In Dave Grohl’s world, if you want to direct a movie about a defunct recording studio, you make a few calls; take a few meetings, and wha-la! you’re a director. Similarly, if you need some fellow rock stars to record a tribute album supporting said tribute film, well — you get the picture. Thankfully, for the budding film auteur, Sound City – Real to Reel is everything we’ve come to expect from the former Nirvana drummer turned million-selling, molar-flashing Foo Fighter.
Writing and performing alongside Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Rick Nielsen, Lee Ving of Fear, Corey Taylor, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford of Rage Against The Machine, and the Foos, Dave Grohl’s Real to Reel is a nostalgic tribute to L.A.’s closed Sound City studio, the birthplace to Rumours, Damn the Torpedoes, Rage Against The Machine and Nevermind. Sound City – Real to Reel is high on energetic hits, worthwhile rock-star vanity pieces, and one extremely nasty miss. The album was recorded on Sound City’s original analog Neve console, now safely ensconced in Grohl’s 606 recording studio.
First, the “Best of Real to Reel“: Stevie Nicks croons in her classic adenoidal purr on the Rumours-worthy, “You Can’t Fix This”; Rick Springfield (!) mightily fronts the Foos on the wonderfully nerve-rattling revenge ode, “The Man That Never Was”; Fear’s Lee Ving goes into a spazzy vocal riot on the punk-blues of “Your Wife Is Calling”; Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Alain Johannes and producer Chris Goss join Grohl for the acoustic psychedelia of “Centipede” (equally psychedelic is Commerford, Goss, Grohl and Wilk’s “Time Slowing Down”). Grohl sings a love-scarred semi-acoustic plea on the resonant “If I Were Me,” another highpoint.
Then there’s the B-sides. Homme, Johannes and Grohl rock a forgettable popcorn intermission on “A Trick with No Sleeve,” opener “Heaven & All” with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club cheaply recalls Guns ‘N Roses, closer “Mantra,” with Homme and Trent Reznor, comes off like a dry heave from Them Crooked Vultures, 7:45 of repetitive bass guitar and vocals. But Real to Reel‘s weakest song is Paul McCartney’s lackluster blues rocker “Cut Me Some Slack,” the former Beatle wheezing like he’s fronting a raucous Wings cover band (“Helen Wheels” in reverse?). That Kirst Novoselic and Pat Smear share performance duties make the song all the sadder.
Bad notes aside, Real to Reel is another notch in Dave Grohl’s platinum belt, its hits ultimately outweighing its misses. Perhaps more important than the songs is the album and the film’s message, documenting an era when recording rock music meant performing together as a band in an analog environment — Pro Tools gridding, digital “autotuning” and the mercenary commercial effects of the computer age be damned. Sound City – Real to Reel is about a reality that once was, a golden oldie that is nevermore.