This is a little weird for me as my worlds kind of collided here.
I’m a very big music nerd.
I still buy an album of some sort (either new or remaster) about every two or three weeks if not more. My tastes are incredibly varied. In the last year my favourite albums have included Rush’s Clockwork Angels, New York rapper El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, Stone Sour’s House of Gold and Bones and the reissue of Peter Gabriel’s So. I write a lot about music for Canada’s biggest music nerd, Alan Cross.
Normally, a review of a documentary about a recording studio would go to his website, alancross.ca. But this movie is so good, so well put together and just plain awesome, I really want everyone to see it. The truth of the matter is that a large chunk of the people who read Alan’s site are going to see Sound City anyways and a good review there is pretty much preaching to the choir. Geek Hard readers however might not know about this film and it’s really good and you should see it.
In May of 1991, three guys entered the recording studio named Sound City and proceeded to record one of the most important albums in rock. The studio was equipped with a custom built Neve 8028 console that had been part of many historic albums. When it was released, Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous out of the number one spot on Billboard and drummer Dave Grohl’s life was changed forever. Fast-forward to 2011, Sound City is closing and Grohl not only decides to purchase the legendary Neve board but also to make a film about the studio that helped create such albums as Tom Petty an The Heartbreaker’s Damn the Torpedos, Fleetwood Mac’s self titled record, Johnny Cash’s Unchained, Tool’s Undertow and many more.
And what started out as a documentary about a recording studio became a film about the creative process behind making music.
Which is why you should see Sound City.
So let’s talk about the good, which is really easy as there’s no real complaints. As a first time filmmaker, Dave Grohl has proven himself incredibly competent. He really has a good feel for balancing information with humor, anecdotes and music. The camera is always well placed and everything is decently lit. While it’s not like he was making Argo or something, my kudos and jealousy go to Mr. Grohl. Is there anything this guy doesn’t do well?
And the stories that this film tells?
I love the fact that it ranges from technical information (on what producers do and what was so special about the Neve board to begin with) to stories of Neil Young driving into the parking lot in a smoking car being followed by two cop cars. What I’m also a big fan of is that the aforementioned technical information that we get in the first half of the film is then completely shown to us in the second half. The second half (or maybe it’s the last quarter) of Sound City has Grohl gather the most amazing if not interestingly mixed group of musicians to record brand new compositions for the soundtrack. We see producer Butch Vig (Nevermind and his own band, Garbage) going through everything they talked about in the first chunk of the movie. We get to watch the musicians speak in abbreviated musician speak as their passing ideas off while jamming. It’s an incredible look at the creative process of some of the most talented musicians of multiple eras. We get Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear working a song out together. I never, ever thought I’d see a member of The Germs play with a Beatle. It’s also really interesting to see how zen McCartney is about their jamming. But that ain’t all. Stevie Nicks playing with the Foo Fighters, Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme, The Foos with RICK FUCKING SPRINGFIELD! And the most amazing part is that it is all good! (Note: I’ve hear about 60% of the soundtrack at this point, and what I’ve heard is fucking spectacular but there might just be a dud in there somewhere.)
There are only two points where this film kind of loses some ground. The first is from a purely fanboy point of view. I really wished I could see more of certain bands. Weezer for instance, who recorded Pinkerton at Sound City, are only glimpsed in the credits. We barely hear from Ratt and while I’m not a huge fan of 80’s hair metal, they seem to be the only hair metal band represented where we’re told that was a substantial part of Sound City’s income during that period. The second very, very, mild complaint is the movie does jump in a few spots but I honestly can chalk that up to a first time director.
In the end it’s obvious that Dave Grohl was passionate about this story and that he’s passionate about music and these two things make any faults in the film seem miniscule.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes into an album, if you’ve ever played in a band, if you’ve ever been lost in an album, this is a movie you should check out. Currently it’s only available via streaming/download but I expect there will be a physical Blu ray (hopefully with extended interviews) soon.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!