Dave Grohl’s documentary looks at the past, present and future of the Sound City recording studio where legendary albums such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes were recorded over it’s vast 40 year history.
Sound City looks at three different key moments in the studios history, the formation of Fleetwood Mac, the purchasing of the Neve sound board and the dawn of digital recording devices that could effectively bypass the studio recording system.
Grohl tries his best to be an engaging narrator and competent director but his tendency to slip into clichés and overly emotional sentiment can leave the viewer cold. Whenever the words “I was just a kid and I never knew...” are mentioned, you can be sure that what comes next will be overwrought and unnecessary and to an extent it is, Sound City is one man’s love letter to the studio that changed his life. The structuring of the documentary is a problem, too little time is spent on the history of the studio. Grohl only gives a very brief overview of the history with a few brief interludes from people that recorded in the studio. Too much time is given to the concluding section of the film consisting of Dave Grohl jamming with his friends and idols, the section is over long, indulgent and struggles to settle alongside the rest of the film.
There are things to admire about the film, for the moments where Grohl focuses his camera on the studio itself, the information is illuminating. The history of the Neve board is incredible and you’d never suspect that an inanimate object had such a rich past. The testimonies from the people that recorded at the studio are also wonderfully timed and edited with images of the studio at the time and paint a vibrant picture of recording there in the 1970s and 80s. The producers that are brought in to talk about the studio, such as Rick Rubin, Butch Vig and Keith Olsen are fun to watch and the way they discuss the recording procedure is certainly informative. The rest of the documentary kind of skips over the recordings made in the 90s despite the fact that Grohl himself was recording there in 1991.
Sound City does have a tendency to bring a political narrative on top of the events that take place. The digital vs analogue style of recording begins to dominate the rhetoric in the middle of the documentary. Though digital recording may have had a considerable role to play in the downfall of Sound City Studios it feels like a bigger discussion for a different movie. Something similar to the Keanu Reeves and Christopher Kenneally documentary Side By Side might be more relevant and rewarding in the long term.
Sound City is a competent documentary about a recording studio, like the ramshackle studio itself the film is rough around the edges but it is fun to watch. For someone with a passing interest in music, this film is a worthwhile watch, it has a kick ass soundtrack and some great interviews. But it’s structuring and slightly self indulgent nature on the part of Dave Grohl let it down.
2 out of 5