Various Artists, ‘Sound City: Real to Reel’ (RCA)
Release Date: March 12, 2013
As you may have heard, Dave Grohl made a feature-film documentary about the very magical, mystical, excellent-space-in-which-to-record-a-kick-drum Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. You’re also likely aware that oodles of era-defining albums, ranging from After the Gold Rush to Nevermind were recorded there.
Real to Reel, the doc’s accompanying album, was not. But it was tracked on the Sound City recording console: a Neve 8028 that Grohl had installed in his own private studio. When it comes to reasons for an album to exist, buying a piece of gear falls somewhere slightly above, what, getting way into goji berries? Dave knew it, too, which is he why he added a couple of sexier selling points: Each of these 11 tracks was recorded in its own 24-hour session with a different all-star lineup.
Apparently the combination of our host’s legendary affability and a revered analog gewgaw is hard to resist: The head Foo pulled, among others, Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, and the Ricks Nielsen and Springfield. Grohl plays on everything, and everything, it must be said (multiple times across various media), is beautifully recorded.
Given the time constraints, most of the Sound City players simply did what they normally do, and competently at that! Springfield’s “The Man That Never Was” is spritely guitar-pop, and Fear’s Lee Ving sneers winningly on the punk splooge “Your Wife Is Calling.” The eerie “A Trick with No Sleeve” and the creeping “Centipede,” both featuring Homme and his frequent aide-de-camp Alain Johannes, may remind you of the stuff that used to end up on Homme’s Desert Sessions collaborations, which is to say they’d be, like, the seventh-best song on a QOTSA album. Another Homme pal, Chris Goss from Masters of Reality, is joined by Rage Against the Machine’s rhythm section, and turns in the album’s prettiest, most rousing chorus on “Time Slowing Down.”
The bigger-name stuff is curiouser still. Nicks’ “You Can’t Fix This” shimmers in a reassuringly Mac-like way, but is saddled with a dull hook. I’d love to hear what Lindsey Buckingham and a little more time could do with it. Krist Novoselic and a howling Sir Paul are appealingly loose on the gurgling “Cut Me Some Slack,” but the song’s pro-forma heavy psychedelia also kinda sounds like the Cult playing “Helter Skelter” from memory. The best offering from Sound City’s A-Team is the nearly eight-minute Grohl/Homme/Reznor concoction “Mantra,” which succeeds in developing a stalking, sensual tension. The track’s whiplash crescendo/decrescendo is the album’s most dramatic moment.
Real to Reel is otherwise lacking in the kind of tension that’s required to produce an album that’s more than the sum of its talented parts. But the record is a consistently playful, intermittently pretty entertaining album designed to be more advertisement than art. And on that count, the kick drum sure sounds good.