Foo Fighters hits are so commercial-jingle catchy, it’s miraculous that rock music made it some five decades without someone stumbling upon such glaringly obvious melodies. The hooks from “Hero” and “Learn to Fly,” for example, must have drifted straight from the primordial mists, waiting for someone to harness their undeniable enthusiasm. The opening track from the Foo Fighters’ latest two-disc collection seems spliced together from established songs, Radiohead’s “Sulk” and Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People,” but the mash-up works so well as to posit that “In Your Honor” has always existed and the others were fragments that the other groups snatched.
That revelation aside, In Your Honor sees the group distancing itself from its overeager aesthetic. On the electric disc, Dave Grohl’s gentle croon gives way to aggressive shouts, the percussion percolates like tar-spiked coffee and the distorted guitars hover above the din like ominous air-raid sirens. Instead of maintaining constant melodic momentum, Grohl lets his verses smolder, then springs the choruses with surprising intensity.
The low-volume side approaches a deeper shade of black, culminating in the swampy suicide note “Razor.” The group’s ubiquitous unplugged remake of its hit “Times Like These” suggested a certain formula for its acoustic material (same bombast, slightly muted), one that, with a few mediocre exceptions, it totally ignores here. These feel like genuinely intimate creations, not arena anthems that have had their electricity forcibly removed in post-production. News of a Norah Jones collaboration raised eyebrows, but “Virginia Moon” turns out to be a subtle samba —Grohl’s voice so dominates his duet partner’s, her presence is reduced to a mere shadow. These expertly executed songs feel as inevitable as the band’s previous material, but this time Foo Fighters have stepped out of the rock-radio realm and beaten some tortured singer-songwriter to the punch.