Sound City, Dave Grohl's love letter to the golden age of recording studios, plays very differently as an album than it does a documentary. On the screen, Grohl devotes a significant amount of time tracing the history of Sound City Studios, the legendary Los Angeles studio where such rock classics as Fleetwood Mac's Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, Tom Petty's Damn the Torpedoes, Pat Benatar's Crimes of Passion, Rick Springfield's Working Class Dog, Foreigner's Double Vision, and Nirvana's Nevermind were recorded. Sound City closed in 2011, and Grohl not only wound up purchasing the studio's Neve mixing board, he made his film as a tribute to this golden age of rock and, then, decided to make an accompanying album of all-new songs using that board in his own home studio, finalizing his salute to the golden age of analog. Grohl brought in friends and colleagues, including his longtime jam partner Josh Homme, then invited a bunch of Sound City veterans like Springfield, Stevie Nicks, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, and Fear's Lee Ving to cut new songs. He also roped in Paul McCartney to play with Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear -- aka, the surviving members of Nirvana -- a nifty coup that earned the project tons of publicity and resulted in a pretty good little rocker called "Cut Me Some Slack." It's not the only tune here with an immediate hook or melody -- Nicks' "You Can't Fix This" isn't bad, Ving's "Your Wife Is Calling" conjures a bit of Fear, and Rick Springfield's "The Man That Never Was" is rather excellent -- but it's one of only a handful, as the rest of Sound City: Real to Reel sounds exactly like what it is: a bunch of old rockers jamming in a studio. Often, this is quite enjoyable, as they're all excellent musicians playing through a top-notch board, but the songs do have a tendency to drift away from the point, sounding like exceedingly well-executed first drafts. It is telling that the songs that do catch hold all come from survivors of the golden age of classic rock, musicians who can knock out a well-sculpted song without too much effort, and that is as much a testament to the heyday of Sound City as the soundtrack itself.
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Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine