In Your Honor, the fifth release by the Foo Fighters, is a double-album recipe of the band’s familiar rock – a collection that Dave Grohl primed for the band’s tenth anniversary. The first disc is up-tempo and electric, and features both the first single (“Best of You”) and an unrelenting wall of distorted guitar. The second is a gentler, more acoustic ride of whispering, finger-picking, and Norah Jones; waifish piano pixies aside, these conflicting elements are what make the band’s best tunes so enchanting (and Grohl’s suavely self-deprecating media sound bytes so forgivable).
But In Your Honor contains no new showstoppers – each disc seems to only contain one very long song. The splitting-atoms approach is a novel one, but it’s hardly as ambitious as Foo crew wishes, because it obliterates their ability to write catchy hooks. Without the soft, Side One is a scream-happy parade of resentment and vaguely Buddhist generalities, sped along with smoking guitars that never simmer and choruses that are indistinguishable from the verses. Guitars don’t pause for those soaring, Zeppelin-worshipping melodic lines, and Grohl’s shredded screams lose their impact because they never recede. The instruments lose their duality as additional vocal presences and settle for being a barrage of 4-4 noise, not unlike a certain rambunctious side project of Grohl’s – but devoid of the self-deprecation. Call it “Breakfast at Tenacious D’s.”
Side Two is immediately a little more welcoming, as it experiments more with tempo and even gives drummer/bleach ad Taylor Hawkins a turn at the microphone (“Cold Day in the Sun”). Still, the collective seems content to blend together in one sweetess-and-tenderness supermedley, a long bout of brushed drums and singsong vocals that lack any engaging urgency. The Jones/Grohl duet “Virginia Moon” creeps along as an eerie “Girl From Ipanema” rip-off, one sadly reminiscent of the elevator-muzak “Big Me” parody the Foos used in their “Monkey Wrench” video. But again, they’re serious, and it’s 40-plus minutes of their Art. (It’s a big A now.) And as with its guns-blazing counterpart, the second disc relies on monotonously broad lyrics that never gain footing.
For such a long musical offering, In Your Honor still manages to say little – and as double punishment, this comes from a group with an amazing back catalogue of affecting hits (though “Times Like These,” if I never hear you again…). The self-aware simplicity proves that the Foo Fighters reign when their elements unified and the sour is allowed to provide sweet. Grohl would sound gorgeous singing the phone book, but boring instrumentation and vocals leave him as just another talking head. And that’s nothing worth fighting for.