Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sound City

Pinky - Elton John (mp3)
Crystal - Fleetwood Mac (mp3)
If you love rock and roll. If you love knowing the recipe for great studio albums. If you love the heartbreaking bittersweet story of progress and those left floundering in its wake. If you love people who define success differently from dollar signs. If you love Ewoks over Stormtroopers.

If you love Stevie Nicks or Neil Young, Tom Petty or Ronnie James Dio, Rick Springfield or Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana or Barry Manilow. If you just f*#kin’ love f*#kin’ music, man.

If any of these, then you owe it to yourself to watch at least the first hour of the documentary Sound City.

Holy places are often ugly and dirty. Holy grails are sometimes long boards full of knobs and switches designed by obscure German engineers. This movie celebrates the dirty holy space known as Sound City and the Neve board through which dozens of Platinum-selling albums and hundreds of others were born.

Directed by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Sound City is ultimately a bit self-congratulatory, because the second and third act of the Neve board’s life is owed in large part to Grohl. Nirvana’s Nevermind was recorded at Sound City on the cheap as the studio was on its last gasps, and that stroke of fortune kept the tape-based analog recording studio thriving for another decade and getting by for another after that.

Then, as Sound City finally succumbed to the Brave ProTools New World of music production and closed down, Grohl swooped in for Act III and bought the Neve board for his own “garage” studio. There it gave birth to Foo Fighters' Wasting Light, which never quite made Platinum in the U.S., but that feat's almost impossible for modern rock acts in the 21st Century.

Throughout the film are interviews with rockers and producers meant to remind you what is at the soul of all great rock and roll, and it’s not about style or room design or perfect pitch or iambic pentameter or topping the singles chart. And if you need to know what it's about, then you really really need to watch this documentary.

The final 45 minutes of Sound City is dedicated to chronicling the recording of the movie’s “soundtrack.” Grohl convinced/invited an impressive number of key Sound City-bred artists to come in and record songs via the Neve board. You can take this part or leave it.

Sure, I enjoyed the hell out of watching Stevie Nicks and Rick Springfield and Sir Paul as they jam through the old school creative studio process with Grohl, but the soundtrack is in truth a matter of hit-and-miss. It frequently sounds like a "What if The Foo Fighters hired ______ as their lead singer" experiment, which is basically what it is. And as much as I loves me some Foo, an experiment like that is bound to be hit and miss.

The final complete product accidentally reminds the viewer that even the best analog sound board and the best sound studio in the world doesn’t guarantee sonic immortality. Still, that last stretch is a reminder of what used to be so amazing about studio albums “back in the day.” They were recorded by real people playing real instruments with real talent, which is to say it was done with glorious imperfection after untold hours of playing and playing and playing in a small room together.

3 comments:

troutking said...

I remember reading about this. Did you watch it on Netflix?

Billy said...

I don't know about Netflix (yes, I'm the one guy who's not yet a member), but I saw it via Amazon Prime, which is basically the lower-cost Cinemax of the streaming video world but one helluva good financial deal.

Bob said...

The Niftyplayer 1.7 isn't working on this one. When did we switch to Niftyplayer, anyway?