Foo Fighters

In Your Honor

(Sony; 2005)

By Matt Stephens | 5 September 2007

Let's get this out of the way: I fucking idolize Dave Grohl. It's not that I'm a huge fan of his music (sure, I have a fondness for older Foos singles, and my copies of Nevermind and In Utero, though so well-loved they appear to have been skated on, have not been given serious listens since probably the ninth grade); but in my mind he embodies, as a person, everything that I like about rock stars.

I mean, here's one-third of perhaps the most lauded band of the last two-decades, evolving gradually from goofy skin-pounder to respected pop songwriter, using his mushrooming cred and influence not for self-promotion but instead as a vehicle to follow his muse --- be it in the form of a residency in then-under-the-radar stoner rock titans Queens of the Stone Age or as financier of bizarre old-school metal superproject Probot. Beyond all this, he has remained, by all accounts, a modest and unselfish individual: a big, friendly 36 year-old kid who still can't believe John Paul Jones would actually agree to lay down a piano track on one of his records.

I feel bad for giving Dave such a middling review, but In Your Honor, his new album with long-time band the Foo Fighers, suffers, like all their previous work, from the same nice-guy earnestness that makes Grohl such a likeable personality. An ostensibly ambitious project for the band, the 83 minute album is divided into two self-conscious halves: one disc for the band's familiar brand of melodic post-grunge, the other for more eclectic down-tempo experiments. It's a pretty restrictive way of doing things; every song is either a "rocker" or a "ballad," with nothing interesting enough to veer out of those pre-determined confines. And, in spite of a handful of great moments, it makes for a long, frustrating listen that more often than not finds the Foos treading the same lukewarm water they've been submerged in since 1999's There is Nothing Left to Lose.

Disc 1 tries to get things off to a fiery start with the title track which, despite the best efforts of its anthemic guitars, marching band drums and general hugeness, leaves you with much the same feeling as being growled at by a small puppy. Grohl's wrath is genuine, I'm sure, but his voice is so thin and the arrangement so clean and calculated that the vitriol has a kind of adorable effect; they're just trying too hard. First single "Best of You" suffers the same fate, trying to summon big emotions that the band is too polite to make palpable.

The disc isn't without its highlights, though: the two-minute "Hell" rides on an awesomely unpredictable guitar riff enhanced by one of Grohl's finest melodies. "No Way Back" is even better, with another effortless guitar hook and impassioned vocals from Grohl which sound almost convincing. But too much of it, particularly in the second half, succumbs to the tuneless, mind-numbing post-grunge the Foos have always been careful to side-step. Grohl's ear for a good melody has been sacrificed in the name of rawk, and it does his band no favours.

The second disc fares better, if only because it's more willing to take risks. It begins feebly as well, with "Still" and "What if I Do," two joyless, overlong, meticulously pro-tooled turds without a single interesting idea between them. They're nearly made up for by the bittersweet "Miracle," an endearing by-the-numbers ballad kept afloat by a pulsating bassline, and the ever-so-slightly country-influenced "Another Round." The disc lulls a bit in the middle, but is resuscitated by its closing trio, almost unquestionably the three finest songs on either half of the record.

Norah Jones duet (?) "Virginia Moon" mines the same sleepy soft-jazz territory Jones is famous for, but succeeds against all odds with Grohl's whispery vocals and slinky melody. Even more catchy is "Cold Day in the Sun," which sounds like a warmed over Being There outtake, with Grohl even doing a respectable take on Jeff Tweedy's raspy croon. Closer "Razor" may be the most intense song Grohl's written; built around busy acoustic guitar arpeggios courtesy of Josh Homme, it coyly passes up the bombastic climax it seems to invite. It's a revelatory moment -- after hearing Grohl try to pound and thrash his way to emotional catharsis on the first disc, it's suitable that In Your Honor's most affecting moment is also its most understated.

So yes, In Your Honor invites the same criticism as virtually every other double album in existence. Lurking somewhere in its spotty 80+ minutes lies an excellent 40 minute album, one of the best the Foos have ever done. As is, though, with its heaps of filler, dated production and needless segregation of rockers from ballads, it may actually be their weakest`. And yet, even with the irrefutable mediocrity of half of In Your Honor, I still find myself trying desperately to like it, cutting it more slack than I would most other records only because Grohl is so infectiously unpretentious and passionate about what he's doing. If his hooks could ever match that, it would truly be something to behold, but all he leaves us with here is another disappointment.