V/A Sound City – Real To Reel

Album Title: 
V/A Sound City – Real To Reel
Release Date: 
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Review Type: 

As you can surmise from the caption of this review, this album is in fact the soundtrack to a movie...but not just any movie, and it also is not your common soundtrack! You see, there's a nice story behind the coming along of both! It so happens that Sound City was the studio where Dave Grohl and his band Nirvana recorded the album Nevermind, you see? Situated at Van Nuys, Los Angeles, the studio was renowned for having the best sound where drum recordings were concerned. Oh wait, let's turn back the clock to zero, when the story of Sound City started, shall we?

The story starts in the summer of 1969, when the studio was installed in a building which previously was a showroom an recording studio of British company Vox. Once installed, it was immediately the host for the recordings of Spirit's cult album Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus. Before the end of the year, Neil Young followed, to record his After The Gold Rush. During the '70, the little known studio got its reputation for being the place to be when one was recordings drums, and later popular artists such as Dr. John, Buckingham Nicks (and later Fleetwood Mac), Elton John, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Grateful Dead, REO Speedwagen, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, and Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (and its predecessor act Mudcrutch) would all land up in the studio. With Petty as a regular client from then on, the '80s also saw the studio hosting Pat Benatar, Barry Manilow, Dio, Ratt, Loudness, and Keel, among many others (for a partial list, check the studio's Wikipedia page). The '90s followed, and the first successful product that came out of the studio was also one of a significance to the music world in general, as it was the aforementioned Nirvana album. Bands with Gold and/or Platinum albums that followed were (in chronological order) Kyuss, Blind Melon, Masters Of Reality, Rage Against The Machine, Green Jelly, Tool, Rancid, The Black Crowes, Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Weezer, Queens Of the Stone Age, Superdrag and A Perfect Circle, besides some of the old customers returning. We'll not go on with the list for the new millennium, as you can look that up for yourselves, but I will throw in three last anecdotes. Number one : When producer Greg Fidelman was making his preparations for the production of Metallica's Death Magnetic album (released 2008), he went to all major studios in the Los Angeles area to record the sound of a bass drum, and then played the samples to the band without telling from which studio they individually originated. On that evaluation, the band found itself in the little dumpy place that was Sound City, and loved every minute of it! Number two : When Dave Grohl was asked by Nine Inch Nails to be guest drummer on a couple of songs of the band's 2008 album The Slip, he insisted that the songs be recorded at Sound City. Number three : In fear of possibly changing the legendary sound qualities of the studio, the walls were never painted over after getting its original layer, neither was the original linoleum changed.

The Sound City story ends in 2011. Being completely analog, the studio simply could not compete any more with modern recording techniques, and was forced to close down. In doing so, the studio sold off parts of its material, and found Dave Grohl to be one of the most avid buyers. Among the things he bought, was the custom Neve 8028 Console from Studio A, which he subsequently installed into his private recording studio. His purchase, in consequence, inspired Grohl to make a movie documenting the history of the studio, inviting quite a few of the people who had recorded some of their groundbreaking albums in the studio to contribute in the form of interviews. Extras include archive material of Kurt Cobain and special guest Paul McCartney (for a full list of the contributors, consult the album's Wikipedia page). Coincidentally, the documentary was also Grohl's debut as a director. The movie was premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 18 of last, and was given generally positive reviews. It was subsequently released on video-on-demand, and shown in American theaters (of 51 cities throughout the USA) on February 1. It was screened in 5 Australian cities on January 31, and in 3 Canadian cities. On February 28, it was given a one-off showing in 23 theaters across the UK.

Now, about the album...Grohl insisted that the soundtrack to the album be of completely original music, composed and performed by some of the artists collaborating on the movie, and recorded in his own Studio 606, which now had the Sound City console installed. What you get, is an 11-track album with a total length of 55 ½ minutes worth of listening pleasure per session. Stylistically, you basically get a nice “Rock”, with occasional Metal tingues, a couple of ballads, and even a Punk song (the feisty “You Wife Is Calling”, with Lee Ving of Fear and MD.45 as singer)...which àll find Grohl as a collaborating entity, and further makes use of different singers and musicians..exceptions being Chriss Goss, Taylor Hawkins, Pat Smear, Alain Johannes, and Josh Homme whom all contributed to three songs, and Rami Jaffee whom contributed to two. Surprisingly, one of the heavier songs, vocally, is the one that features Paul McCartney (“Cut Me Some Slack”), and that was also the first of four songs which were made available at the album's official YouTube channel. Between Dec. 14, 2012 and March 8, 2013, “Cut Me Some Slack” was followed by “From Can To Can't” (featuring Corey Taylor as singer), “You Can't Fix This” (featuring Stevie Nicks as singer) and “Mantra” (with Homme and Trent Raznor – to be quite honest, I have no idea whom of the three does the vocals!). Although the different singers all give the song they're featured on a slightly different pallet,  there is nevertheless something which seems to bind the album's songs together, in spite of that vocal diversity! In essence, this is a highly enjoyable album, which should please a wide spectrum of music fans going from those who would normally be into the somewhat commercial kind of Rock, to those who dó like a little complexity in the music. Overall, you see, there's an instant catchiness in each and every one of the songs.

By the way, having already been released a couple of months ago, the album of course already had some chart notations (further proof of the album's “commercial” value), making #1 in the American Billboard “Soundtracks” ànd “Hard Rock Albums” charts, and getting to #2 and #4 in the Billboard Modern Rock/ Alernative Albums” and “Rock Albums” respectively. In the Billboard 200, it went straight up to #8. Further interesting peak notations (top 10) include the charts in Australia (#6), New Zealand (#5), Canada (#3) and Holland (#9). In Belgium, the album got to #17 and #51 in Flanders and Wallonia respectively.