The mystique of the “double album” is always an alluring one to artists yearning to stretch beyond their mettle, but it is also always a crapshoot. Not every effort can end up to be the next White Album, London Calling or Blonde on Blonde. More often than not, they end up to be the next Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Many inherent questions arise at the onset of the concept, one being what that concept should actually be, if any. Will there be enough material for two full albums, and is that material good enough, or just time filler? Like Prince or Ryan Adams, should everything recorded be put out there for all to hear, good or bad? My theory about double, and by coincidence concept albums, follows the same logic as my theory on tattoos. I believe that one should believe in something strongly enough to want to memorialize it on their flesh, rather than the other way around, as most do, wanting a tattoo, and then trying to figure out what to get. With albums, the concept and the motivation should arrive first, the conceit later. I think Dave Grohl agrees with me, to an extent.
Grohl, mugging frontman of Foo Fighters, and formerly the drummer of a band of some repute, leads his ever changing FF team to the band’s fifth album, one that he wants his fans to compare to Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. For most of his fans, the comparison might be lost. He might have been better served to have dropped the Use Your Illusion reference instead. Either way, In Your Honor is a double album with a gimmick, one disc is a slice of the Foos’ hard rocking persona, with pinches of bands that Grohl has been either involved with or enamored of (i.e. Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, Led Zeppelin), and the other is full of slower tempo acoustic numbers. Funnily enough, even some of their early hits were originally created in an acoustic format, so one would think that the second disc, as I did, would be the better one. It’s actually the first that will end up to be the one with the most listenable tracks.
Originally, with the energy of guest stars Petra Haden, Josh Homme, and two legendary Joneses, Norah and John Paul, the second disc seemed to the band to be the stronger. So, naturally, they went back to the boards to try and make the first disc as explosive as possible. Like alternating shims under uneven couch legs, the adjusting could have gone on forever, but it had to stop somewhere. One of my favorite things about the Foos’ first three records was the alternating styles and speeds song after song. Having “Stacked Actors” and “Aurora” on the same album, for instance. In this new format however, that variance is missing. Instead, like a politician trying to please both sides of his constituency, straddling the fence of moderation, the band misses its die-hard followers. Sure, they’ll still end up buying the album, but shouldn’t Grohl have learned something from playing at John Kerry rallies?
Regardless of its missteps, In Your Honor is still a worthy effort. The screaming personal message of the title track, the political statement of “The Best of You,” the textured “The Deepest Blues are Black” and the bilious “The Last Song” are among some of the band’s best in their guitar driven arsenal. “Another Round,” “Over and Out,” “On the Mend” and the surprising “Cold Day in the Sun” (a song with Grohl taking over Hawkins’ drums, while Hawkins adopts the vocal duties) are other standouts. The latter of the three Summerteeth-era Wilco-like tune could be the best on the record as far as my opinion goes. I hope to hear more of this in the future, or if this double album effort proves to be the Foos’ (forgive the pun) swan song, then maybe a Grohl/Hawkins side project or something that would vault the drummer into the spotlight like the Foos did for the Nirvana drummer, which would be an ironic twist of fate.
In Your Honor, if made into one disc’s worth of songs, would be easily comparable to the band’s first three excellent albums. The other songs aren’t necessarily sub-par, nor are they unnecessary, merely not as impressive as the better ones. In many articles and interviews, Dave Grohl has called this album and its title a tribute to his fans who have made his life a privileged one. Over the years, Grohl has been already been a part of rock history, has continued on with a wink and a smile in hilarious videos, and has consistently brought the rock. We thank you, Dave Grohl. You’re one of the best in the biz, and it’s my honor to say so.
Queens of the Stone Age- Songs for the Deaf
Foo Fighters- There Is Nothing Left to Lose