Without a rip or a roar, the first disc passes harmlessly -- it's the quieter second disc that truly demands attention.
It's easy to forgive Dave Grohl for waxing a bit sentimental when he speaks of In Your Honor, the newest release from his merry band of Foo Fighters. You see, In Your Honor is a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Foo Fighters, which means that Grohl's kept this dream alive about twice as long as he drummed with that other band that came before Foo Fighters. As far as he's concerned, a tenth year is something to celebrate, and celebrate he shall -- by thanking the Foo Fighter faithful for supporting and caring via a reasonably priced double album, the Foo statement to end all Foo statements.
One would think that such lofty aspirations would be difficult to attain, but the truth is, seriously solid Foo Fighters albums have been in pretty short supply since Grohl started the band with little more than a name and a pile of instruments. Foo fans will point to second album The Colour and the Shape and its string of tremendous hit singles as evidence of classic material, and while the singles are fantastic, it's the stuff in between that drags it down. Basically, what Grohl and company needed to do to create the most solid entry in the Foo Fighters catalogue was to put out an album on which every single song could potentially be single material. And honestly, considering that the presence of 20 songs leaves an awful lot of room to just completely screw up an album, they got remarkably close.
The first disc of In Your Honor is the rock (pronounced: RAWK) disc, and it serves as the band's best opportunity to date to stitch together the heavy metal record we all knew they had in them. Almost. Bits of classic Foo tracks have hinted at a band just waiting to break out and shred, bits like the acidic bridge of "Monkey Wrench" and the veritable towering inferno that concludes "All My Life", and the intent of disc one is to fulfill the promise that those tracks ever-so-briefly alluded to. The entire disc features no guests, just the raw vocals and guitars of Grohl, the pounding drums of Taylor Hawkins, and the noisy guitars and thunderous bass of Chris Shiflett and Nate Mendel. Tracks like the wall of sound that is "Hell" and the straight-ahead pounding of "The Last Song" are indications of just how loud this band can get.
Even so, Grohl just can't abandon his hooks.
As screamy as Grohl gets, he never stops singing notes, and as hard as he tries to furnish something brutal, he creates his rough textures out of pretty melodies. Even the aforementioned tracks have something to sing along to, and they're as rough as it gets. Songs like "No Way Back" and "Best of You" are perfect single material, anthems for the rockin' thirtysomething trying desperately to hold onto his youth. The band even ventures remarkably close to balladry with the vaguely Wallflowers-esque "Resolve", a song that probably could have ended up on the second disc had it been played with acoustic guitars instead of electrics. Once again, as on past albums, the only moment of true catharsis is relegated to a piece of a song, in this case the end of the title track. After a false ending to a song that basically sounds like one long introduction, the band lets loose with some of the fastest playing this side of Queens of the Stone Age, complete with an extended scream from Grohl. If only more of the disc could have been so huge as those 30 seconds, it would truly be an achievement.
Disc two is the true moment of departure for the Foos, as they settle down for some acoustic campfire songs and bring all manner of friends and guests along for the ride, including members of the two bands that served as convenient points of comparison in the previous paragraph. "Follow me into the trees / I will lead the way," says Grohl toward the beginning of the opening "Still", and we can't help but be drawn in by his beckoning tones, not to mention the quiet plucking of the guitar and the quiet keyboard tones of the Wallflowers' Rami Jaffee. Again, the opener of the disc only hints at what might have been possible as the rest of the songs follow a more traditional acoustic route than the lovely, atmospheric "Still", but it's certainly worth hearing, particularly if you consider "Walking After You" the apex of their career like I do.
All of the guests merely augment the songs rather than take them over, allowing Grohl's attempts at introspection to take center stage for most of the disc. The only exception would be the gentle bossa nova of "Virginia Moon", which is pretty much entirely dominated by the presence of Norah Jones -- oddly enough, despite its incongruity with the rest of the album, "Virginia Moon" remains one of In Your Honor's highlights. By the end, we've heard Josh Homme pluck his guitar, Petra Haden play her violin, and we've even experienced the in-band guesting of Hawkins on lead vocals for the refreshingly upbeat "Cold Day in the Sun". The whole thing gives off this wonderful vibe of a pile of people just playing music for the hell of it, and despite the down-tempo feel, the songs are infectious.
Grohl has said that he thinks of In Your Honor as the definitive Foo Fighters statement in the way that Physical Graffiti is the definitive Led Zeppelin statement. He may have fulfilled such a wish in more ways than he intended -- that is to say, like Physical Graffiti, In Your Honor has some great tunes, but it is by no means perfect. Still, no Foo Fighters fan should be without it, and those looking to get into the band could do worse than to start with it.