As Dave Grohl touts his Sound City documentary about the legendary Los Angeles recording studio, his Sound City Players have also been performing songs from the movie's soundtrack, released here under the title Sound City: Real to Reel. Grohl features heavily on the tracks but also draws on the talent of a number of Sound City punters from over the years; most notably Fleetwood Mac's Steve Nicks, Paul McCartney, Josh Homme and his former Nirvana band mates, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear.
Hopes are never high for a project such as this. A range of musicians with relatively diverse musical palettes (though there's a lot of common ground in some instances), combining forces for a singular goal: to provide a rock soundtrack for a rock-related documentary. There's always a fear that the end game will obscure or dampen the creative process; that the players in question won't have the time or creative freedom to explore the possibilities that they may otherwise have done. These fears are allayed to a small extent; there are some stand-out tunes on Real to Reel and, as a soundtrack to rock history, they will make for an excellent accompaniment to Grohl's moving images.
As a stand-alone listening experience though, the ever-revolving cast of players limits any sense of identity that the album could have forged. What results is a long-player of rock standards, with few tunes poking their heads above the parapet of drive-time sludge. Those tracks that do command attention, however, are worth wading through the mire for. One can only assume, for instance, that Lindsay Buckingham and the rest of Fleetwood Mac will be kicking themselves upon hearing 'You Can't Fix This,' because this is simply the greatest Fleetwood Mac song that never was. The Sound City Players have managed to recreate that perfect 'Rumours' era sound. With hints of 'Gold Dust Woman,' Nicks opens the track with the lines "they don't talk much about it / it goes back so many years / all the times we almost didn't make it / we stand clear / dancing with the devil / call it respect, call it fear / but we never allowed the devil to come to the party."
Given the demons that we all know Nicks and co. have faced in their time (very public relationship breakdowns, rumours of drug abuse and inter-band bitterness), it's a bold move for sure and one that pays off. If only the same could be said for the rest of Real to Reel. 'Time Slowing Down', featuring one of modern rock's most prolific contributors, Chris Goss, is another highlight; a breezy, melodic number with serious weight behind it. Equally, 'The Man That Never Was' (basically Foo Fighters featuring Rick Springfield) winds up, perhaps unsurprisingly, sounding like Foo Fighters at their heavy best; at their least quirky, at their most bolshy.
Straight-up rock is the order of the day here and that's what's delivered. For the most part, though, the tracks fade into insignificance. Even the presence of Joshua Homme does not save 'Centipede' from being anything other than just another slow-burning radio friendly rock song. As an accompaniment to the Sound City documentary, Grohl should be high-fived for going to the efforts that he has to create something unique and, indeed, for touring the album's material, giving fans the chance to catch some of their rock idols on one stage that they would undoubtedly never catch the opportunity to otherwise. As a commercial release, Real to Reel is a collection of average compositions, propped up by a few exceptional tracks.