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Thursday, June 09, 2005

  Foo Fighters - In Your Honor

CD One: ***1/2
CD Two: ****

Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl have always been two sides of the same coin, that coin being adolescent angst rock. While Kurt moaned and screamed a private torment and rebellion, seemingly lifted from bathroom walls and disorganized spiral notebooks, Dave's music with his post-Nirvana outfit the Foo Fighters is grounded in a reckless, hopeful adolescent heart, aching to give itself to the world around it. "In your honor I would die tonight / For you to feel alive" he screams on In Your Honor's title-track opener, with its machine-gun drums and guitar riff borrowed from Radiohead's "Sulk". Grohl is one of rock's more sincere singers, and he is not willing to taint his passion with irony or cynicism. Good for him! Throughout the first CD of this double-album (the 1st CD is all hard rock, the 2nd is mostly acoustic, we'll get to that), Dave makes one thing clear: he will accept no half-measures. "There is no way back from here!" . . . "I swear I'll never give in!" . . . "No one's getting out of here alive this time!" . . . "This is the last song that I will dedicate to you!" I add the exclamation points because those lines are all sung/screamed.

Why is this pristine sincerity so interesting? Because this is Dave Grohl, who had a front-seat to the highest-profile rockstar death since Mark David Chapman asked for an autograph. That he can still rock out after that says a lot for the adolescent spirit and how it's the real driving force of so much hard rock, even as its gods grow longer and longer in the tooth.

So other than Dave's singing, how is the first CD of In Your Honor? Pretty good. The mix is far superior to that of the hyper-compressed sonic nightmare that was 2002's One By One. The riffs are often catchy ("No Way Back", "DOA", "The Last Song"), Taylor Hawkins can wail on his drums the way the Fighters' predecessor behind the kit could, and none of the songs warrant skippage, the least of which being the passionate lead single "Best of You", the Foo's best single since "Everlong". The Foo's sophomore album, 1997's The Color and the Shape, will continue to be their standard-bearer for me, with the two-guitar punch of "My Poor Brain" and "Wind Up", and the drama of "February Stars" and "New Way Home". That dynamic drama is the only thing missing from the first CD of In Your Honor, save for the well-crafted outro of "End Over End", but the driving rock from start to finish renders this omission not a grave one.

If the first CD of In Your Honor is everything we'd expect from the Foo Fighters, the second CD is exactly what we wouldn't have expected. While the adolescent emotional base is still there, Dave and company bust out the acoustic guitars and give us an out-of-left-field resurrection of Elliott Smith. While two songs near the CD's end break the mood -- the jazzy "Virginia Moon" featuring Norah Jones (!?!?), and the bouncy jewel "Cold Day in the Sun", with Taylor on the lead vocal -- CD two has the feel of a somber, candlelit room, as Grohl sings to the walls around him. The disc has an air of loneliness; "I'd have to lose everything just to find you" he sings in "What If I Do?". It continues in the somber, harmonica-laden "Another Round", and the beautiful, string-clad "Over and Out".

The song everyone will be talking about, though, is "Friend of a Friend", which Dave wrote about meeting Kurt Cobain and becoming his roommate in 1990. "He's never been in love / But he knows just what love is / He says 'nevermind' / And no one speaks", Dave sings plaintively over a well-chosen pair of 9th chords. Grohl has only alluded to Kurt in lines, here and there, on past albums ("I don't owe you anything!", "I still remember every single word you said and all that shit that somehow came along with it", "Feel it come to life when I see your ghost"), but never over an entire song; "...Friend" proves that it was worth the wait, capturing Cobain's shyness and inner demons with subtle precision.

The double-album closes with "Razor", featuring a nifty guitar riff halfway between Celtic and prog-rock. It left me longing for more music (the sign of a good album), and wondering what will happen on the next Foo Fighters album, when the two sounds they have given us will likely merge in some manner. Good work, boys.

(note: when I say "adolescent" I don't mean "childish" or anything negative, I mean unscarred, pure, and such)
Bren 6:38 PM

Studying to: Pet Sounds, The 'Mats

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