Dave Grohl’s soundtrack to his passionately crafted film about Los Angeles’ Sound City recording studio is just as lovingly constructed, with just as many smart insights. Grohl teases out tough new performances from unlikely sources, while alternatively acting as svengali, band leader, sideman and cheerleader on the project.
Some of it, of course, makes perfect sense — from the gritty blues rock of its opening “Heaven and All” (featuring the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been and Peter Hayes); to Lee Ving’s snot-nosed punk romp “Your Wife is Calling”; to the soft-hard sweep of “Mantra,” (with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age). With these moments, the wonder of Sound City: Real To Reel is how it runs such a fleet gamut of influences, styles and voices — never settling in, but never sounding scattershot either, thanks to Grohl’s steady presence.
What’s perhaps most interesting, however, is what he gets out of legacy artists — performers who’ve been around long enough to have settled personas in the public consciousness.
Stevie Nicks, for instance, is coaxed into one of her toughest recent vocals on “You Can’t Fix This,” leaving aside the witchy woman flourishes that have for too long defined/caricatured her. You get the sense, sadly rare, that you are seeing behind the veil — or, in Nicks’ case, the many veils — that she’s used as a defense against letting listeners in. It’s a remarkable performance, and (if this gutty attitude carries over) bodes well for a planned reunion with Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac.
Perhaps the most unexpected collaboration of Sound City: Real To Reel finds these long-haired guitar-rock types collaborating with former teen heartthrob Rick Springfield on “Man that Never Was.” It’s a muscular, thrillingly unmannered delight, as Springfield more than holds his own amidst the track’s grinding groove. Jessie’s girl is going to be stunned.
Then, of course, there’s “Cut Me Some Slack,” the much-talked-about McCartney-meets-Nirvana track, which settles into a clinched vengeance and simply never lets go of its white-knuckle groove.
Sound City: Real to Reel, due March 12, 2013, arrives just as Grohl’s Sound City Players prepare for an appearance on March 14 at SXSW. Grohl is also set to act as the festival’s keynote speaker.