In Your Honor, the Foo Fighters' most varied and ambitious effort to date, represents a somewhat mild progression towards that goal. It may very well be their best effort since their milestone effort The Colour And The Shape.
Starting from the release of The Colour And The Shape, the Foos have continued to aggresively perfect their blend of power pop by cranking out drum-heavy (as in RFTC drum-heavy) beats that thumped, convulsed, tempered, calmed and sputtered, chord progressions that mixed compulsively catchy and ethereal melodies with edgy heavy riffs, and a vocal range that could turn from falsetto to gravelly, caustic loud screaming (sometimes in the same song). Occasionally, a mild acoustic song brought a momentary respite to it all.
Dave Grohl has indicated that he wanted this double-disc album to be the band's landmark album (A.K.A. 'if you had to pick one album to own by this band...'). To that extent, the Foos have succeeded, illustrating the dramatic musical contrasts between Disc One and Disc Two. But there is not really too much musical progression between One By One and In Your Honor except that these themes are now drawn out and elaborated upon more, and that the quality of the individual songs are not compromised by competing impulses to play loud and not-so-loud, or to scream and croon in the same song. This unfettered development of song craft is the band's real progression and what you hear on this album. Folksy and bluesy acoustic, sugary power pop sensibilities, gutteral throat-wrenching screaming and hard riff action are all represented well on this double album.
Disc One (the loud disc) raises the bar on power pop, lick-drenched, drum-battered histrionics -- at least for the first seven songs. The new noise begins with the song "In Your Honor," a sonic siren call (mildly reminiscent of Slayer's "South Of Heaven") that builds upon a furious drum prattle and intensity, leading into the pulsating, cheerful, percolating "No Way Back." "Best Of You," the album's first single, pounds away as the signature melodramatic rock anthem for the entire album, easily retreading into "Everlong" emotional territory. Dave Grohl's weathered voice and the prodding lead guitar licks further punctuate this distinction. "DOA," the prospective second single, is my personal favorite, an upbeat, catchy burst of a song where the guitar races through and glistens altogether. It's just deliciously cheerful, fast and addictive just as Dave Grohl sings "no one's getting out of here aliiiiiiiive, this tiiiiiiime..." "Hell" both guitar buzzsaws through and bludgeons drumwise, providing the "Enough Space" flavor of the album (in about as much time as "Enough Space"). "The Last Song" treads through heavy usage of the chorus "This is the last song." "Free Me" stabs through the entire song with basically its one or two riffs while essentially dragging the listener into some screaming histrionics towards the end -- not really my bag.
After "Free Me," the rest of Disc One treads into more somber, There Is Nothing Left To Lose territory. "Resolve," listed on the shrinkwrap label as a probable single, plays as a drawn out, reflective, bittersweet ballad, a slower, heartwrenching tune, yet still not deplete of sugary pop hooks. "The Deepest Blues Are Black" drones towards tearjerking as it hits the guitar-flushed chorus from its remorseful light guitar whispers. "End Over End" resuscitates the listener somewhat from these droning themes to close the disc on a slightly more upbeat tone, though still barely ambling and thumping along.
Disc Two (the not-so-loud disc) is the celebrated acoustic fare disc that will either leave you to explore and appreciate another musical dimension that the Foos excel at (i.e. creating some great folky acoustic tunes), or else it will sound like some soundtrack or concept album plucked onto the meaty rock album that might have as much limited appeal as a Dave Matthews Band disc inserted with a System Of A Down album. (And no, the Davis does not dig the DMB.) Obviously, Disc Two is the Foos' critical response to the overwhelmingly positive reception and appreciative airplay for "Everlong" acoustic and "Times Like These" acoustic. (Like those two, ehhh? Well, try a whole disc full of acoustic tunes!) Either way, prepare to delve into the Foo world of folky acoustic tunage!
"Still" barely breaks the silence as a twilight lullaby with Dave whispering along, but it definitely perks up with "What If I Do," and "Miracle," as the folk core of bubbling acoustic guitars and piano starts going and Dave starts a crooning. Given its more consistent pop-driven chorus and heightened production value accented with the use of Petra Haden's violin, "Miracle" is a savory folk song for the Foos. "Another Round" takes a turn for the slow and somber and a hint of the blues with the harmonica and mandolin. Critics perpetually mired in the Nirvana era have paid plenty of attention to "Friend Of A Friend," a low-key acoustic tune that Dave Grohl wrote about the introverted Kurt Cobain. Nirvana mania runs wild on us again as lyrical interpretations will inevitably abound: "he needs a quiet room, with a lock to keep him in" and "he plays an old guitar, with a coin found by the phone..."
"Over And Out" comes in as a low-key plucky acoustic tune, but gradually builds into a anticlimatic dirge while "On The Mend" treads along more as an acoustic soundtrack theme than a song. Still, I cannot deny my overzealous enthusiasm for the moment when the player hits "Virginia Moon," a romantic, calming, bossa nova tune sung as a Dave Grohl and Norah Jones duet. It's just that light Latin, calypso flavor that refreshes my aural palate (kinda like the salsa-flavored middle part before the chorus in "Stacked Actors"). "Cold Day In The Sun," sung by drummer Taylor Hawkins, feels more like an old, classic rock by-the-numbers tune, especially since Taylor's raspy voice comes off and blends in a lot like W. Axl Rose. "Razor" rounds out Disc Two as a speedy guitar plucking and picking romp with guest guitarist Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age.
This is definitely a solid album for the Foo Fighters, a solid rock album for music critics and casual fans, and a refreshing change of pace for the dedicated Foo fan. Still, I feel that the band's true musical progression remains stuck in first or second gear and that it will take another two albums before we all know if this album will truly become the landmark album that Dave Grohl really wanted.