Dave Grohl’s great new documentary, Sound City, tells the story of the “dumpy” L.A. recording studio where a stunning number of rock worthies – including Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine – made historic albums. It’s also a burnt offering to the pretty much dead religion of pre-digital record-crafting – what Grohl calls “the human element” in rock.
So is the soundtrack of original new songs, recorded on the now-defunct studio’s beloved Neve mixing console by the Sound City Players (including Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Krist Novoselic, Brad Wilk of Rage, Foo Fighters, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, session drumming great Jim Keltner, etc.). Sometimes the songs seem like works in progress – “Heaven and All” is just Grohl and two members of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club riding a screaming glam-punk riff, while “Cut Me Some Slack,” by Paul McCartney and the surviving members of Nirvana, isn’t much more than a Macca grunge-guitar blowout. But the sound of real rock created in real time is part of the appeal. Many tracks echo the film’s wistful attitude toward a vanishing ideal, from Springfield’s tough “The Man That Never Was” to Nicks’ Mac-tinged reflection on her partying past, “You Can’t Fix This.” Today, bands can fix anything by pushing a button. In the era Sound City celebrates, you made it.