By Mark Guarino
Foo Fighters, “In Your Honor” (RCA) 2 stars
Face it — the Foo Fighters are difficult to dislike. Yet their continual string of albums never live up to expectations. Dave Grohl is certainly a compelling frontman with a piercing scream and as an alchemist melding metal and pop, he’s a champ. Yet no Foo Fighters album has ever been more than simply serviceable, appreciated mainly as a welcome alternative in the cartoon rock era of Nickelback.
Give credit to Grohl and Co. for raising the stakes with this double album, one rock, one not. The rock side will be almost too familiar to long-time fans. “Can you hear me/hear me screaming?” goes Grohl on the opening title track. No doubt. Grohl screams from top to bottom of disc one, on songs featuring the band’s usual double barrel breakouts, big builds and bitter lyrics (“it’s a shame you have to die my dear/no one’s getting out of here alive,” he sings on “DOA”). Except for some mid-tempo reprieves towards the bottom (“Resolve” and “The Deepest Blues Are Back” — no, not a blues song), there is a sameness to these ten songs that make them not only indistinguishable from one another, but hard to separate from songs from their past.
So it’s a surprise that the strongest melodies come with the second disc, all acoustic featuring instruments not likely heard on previous Foo Fighters albums: harmonica, mandolin, piano and strings. On the self-doubting “What If I Do” and “Miracle” (featuring Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on piano), Grohl presents some of his strongest melodies in years. Without the necessity to scream, he emerges as a soulful singer who brings forth real depth in his lyrics. On “Friend of a Friend,” he uses the creaky acoustic strings to pay homage to former bandmate Kurt Cobain: “he’s never been in love/but he knows just what love is/he says ‘Nevermind’…when he plays/no one speaks.”
The debut vocal from drummer Taylor Hawkins (“Cold Day in the Sun”) is another welcome surprise — a bright folk pop strum-along with Hawkins channeling the Faces’ Ronnie Lane. Grohl’s duet vocals with Norah Jones is the major misjudgment here — the lounge vibe is much too cute and feels out of place. A disc like this might be baby steps for a band so long mired in hard rock arenas — the hope is, by next album, the steps will break into a stride.