- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

Foo Fighters

In Your Honor

RCA Records

“In Your Honor,” the fifth album from 1990s alt-rock veterans the Foo Fighters, began as a solo vehicle for singer-guitarist Dave Grohl. The Springfield native and Nirvana survivor planned on making it a mellow departure from the Foos’ usual grungy fury.

That was stage one.

Stage two came when Mr. Grohl realized the material he was writing sounded, unavoidably, like Foo Fighters’ music. So Mr. Grohl’s band mates — bassist Nate Mendel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and guitarist Chris Shiflett — came on board.

Then came stage three. “I didn’t want to show up to the Reading Festival with a harpsichord,” Mr. Grohl explained. “This band just has to make some rock music.”

Ultimately, the progression led to “In Your Honor,” the double album. The first disc is as ferocious and intense an experience as any the band has created in its 10-year run; and disc two is an atmospheric, acoustic-guitar-driven affair marked by movie-score string arrangements and mandolins, plus appearances from the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and singer-pianist Norah Jones.

Either half, at 10 songs each, would have made for a perfectly competent Foo Fighters album. Together, they’re distinctly coherent realizations, a formidable two-headed beast.

The title track of the album announces the tenor of the first set — a slowly-gathering black sky that’s about to unleash a hailstorm of detuned guitars, percussive rage and vocals from a guy (Mr. Grohl) who sounds like he’s bathing in hellfire.

“No Way Back,” “Best of You,” “DOA” — disc one proceeds with locomotive power and speed. But the best part about the album’s heavy half, which the band reworked so as not to be shown up by its poppier disc-two adventures, is its consistent hookiness.

The Foos relentlessly work you over during the verses and then hold you to their bosom for the choruses. It’s an old trick — the power ballad in reverse — but Mr. Grohl and Co. make it work nearly every time.

Oh, but this pony has two tricks.

That a song such as, say, disc one’s “Hell” can coexist here with a bossa nova trifle such as “Virginia Moon” (Miss Jones’ guest spot) means either the Foos have spread themselves into experimentalist emaciation or they’ve graduated into the elite club of bands that have produced successful double albums.

I’m betting on the latter.

“In Your Honor” is the Foos’ “Physical Graffitti.” Like the Zep classic of 1975, “Honor” shows off industrial muscle as well as a quiet, introspective heart. Disc two’s ambiguous, suicidal navel-gazer “Razor” beguiles as readily as disc one’s “The Deepest Blues Are Black” bowls you over with brute force.

So what if the lyrics never add up to much? Thematically, the album is an expression of primal anxiety from a guy on the knife’s edge of relationship disaster, with madness lurking over his shoulder. The songs, and the Foos’ tightness in delivering them, pack all the punch your ribs could ever withstand.

Mr. Grohl is gradually building a legacy that’s at least as important as Nirvana’s.

“In Your Honor” is his “Nevermind” and “Unplugged in New York,” delivered in a single parcel.

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