"Sound City" Movie Review — 5 out of 5 stars
Tue, 29 Jan 2013 11:34:34
Dave Grohl's Sound City documentary doesn't merely recount the story of the one of the most legendary studios and recording consoles in history, it also illuminates why music can be so impactful when it's done correctly.
It isn't so much about the bells and whistles or the various methods of trickery employed to make a song sound "perfect" nowadays. Rather, it's just the opposite. It's the imperfections and human flourishes that make certain records timeless.
Now, the list of "timeless records" cut to tape at Sound City is simply staggering. Nirvana's Nevermind was recorded there, and that's just one! Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash, Slipknot, and countless others have put their respective souls down there. Stepping behind the camera as director, Grohl constructs a fascinating narrative that traces the studio's history.
The nervous system remained a massive Neve Console. Originally purchased for $75,175, the analog board captured hundreds and hundreds of unanimously loved songs. Powerhouse producer Nick Raskulinecz [Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains" describes it as "unlike any other Neve console", and it's a propos. Grohl's reverence for the board is bolstered by candid interviews with everyone from Joshua Homme to Butch Vig to Tom Petty to Neil Young. However, he always makes room for humor. While interviewing Rupert Neve, as the board's creator spouts off technicalities, a thought bubble pops up over a bewildered Grohl reading, "He must know I am a high school dropout."
In addition to the bevy of musicians, Grohl introduces the audience to the characters comprising the colorful and equally legendary staff such as Tom Skeeter and Paula Salvatore. Petty calls it, "a warm feeling between us and the people that worked there", and the director's deft filmmaking transmits that warmth via the interviews—most poignantly, when Raskulinecz breaks into tears.
The studio isn't pretty either, and that's part of its magic. "It's a gritty place, but we were used to living on the edge," Krist Novoselic reminisces. The paint may be peeling and the footage exudes the intimacy with the grime of the setting, but it mirrors the integrity of the music and the musicians.
Grohl puts the "human element" of recording front and center. It's the musicians who played these songs and how they played them that made them what they are, and that's the heart of the film. It comes through loud and clear in vignettes recording the accompanying album Sound City - Real to Reel. Seeing Homme, Trent Reznor, and Grohl record together on the Neve with smiles abounding might just be one of the most poignant parts of the film.
"I was just a kid when I walked into Sound City. That board is the reason I'm here now," Grohl affirms. "I'd do anything for it."
Making this film is the best thing he could do not only for the board and Sound City but for the music industry at large. Sound City stands out as the best music documentary of the past decade and essential viewing for anyone who wants to start a band. Pay attention, this is really how it's done.
Will you be watching Sound City?
Check the SoundCityMovie.com site to find a one-night only showing on Jan 31, other future plays, or buy a download of the film.