A Tale of Two Foos

Why, oh why, can't Dave Grohl leave things alone? Why must he continue to fool with the idea of what the Foo Fighters are?

Thanks to the constant reinvention of the Foos at the hands of creator/frontman Grohl, the one-time saviors of rock and roll in the mid-90s have been reduced to a shell of their former selves -- they've even starting getting comparisons to GASP! Nickelback.

In Your Honor, the latest offering from Grohl and crew, is a 20-song, two-disc wannabe epic that allows the band to show off its electric and acoustic chops. And while the results are decidedly negative, the new album marks a dangerous precedent for the band.

On disc one, the opening track, "In Your Honor," flies by with a catchy, thumping immediacy. And for 75% of the song, it's killer. But then there's a pause, followed by a prolonged scream by Grohl and backed by drumming that is so much like Grohl's drumming on "A Song for the Dead" off of the Queens of the Stone Age album Songs for the Deaf that you can't help but think, right off the bat, that the Foo Fighters have begun slipping into some sort of self-parody.

The rest of the tracks on disc one are, indeed, loud -- Grohl screams his way through most of the songs -- but it could hardly be called electric. With the exception of that first 3/4 of track one and the album's first single, "Best of You," there isn't a memorable track in the lot -- and those that are memorable are only slightly so.

But the real issue for Foo fans comes on the "not so loud" acoustic album. So every Foos album, somewhere, has either an acoustic and/or slower song to balance off in some way the weight of the rest of the album. On the band's second-album masterpiece The Colour and the Shape, the "slower" songs are some of the most textured work offered by any band in the past 10 years. "Everlong," anyone? Beautiful.

How did the Foo Fighters, then, go from the beauty and eloquence of "Everlong" to the tripe that's on the acoustic album of In Your Honor? Between the Kurt Cobain tribute on "Friend of a Friend," the bland repetition of every other track and another foray into (I guess) self-parody (the track "On the Mend" lazily rips off one of the constantly used lyrics from "Overdrive" from One by One) is one memorable track -- "Cold Day in the Sun," which finds drummer Taylor Hawkins on lead vocals and Grohl back where he belongs, behind the drums -- and another, really scary one.

"Virginia Moon" has been much talked about thanks to it being a duet with Norah Jones. Listen to the track, though, and if you're a fan of the Foo Fighters you'll find yourself asking, "How did a Norah Jones song end up on my Foo Fighters disc?" Jones might not be the prevalent voice on the song, but her influence seizes the song, wrestling it away from the Foo Fighters. Grohl has been saying that this acoustic set is indicative of where the band will probably go in the future, and if that, and "Virginia Moon," is the case, then this is probably the curtain call for the band.

Grohl's songwriting abilities have been suspect since their previous album, One by One. There, a handful of the tracks were noteworthy entries into the Foos lexicon, but the ones that failed did so on a grand scale and it was because of the poor writing by Grohl. In Your Honor not only drives that point home, but also how poor the band's choices for album material has become.

The Foos' first couple albums are solid, from beginning to end. There is Nothing Left to Lose is an average album, yet it's successes are as grand as anything the band had accomplished to that point. But the last two albums lead die-hard fans scratching their heads, especially after hearing some of the group's b-sides. The cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki" was a shout-ridden rock orgy of a track, a fitting tribute to a song that oozes lust and sex, yet while it got major airplay it was not included on One by One. Similarly, "FFL," the b-side to "Best of You" is one of the best Foo Fighters songs since anything off of The Colour and the Shape but, chances are, most people will never hear it. It's dirty, it's angry and it's been disregarded. Why wasn't this included on the album?

Ultimately, this question of "Why?" lingers in your subconscious more than any of the songs will after listening to In Your Honor. The disc(s) was meant to be the band's Physical Graffiti, according to Grohl. Instead, it becomes bathroom scrawl -- self-parodying mediocrity that doesn't come close to a decent rock album, let alone a classic like Physical Graffiti. In fact, a lot of the songs found here sound like those latter day Van Halen albums where no one's heart is really in it. Maybe it's time for Grohl to take a step back, stop trying to make the Foo Fighters something their not and soak in the genius he's worked with over the past few years. But, then again, if it didn't rub off already it probably never will.

It's scary to think where the band goes from here. On one hand, if they make more albums that sound like In Your Honor, they risk alienating their core fan base in favor of those drunken sorority and frat types that get off on trite acoustic BS. On the other hand, if they stop making music, one of the great rock bands of the past decade will die a premature, unneeded death.

Hopefully Grohl can right the ship and get the Foos back to what they do best. In Your Honor represents strike two. The next Foos effort will either be third time's the charm -- or strike three. Please, please, please be the former rather than the latter.