In Your Honor (2005)
Something about the binary of electric and acoustic feels like a remnant of classic rock mentality. Of course the contemporary crop of indie artists will strip back and do an acoustic show still. But there’s a different attitude with older rock bands sometimes — “Here’s our sensitive acoustic side, here’s our aggressive rocking out side” — that feels antiquated and forced. That’s the route the Foo Fighters took for 2005’s In Your Honor, a double album comprised of one electric disc and one acoustic disc.
Five albums in, this is more or less the moment where the band began making music as “the Foo Fighters,” meaning that at this point they were far along enough that there was some abstract assumption of what a Foo Fighters album sounds like, even if one never quite did sound just like that, and this was the moment where they actively embodied that. (This is roughly the same thing U2 did with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, for another example). The first disc of In Your Honor is the moment of the Foo Fighters becoming their most quintessentially Foo Fighters-esque, with singles like “No Way Back,” “DOA,” and “Best of You” sounding like classic Foo Fighters songs that never didn’t exist. A lot of it pretty predictable, but Disc 1 has aged pretty well, becoming one of the more reliably satisfying 45 minutes of Foo Fighters music out there.
Oddly, this moment comes paired with the Foo Fighters’ decision to change it up and record an entire acoustic disc. The most intriguing bit about this is how the band would fill the empty spaces left in a format that didn’t have the same room for their charging riffs, quiet-loud structures, or Grohl’s at this point well-cultivated alt-rock roars. Opener “Still” does this better than almost any other song here, ambient background drones and carefully placed piano notes cultivating a sense of mystery and unease that was pretty foreign to the music of the Foo Fighters. Taylor Hawkins deploys a muted tom figure in the chorus of “Over and Out” that gives it a sense of drama and, in comparison to some of other songs on Disc 2, a bit more structure. The unendingly cascading notes of Shiflett’s and Grohl’s guitars in “On the Mend” rank among the prettier moments in the band’s catalog.
There’s a sense, though, of the band not having fully figured their mellow side out yet (something the expanded lineup on Skin And Bones did a good job of fleshing out). Some of the songs on Disc 2 really drone on, again getting at that issue that when the Foo Fighters go acoustic it seems to be with the idea that “slow and gentle automatically equals emotionally revealing and engaging,” where in reality some of this feels like coffee shop background music (the more uptempo “Cold Day in the Sun” actually being the prime example).
Ultimately the problem with In Your Honor, though, is that it’s a double album because it needs to be conceptually, and not because they just had twenty indispensable songs. Nothing is truly disastrous — though Disc 1’s “Free Me” feels particularly strained — but shorter halves might’ve felt tighter, even though that in turn could have resulted in the feeling of two EPs stitched together. Maybe what’s more of an issue is that the disparate halves don’t seem to have any connective tissue, don’t seem to speak to one another at all, reinforcing the idea that the stylistic split of In Your Honor is indeed a forced one.