We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Dave Grohl can shout all he wants, but by now everyone knows that when it comes down to it, the erstwhile thrasher just wants to be loved. Though the D.C. expatriate and former Nirvana drummer has played the angry young man from his days as a D.C. punk right through the masterminding of last year’s metal project Probot, a decade as a Foo Fighter has allowed Grohl to develop his most consistent musical MO: tight tunes both aggressive and sweet, with lyrics that run along the lines of “I love you/I hate you/Don’t leave me.”
Grohl’s inner stalker was first glimpsed in “Walking After You,” on 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. “Things just won’t do without you, matter of fact,” he delicately sang. “I’m on your back.” By the Foos’ fourth album, 2002’s One by One, Grohl was only slightly more apologetic about his love jones: “I’m a road that drives away/And follows you back home,” he sang on the relatively upbeat “Times Like These (One-Way Motorway).” At the end of the song, the chorus was shouted, but the verse made it clear that the words were resolutely heartfelt—a hit-friendly formula that has long served the band well.
On the Foos’ new double disc, In Your Honor, Grohl’s love-gone-obsessive angst has finally subsided—to be replaced by angst of both the love-gone-bitter and love-gone-nihilistic varieties. The album’s hammering first single, “Best of You,” is partly a Dear Jane letter full of self-loathing contradiction. “I got another confession to make/I’m your fool,” it quietly begins. But it’s not long before Grohl, propelled by Taylor Hawkins’ pounding drums and hollering all the while, reconsiders: “My heart is under arrest again/But I’ll break loose…/I swear I’ll never give in/I refuse.” Then, three tracks later, in the anthemic “The Last Song,” Grohl swears again that he’s letting go, bellowing, “This is the last song that I will dedicate to you/Made my peace and now I’m through.”
If it weren’t for the duet with Norah Jones, we’d never believe him. But on his band’s fifth long-player, the head Foo does indeed seem to have found a peace of sorts. Instead of making another disc on which the hard stuff has a soft underbelly and the ballads have an edge, Grohl & Co. have deconstructed and compartmentalized their sound into two discs. Half of the new record’s tracks are turbopop intended to be more ferocious than anything the band has offered before. But half are acoustic numbers mellowed to, evidently, Norah Jones levels.
Obviously, it’s unlike anything Grohl has attempted before. And clearly, it’s what he had in mind when earlier this year he told Rolling Stone, “I wanted to have songs that make people beat the shit out of each other the first time they hear them.” For some fans, the violence will begin in earnest when Grohl and Jones start cooing “Deeearest constellaaation” on “Virginia Moon,” begging you to join them in the lounge with brushed drums and a “Girl From Ipanema” beat. For others, it’ll come later, when they’re wondering why it took their acoustic-itchy hero 20 tracks to avoid, as Grohl has suggested, “show[ing] up to the Reading Festival with a harpsichord.”
Disc 1—the rockers—though by far the more satisfying of the two, falls a little short of the one-sheet’s allegation that it’s “heavy as fuck.” Recorded at the band’s freshly built Studio 606 in Los Angeles and produced by Velvet Revolver knob-twiddler Nick Raskulinecz, the 40-minute rock block may be as loud and driving as, say, “Stacked Actors” or “All My Life,” though no more so. And as usual, the angry vocals and thick guitars are all polished to a shine. Things kick off with In Your Honor’s infectious title song, with guitarist Chris Shiflett’s fuzzy three-chord intro giving way to a question from Grohl: “Can you hear me/Hear me screaming?” Through most of these 10 songs, that’s definitely not a problem—even if all the growling eventually starts to seem like a desperate bid to sound raw despite the music’s glossy surfaces.
With Grohl apparently unable to resist gracing each with radio-friendly hooks, nearly all of the songs on In Your Honor’s first half could reasonably be headed for the charts—in fact, two of them, the Hüsker Dü– lite “Resolve” (“Looking back to find my way/Never seemed so hard”) and the part-grinding, part-soaring “The Deepest Blues Are Black” (“You don’t have to tell me/I know where you’ve been”), can be best classified as power ballads. A few may sound awfully familiar—there are shades of both “This Is a Call” and “Monkey Wrench” melodies in “No Way Back” and “DOA.” But hey, it’s almost summer, and once you get past Grohl’s too-insistent raging, the lot is certainly worthy of a road trip.
Disc 2, however—well, some music isn’t suited even for grocery-store runs. Especially “Still,” the solemnly creepy number that opens In Your Honor’s second half—though in this case, creepy isn’t such a bad thing. Sounding nearly prayerful and backed by droning “oh”s and a rim-played rhythm, Grohl references broken bones, things deep beneath the dirt, and an alcohol-fueled suicide plunge off a bridge, then demands, “Promise I will be forever yours/Promise not to say another word.” It’s all quietly disturbing—and yet another five-minute argument to make a mental note: “Do not date Dave Grohl.”
If only the remaining nine tracks were even close in power. The ballads here, including “What If I Do,” “Miracle,” and “Another Round,” are limp and forgettable, with not even guest stars Petra Haden (on violin) and Danny Clinch (adding harmonica) doing much to bolster the proceedings on the first two. (And the less said about Grohl’s venture into smooth-jazz territory, the better.) The disc closes with two stronger offerings: the uptempo “Cold Day in the Sun,” on which Hawkins takes lead vocals to do his best Johnny Resnick imitation in a jangly-guitar, alt-countryish number that would fit right in to the Goo Goo Dolls’ repertoire, and the spare, dulcet “Razor,” which gives the vocals back to Grohl and is at first accompanied only by the lilting fingerpicking of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme.
So, generously, three acoustics out of 10 hit. Combine that with seven or eight of In Your Honor’s rockers—dropping, say, the ones that sound most like retreads—and Grohl would have himself one damn fine album. As it stands, I’d advise simply ticking some well-selected tracks off your iPod—and taking comfort if your love life isn’t as messed up as Grohl’s. Whether you beat the shit out of somebody is completely up to you.CP