I’m a simple gal. I like simple things like good, ole fashioned rock and roll. While I do enjoy a wide variety of genres and styles (like most people), my favorites tend to skew pretty main stream. What I mean by that is my favorite artists aren’t going to be underground artists you’ve never heard of.
One of those favorites has been, and always will be, the Foo Fighters. Their songs, and often times entire albums, have been the soundtrack to personal experiences and tragedies in my life. Dave Grohl is my personal Jesus. They’re rock gods to me. Their MO is to just keep evolving, putting out good tunes, and being the absolute coolest dudes to get a beer with.
One day I’m sure I’ll write about my favorite album, Wasting Light. Before that came out in 2011, One by One was firmly in the number one spot since I had been a fan. But, as you can tell from the title, this article isn’t about either of those albums. Why not?
Because on a road trip recently, I got a song stuck in my head that I had to find and listen to. It was “No Way Back”. So I listened to the whole double album for In Your Honor, reminiscing, rocking out, and pondering.
Made after their 2004 tour in support of One by One, the double album was born out of Dave Grohl’s desire to not censor himself, and instead make acoustic songs and rock songs on the same album. Why limit yourself to just big rock songs? Or having to do a different project for something like acoustic songs?
It’s an ambitious effort, but the production value is weak compared to most of their other albums. Loud mixes are prevalent. Sometimes the instruments are just a distracting mess. Other times, the voices are quiet compared to the guitar, and especially, the drums. I know they wanted the first half to be loud, but you can do loud without being indecipherable. The slow half of the album feels, to this day, pretty boring overall. In Your Honor was really pushed as this loud vs. soft double album at the time of its release, but it doesn’t have two albums worth of material. Do all double albums fall victim to this? Who’s to say. (Me. And I say, yeah, that’s a problem.)
All of that to say though: the album is still really fucking good.
I’ve always been a rock fan, so the rock half especially still holds up pretty well. It’s such a strong set, top to bottom. The Foo’s classic sound, devoid of fads or overt trends of the era, still gets me pumped up. There’s nothing to overly date this as being from 2005–cementing the Foo Fighters as a timeless rock act. I personally may be biased by my own nostalgia for the album, but being as objective as possible, there’s still a lot of good content here.
The acoustic half is the weaker half, but it’s certainly not as bad as I used to think. My problem with it is that it seems to lack a clear identity, besides being the “soft” side. Dave said it didn’t have a specific genre or style, for a reason, but it could have used a bit more direction. There are some gems in there, and to be fair, it’s not a poor effort by any means. Trying something new is always commendable and they definitely pulled it off. But is it some amazing acoustic masterpiece? No. I don’t know that it needs to be though.
My favorite way to retro review albums though is to rank the songs! So let’s do that. Splitting up the discs into separate rankings, of course. Let’s get to ranking In Your Honor!
Disc 1 – The Rock Side
10. “Resolve” – Easily my least favorite, and it always has been. It’s not a skippable offense, by any means. But I don’t think it’s particularly good, and that’s because of the melody and vocal performance. Love you, Dave, but what were you doing? “A little bit of reSALVE–is what I need noooOOOOOOOoooowwww”. Also, this could have easily been reworked for the soft side. I think that was always my complaint. It’s put on the “rock” half that’s loud and in your face, but this song is more chill and dances on the border of being a country song.
9. “Deepest Blues are the Blacks” – I’m already finding it hard to rank these. This song is such a jam. Ultimately, I put it here because the lyrics feel kind of “fake deep”, at times. I know Dave is a passionate dude. I know that a lot of their songs come from the heart. I also know that sometimes words are just words. That’s fine. This song still hits hard and feels really passionate and raw at times.
8. “Hell” – This is only so low because it’s short. But it sure packs a punch in a short time.
7. “End Over End” – This is a great closer song: it’s got good lyrics, kick ass riffs, and a catchy hook. In fact, it’s too catchy. The end gets a little monotonous and the obnoxious feedback that goes on for like a minute straight at the end is enough to drive someone insane. The rest of the song is so good though. I love the emotion Grohl sings with in the verses and chorus. It has a good composition the way the verses and choruses flow into one another. Lyrics like “end over end, I’m circling” do lend itself for a loop-style structure, I suppose.
6. “The Last Song” – Hey, it’s a list ranking bingo! This is also Track 6 on the album. Love how this sounds like a fight song. Plus, it’s a spiteful song about an ex, which is something we can all relate to. It always gets me hyped up to kick some ass, or go to a pep rally, or a homecoming game (something feels distinctly high school about it). There’s some pop punk vibes that I’m definitely digging.
5. “Free Me” – This was my favorite song for awhile. Wrought with emotion and packed with all the loud, crunchy guitars that a grunge girl could dream of. And Grohl screams his lungs out, too. Great for when you’re feeling angsty and moody and your parents won’t leave you alone. I don’t know if Grohl was inspired by anything in particular, or if he channeled someone else’s story to write this, but he’s always been good at conveying emotion. My favorite part is when he asks with such conviction, “Can you free what’s keeping you?” Which leads right into him belting, “Well I need somebody to….Free me.” Except he screams it. And it’s great. And it’s impossible not to feel things.
4. “In Your Honor” – I’ve never really liked this as a song because it feels like your standard intro song: a glorified trailer for the album introducing tones and themes to come, but ultimately not being a great standalone song. So why put it so high? Because it’s an experience. I picture a whole music video when I hear this song. I go to another place in my mind when I hear this song. I can’t not start my In Your Honor listen without the title track, come on, now.
The beginning of the track sound like a plane gearing up to take flight. There’s a palpable tension as the song builds with guitar riffs. Then, Grohl’s voice breaks through:
“Can you hear me? Hear me screamin’?
Breaking in the muted skies.
This thunder heart, like bombs beating,
Echoing a thousand miles”
It doesn’t mean much when you look at it, but when you hear it. It does sound like his scream is breaking in the muted skies, like god damn. As I hear this and the song continues to unfold before me, I think about beginnings. Events, and people, and moments that signal new beginnings. Changes. Birth. Rebirth. Renaissance. I think about people who sacrifice for others, for the greater good. I think about those who sacrifice for themselves. I think about achieving dreams. About a world of harmony and synergy. About purpose and meaning and what we’re all doing here. How we all have some common ground, part of a story we share with someone.
As the music continues to build, with the guitars climbing toward a climax, the drums adding a powerful backdrop and Grohl’s screams over top, I see all these visuals unfold: people conquering their fears and achieving their dreams; coming from different cultural, societal, and economic backgrounds; highlighting their personal sacrifice for a greater gain; giving their all for various important reasons. I get chills every time.
That’s why it’s more than a trailer song. And more than a song, in general, really. At least, to me.
3. “DOA” – Okay, this probably isn’t a top 3 song. If I were a real song critic, I’d call it a “fluff” song and rank it much lower. But I’m not a real critic and I don’t know shit. I do love music, and this song has always been a favorite. It’s fun, it’s catchy, it’s cool. I also really dig the lyrics. Here are my two favorite lines:
Never say forever, ’cause nothing lasts
Dancing with the bones of my buried past
I’m finished, I’m getting you off my chest
Made you come clean in a dirty dress
I don’t have any good, justifiable reasons to rank it at 3 except I like it a lot. And in the courthouse of the Queen, that’s enough.
2. “No Way Back” – This song fluctuates around the top for me a lot. It’s never far from number 1 though and for good reason: it’s a kick ass, pump-me-up kind of rock song that always makes me feel like I can do anything. But are there more qualities needed to be number one? A lot of this album gets me hype. What makes this one special? Well, you see, dear reader who didn’t actually ask, it’s because of something called nostalgia. I’m not going to try to dance around it. The solo is weak sauce shit on the studio version. The guitars themselves sound watered down, either due to production or because of the type of guitar they’re using, maybe? I honestly have no idea. But what I do know is that I used to rock out to this song a lot and we bonded. Me and the song. So, there you go. No one ever called me objective.
1: “Best of You” – This song did commercially well and is still considered by fans to be one of their best. And it’s understandable why: many, if not most, of Dave’s songs come off so incredibly sincere because of the raw emotion he puts into his voice. This is one of my favorite examples of how he enhances the story in the lyrics through his vocal performance. He sells it so well I’m convinced it’s autobiographical. I have been moved to tears on some occasions, when I’m going through something, and I hear this song at the reprise/bridge part (I don’t know the musical terminology well enough): “I’ve got another confession, my friend. I’m no fool. I’m getting tired of starting again, somewhere new.” The way his voice changes from hard and aggressive to soft and vulnerable, sounding like it might break at one point. Fantastic. I don’t care if it’s not cool to like hit songs or singles from the album. Mark it down! “Best of You” is my favorite!!!
Disc 2 – The Acoustic Side
10. “Miracle” – The composition and melody are okay, but there’s something very dull and unappealing about the lyrics and vocal delivery. This one was a total miss for me. Similar to “Resolve”, I just can’t get over, “hands on a MIRAACCCCUUUULLLLLLLEEEE OOHHHUUHHHH.” It’s…not good.
9. “Friend of a Friend” – Though it was written in the 90s, Grohl chose 2005 to release this song about Kurt Cobain. I can see why he waited. Maybe the melody and approach didn’t fit in with other records, or maybe the lyrics just weren’t super strong. I know I’m supposed to revel this as a rare glimpse into Cobain and Grohl’s friendship, but it sounds like he kept his first draft lyrics, for one. It also lacks the emotional depth and vulnerability that I’d expect a true story to have.
8. “Cold Day in the Sun” – If you’ve read my review and rankings of Concrete and Gold, you would already know that the other Taylor Hawkins-led song the Foo Fighters have in their catalog fared significantly better than this one. “Cold Day in the Sun” sticks out like a sore thumb on this side of the album. It’s trying to do a lot of things at once and not really succeeding at any of them. There are some nice moments, but just enough to land it here.
7. “On the Mend” – On the one hand, this is an unremarkable song that leaves you with no memory of it on your first listen (or 2nd, or 10th) of the album. But if I could offer two things in its favor, it’s these two : 1) the lyrics are pretty nice, and 2) the song lulls you into a false sense of security, repeating the verse-chorus-verse structure, before breaking into a total left-field turn with the lines, “Was it you? Sat alone. Here we go.” I don’t know what the fuck that means, but it sounds really nice with the shift in melody and tone. It’s my favorite part.
6. “Still” – The riff seems to constantly build up to something that never comes, with its lack of chord progression. It just repeats, making you think there’s a big breakdown or shift just around the corner. But somehow, despite how infuriating I find the unfulfilled anticipation of the melody, it somehow crept its way up this list. There are a lot of really beautiful and nuanced moments in it: the piano notes sprinkled throughout, the guitar notes that sound really similar to “Let It Die” (2 years before its release), Grohl’s vocals, the harmony in the background. Just sucks that it’s taken me years and multiple close listens to notice that over the unresolved tension in the song.
5. “Virginia Moon” – This is a pretty song, especially with Norah Jones’ contribution. Honestly, big props to the Foo for doing an actual bossa nova song on this album. Grohl’s voice sounds really soft and nice, too, which is not the voice he puts on for all these songs. I really like the approach, vibe, and structure of this one. Unfortunately, I find it a little boring though, which feels bad to say, seeing how much effort went into it. Great job doing something new, but it lands here for mostly technical reasons and not emotional ones.
4. “What If I Do?” – My favorite thing about this song is the folksy-sounding lyrics and gorgeous verses. My least favorite thing is the chorus kind of negates all of that. It just doesn’t match the energy and earnestness that the rest of the song has. Grohl really wants to go to those howling-like, rock vocals, and it doesn’t fit here. The problem is: I’m annoyed enough to want to drop this down the list, but I really don’t like anything else enough to raise it to 4. At least the verses in “What If I Do?” make me feel something. So it stays.
3. “Another Round” – This folksy song doesn’t let simplicity deprive it of character or feeling, with a harmonica solo, sparing violin, and John Paul Jones on mandolin. It’s a really good song that has somehow flown under my radar over the years. I’ve come to really love “Another Round” and would put this firmly in S-Tier, if this had been a graded list. I enjoy the melody and minimalism–it sounds like someone singing from their porch about their estranged lover.
2. “Over and Out” – I really wrestled with this and “Another Round” for number 2. Both of them grew on me immensely while writing this list. “Over and Out” quickly gained my favor because it’s the darkest song on the acoustic half (maybe the whole double album), but beyond that, I’ve struggled to write something that legitimizes why it’s number 2. But, let’s not pretend I’ve always loved this song or knew it was this great. In fact, I have to credit a song that came out two years later, “Stranger Things Have Happened”, for why it’s actually this high on the list.
The riff of “Over and Out” always makes me think of “Stranger Things”. Plus, they share a similar tone and content. But “Stranger Things” came out later? If anything, I should consider the latter to be somewhat of a rip-off! Except, “Stranger Things” is far superior. Since it took so long for me to dissect and properly review this half of the album, I can’t help what I’m influenced by. I’m not saying that Dave took this song and inspired himself to create “Stranger Things Have Happened”. But what I AM saying is that my thinking of them as sister songs only helps “Over and Out”. They’re both dark, sullen, pained; have good composition and structure; and make me feel things. That’s nothing but a compliment.
1. “Razor” – I never had a favorite on this side of the album until I became an adult. It was never close, either. This one is the clear standout, and the only one whose position I knew immediately when I made this list. It’s melody is based around a repeating riff of beauty and optimism that climbs and falls effortlessly. It’s neverending–everlong, if you will. Absolutely makes the track. I don’t usually pay much attention to the lyrics on this one, and I don’t know if it matters. It could be an instrumental and I would be moved by it. Josh Homme plays rhythm guitar on this, and it’s the crescendo of guitars, almost dueling one another toward the end, that elevates this song to otherworldly. I don’t know if the other two great songs of this half would make it to my personal Greatest Foo Fighter Songs Ever List, but no doubt in my mind that “Razor” would be there.
Well, that’ll do it!
This blog is all about music. Retro reviews, tracklist rankings, sometimes new reviews, first impressions, and song highlights. I post when I want about what I want. It’s my wonderful world of music, after all.