four minutes into the song, when he’s allowed to stretch out and lend a hotrodding solo to the bridge. Ben Gibbard, meanwhile, adds imperceptible backing vocals to “Subterranean,” an interminable, six-minute-plus song that recalls the moody, churning jangle of R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi. As a result, Sonic Highways has an abundance of ideas that never quite grow legs, such as the subtle funk-rock shimmy underneath the metallic thrashing of “Something From Nothing.”

The record succeeds most when it settles down and focuses. “The Feast and the Famine” has the corrugated textures and discordant riffs of the Washington, D.C., scene from which it sprang, and the epic ballad “I Am a River” features delicate-leaning strings arranged by Tony Visconti. To their credit, the Foo Fighters aren’t afraid of evolution. They just need to bring a judicious editor along for the ride as they progress.

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