By at 7:25 AM Friday, March 8th 2013


With Grohl as Conductor, The ‘Sound City: Real To Reel’ Album Delivers, Mostly

Sound City Players, Reviews


Every few years, a noteworthy musician will gather several of his industry friends inside a studio and make an album based around a particular motif.  The musician in control of the project will usually play at least one instrument on every track, each featuring a different singer, and other artists will fill in whatever parts are left to be recorded. The latest project to fit that mold is Sound City: Real to Reel, the soundtrack to Dave Grohl‘s documentary about the famous, now-defunct Sound City studio in Los Angeles. Much like the film, its soundtrack features the people who once recorded at the studio getting together to celebrate the human element behind rock music. Though celebrate they certainly did, the outcome isn’t devoid of a few pitfalls typically inherent to this type of record.

Sound City Review 2

Whether for solo or side project purposes, a matter of pure logistics comes into albums like this: artists can only afford to put so much time and effort into something that’s someone else’s passion project, regardless of how much they want to make it work. With most of the material on Sound City written (and put to tape) on the spot, there wasn’t much time to obsess over lyrics or specific song parts. Furthermore, the fact that some of the musicians have collaborated extensively in the past, and others not at all, means that some cuts are likely destined to stand out from the get-go. The “Real” part of the title is definitely represented here, but it’s not a great feature all of the time.

Anyone who’s seen the documentary was able to witness the creation of Cut Me Some Slack, the track that joins Paul McCartney with a “reunited Nirvana,” and ends up as a perfect example of impromptu songwriting that works – probably better than it should, given the unusual collaboration. It’s arguably the most exciting thing we’ve heard from the former Beatle in years, and his slide guitar playing is almost good enough to let the throwaway lyrics go unnoticed. A less unusual collaboration comes via opening number Heaven and All, which basically finds Grohl drumming for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been. The result is, through and through, a BRMC jam, and sounds about as good as one of their regulars.

Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Alain Johannes and QOTSA producer/Masters of Reality nucleus Chris Goss are featured on three tracks each, and given Grohl’s previous (and present) association with the band, one shouldn’t be too surprised to hear some highlights on those songs. Though one could also expect a bit more. Time Slowing Down finds Goss balancing a beautiful melody with a heavy-hitting rhythm session (courtesy of Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford), while Johannes’ voice gives a vibrant life of its own to the otherwise-average A Trick With No Sleeve. Sung by Homme and Goss, Centipede might fall just short of the glorious kaleidoscope of weirdness and beauty you’d expect from a QOTSA track, feeling more like a reworked leftover from Them Crooked Vultures, but it is gorgeously layered nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the mid-section of the album finds collaborations that don’t fare quite as well, and wind up costing the overall flow. The way that Stevie Nicks pushes her voice a bit too far on You Can’t Fix This is acceptable, but there’s no justification for stretching what could be a decent four minutes affair to an unreasonably long six minutes. Later, Rick Springfield’s The Man That Never Was is such a standard rock song that it barely makes itself noteworthy, while From Can to Can’t finds Corey Taylor getting as cheesy as he can be when he truly lets himself go – that is, too cheesy.

After the Grohl-sung ballad If I Were Me, the record closes out with Mantra, arguably one of its most anticipated tracks, featuring Grohl, Josh Homme and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. The track surprises early on by having Grohl singing lead – perhaps an unfortunate decision to have his vocals on two songs in a row -, but it slowly evolves past that into a beast of a seven-minute, multi-session track. Much like the record itself, Mantra could end up as proof that putting “real” musicians inside a studio isn’t always a recipe for success (as nine out of every ten “supergroups” out there will prove), but in the end it somehow dodges that bullet and progresses into a song that’s memorable all on its own.

Collaboration albums in the vein of Sound City: Real to Reel are bound to be picked apart no matter what, due to the obvious variety of musicians and styles involved. Avid fans of each associated will undoubtedly save the tracks they care about, while the general public is likely not to remember much of the release after a few years. While not all of it lives up to expectations, and more overall consistency would certainly help, there are definitely tracks to be enjoyed here. You can tell how much of a blast the musicians had making this entire record – it’s too bad that the listener isn’t always let in on the fun.

Stream Sound City: Real to Reel here.


Sound City Players

Sound City: Real to Reel

Released: 12/03/2013
1. Dave Grohl, Peter Hayes, and Robert Levon Been – Heaven and All
2. Brad Wilk, Chris Goss, Dave Grohl, and Tim Commerford – Time Slowing Down
3. Dave Grohl, Rami Jaffee, Stevie Nicks, and Taylor Hawkins – You Can’t Fix This
4. Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Rick Springfield, and Taylor Hawkins – The Man That Never Was
5. Alain Johannes, Dave Grohl, Lee Ving, Pat Smear, and Taylor Hawkins – Your Wife Is Calling
6. Corey Taylor, Dave Grohl, Rick Nielsen, and Scott Reeder – From Can to Can’t
7. Alain Johannes, Chris Goss, Dave Grohl, and Joshua Homme – Centipede
8. Alain Johannes, Chris Goss, Dave Grohl, and Joshua Homme – A Trick With No Sleeve
9. Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear – Cut Me Some Slack
10. Dave Grohl, Jessy Greene, Jim Keltner, and Rami Jaffee – If I Were Me
11. Dave Grohl, Joshua Homme, and Trent Reznor – Mantra

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

  1. Saari says:

    About the Rick Springfield song, when I looked briefly at the Jimmy Kimmel performance I could see the crowd wasn’t really into the song (no amount of Dave Grohl’s headbanging or Taylor Hawkins’ compression-faced drummer-grinning could enlist the crowd in the effort). I was glad to see that Rick is getting some recognition for his body of work from earlier in his career, through this film and with these performances. He clearly is an excellent and honed performer judging from the Sundance show in January. I didn’t listen to the whole song on Kimmel because I wanted to hear the actual recorded piece before I heard it live. Either way, the musicians still soldiered through the Kimmel performance as true professionals.

    But I am a total advocate for straight-forward songs, so when I do hear the Rick Springfield song (and listen several times) I’ll be looking for any redeeming qualities within it just because I think he is a great musician.

    Part of me wonders if Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo ever recorded there with their band (I think of them because they come from that same era as R. Springfield). Giraldo is an insane player, just as well.

    Keep up the work, Anti!

    What’s next? Billy Squier? Another fantastic guitarist….

  2. I agree, Real to Reel has both it’s ups and downs. I had high expectations for Centipede and Mantra (yeah, I’m a Homme fanboy). Mantra delivered, Centipede is a bit lackluster.

    Alain definitely plays the best role in A Trick With No Sleeve and I enjoyed Heaven and All. The rest is okay, but I don’t see myself listening to most of those tracks in a few months time.

  3. le pupe says:

    so sick of everything Grohl by now…
    Up next, Grohl’s Wheaties, Mustang Grohl’s Edition, Grohl For Men…FUUUUUUUUUUUUU

  4. Harvey Wetnuts III says:

    Excellent review! However, after taking notice that Tom Petty was in The Sound City Doc., I was rather hoping he would’ve been included somewhere on this tasty soundtrack. If memory serves me correctly Dave did an SNL gig with Mr. Petty for the performace of “You Don’t Know How It Feels”. Maybe a duet between Dave and Tom on a acoustic number could’ve spice this puppy up a little.

  5. Jack says:

    The thing about this album, I think, is that it isn’t supposed to have consistency. I don’t think Grohl had any huge intentions, he just wanted to get together with some friends and make honest music. He wasn’t out to try and record the next “No One Knows” or something like that, he just wanted to have fun. And I think it accomplishes that; he spans a lot of genres (ie the huge stylistic shift from “Your Wife Is Calling” to “If I Were Me”) and that’s totally okay because it wasn’t supposed to be a big statement of a record, but just something that he did to have fun with some friends and note the array of musicians to pass through the halls of Sound City. Plus, the Goss, Grohl, Homme, Johannes combo is pretty awesome.

  6. Nik Milan says:

    This is an amazing album especially the last 3 songs but I loved all of it. If I Were Me is incredible. Listened to it twenty times in a row and it had me in tears. Well done everyone involved. A stunning album

  7. Skwerl says:

    the stevie nicks song is almost awesome but jesus christ the lyrics suck.

  8. clint says:

    I like about 4 songs, all the homme ones and the brmc one. Most of the other songs sound like foo fighters with even crappier lyrics. I wish Josh would have sung on mantra. Chris Goss seems overrated to me, maybe I just don’t like his voice.

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    What’s Transpiring i am new at all to that, I stumbled upon that I’ve found That confidently beneficial there are served me personally out a good deal. I really hope for you to bring about & assist different end users such as the helped me personally. Best wishes.

  10. Brenda says:

    I haven’t had privilege of seeing the documentar I have listened to the album multiple times & I loved it.All of it..which is rare. As someone who recently lost her husband of 30 years..I e every song related. Especially Can to Cant.

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