Foo Fighters celebrate their 10th anniversary with their fifth release, a double album of 83 minutes that is split into a rock disc and an acoustic one. Leader Dave Grohl wanted In Your Honor to be the one album the band is remembered for in the same way that he feels Physical Graffiti is the definitive Led Zeppelin album.
The first disc is filled with the straightforward, guitar-driven, pop-rock anthems that have been the band’s claim to fame. It opens with the title track, a slow build-up of feedback, guitars and Grohl’s raspy screams before the drums kick in. The song picks up the pace and blasts off the last minute, flying straight into “No Way Back.”
“DOA” has a good rhythm, driven by Taylor Hawkins’ drumming. Don’t be surprised if it turns up in a summer blockbuster because it would be right at home playing under an action sequence, especially a car chase, from a film. The song flows straight into the next track “Hell’ without taking a break. It works musically and thematically.
The disc ends with “End Over End.” You can hear the influence of Neil Young in both the sound of the jangly guitar and Grohl’s voice in the opening. The song then segues into the usual Foo Fighters’ sound before coming back to Young with a long feedback fade-out to close the song.
The rock disc appears to be for the fans and the acoustic disc is music they wanted to make for themselves. They create a mix of alt-county, jazz, old school rock, and ballads that are sure to induce audiences to break out their lighters or cell phones to light up arenas. While the expansion and maturation of their music creates a more captivating set, they never could have gotten away with releasing it on its own, which is the unfortunate state of the record business. Luckily, they found a way to do so anyway.
To help them in this venture Foo Fighters invited a number of guests to join them. Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones plays piano and Petra Haden plays violin on “Miracle.” Jones returns on the mandolin for “Another Round” that also includes Danny Clinch on harmonica. Grohl’s former Queens of the Stone Age band mate, Josh Homme, provides some guitar work on “Razor” that sounds like an Eddie Van Halen solo just before the pyrotechnics happen.
Norah Jones plays piano and duets with Grohl on the bossa nova “Virginia Moon.” I’m impressed that Grohl would do something so dramatically different, but his singing is the weakest element of the song. I’d give it an “A” for effort and I find myself wanting to like the song, but their vocals don’t blend well together. It would have been nice to hear them sing apart instead of on top of each other.
“Still” starts nice and peaceful, opening with a guitar playing over great atmospheric keyboards by Rami Jaffe. It sounds like a make-up song with the lyrics “Nevermind what’s done is done”, but Grohl does a good job catching the listener off guard as the song soon reveals itself to be a suicide pact among reunited lovers. “Promise I will be forever yours” is to be accomplished by jumping off a bridge or getting hit by a train as their bodies are discovered as “broken bones/Scattered on the hill”. The song closes out with more keyboard touches and the plucking of the guitar.
“Friend of a Friend” is another ode to Kurt Cobain. The music sounds like Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” and has some very obvious clues in the lyrics. It’s about a guitar player who “says nevermind”, and there’s the slap at his widow and Grohl’s constant nemesis, Courtney Love, with the line “He’s never been in love/But he knows just what love is.” Understandably, Grohl appears to still be upset with himself for not reaching out and helping Cobain with his addictions.
The band throws the listener another curve with “Cold Day In The Sun.” featuring Taylor Hawkins singing on the track he wrote that’s straight out of the ’70s, with its echo-effected vocals, strumming guitar line-up and tambourine. Grohl plays the drums on the track.
Foo Fighters are talented musicians but their great strength is also their weakness. They make their songs so accessible, especially the rock songs, that everything is safe and predictable. The music works in its context, but I would have liked more surprises.
In Your Honor has one major flaw and that is the lyrics. The majority of songs are impersonal, first person love songs about heartbreak, hope and reconciliation. They are about a guy who wants to be with a girl, lost a girl or wants to get back together. There are no details about the characters or their situation to tell a complete story that intrigues the listener. Everything is on the immediate surface; there’s no depth.
“The Last Song” is a perfect example of this. It is good, angry break-up song as the narrator, obviously a musician sings, “this is last song that I will dedicate to you”. While it is a great sing-along for anyone finding themselves in the same state, the listener doesn’t learn anything other than it’s about a nondescript couple breaking up. There’s nothing about these two people, who they are, what they look like and why they are breaking up. We are just in the moment that they are and don’t take anything away with us when the song’s over.
The rock disc is a great summer soundtrack for young men between 15 and 25 who are going through similar experiences as the songs’ protagonists and will look back on it fondly. Everyone else might not form the same bond. The acoustic disc has more diversity and subtlety in the music and I found it to be the better of the two. With the rock disc you know what you are getting after hearing it once. The acoustic disc has more to offer with repeat listens.
Fans of the band will definitely enjoy the rock disc and those who are open to other genres, should enjoy the acoustic disc. It is a great introduction to the band and what it has to offer, so Grohl accomplished his goal of making the band’s definitive album.