Young, restless rock star Dave Grohl must feel a whole lot older than his 36 years. Raised in the Washington area, the well-worn talent has already amassed a whirlwind resume: former drummer for genre-defining grungers Nirvana, current front man for best-selling pop-rockers the Foo Fighters, maniac behind speed-metal project Probot, prolific special-guest drummer for such big, bad bands as Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails.
Then there's his Ozzyload of personal travails: dealing with Kurt Cobain's death, Kurt Cobain's widow and, to some extent, Kurt Cobain's looming legacy -- even though Grohl has proven just as talented as the accursed Bard of Seattle. (Save your stamps, flannel flock. You know it's true.)
The Foo Fighters -- whose fifth album, "In Your Honor," was released yesterday -- have gone through all manner of rocky lineup changes. Still, the band has been good therapy for the foremost Foo, who has shared his life on a cocky post-Nirvana debut, a pop-based follow-up, a high-concept third outing and a fourth album devoted to bad love.
Grohl even invented a profitable new sound along the way, smoothly blending grunge's anger with sleek, clean choruses that shine like SoCal sunsets.
So with all that history, and with all those rock-star cliches under his belt, what's a Foo to do to keep things interesting?
Why, make a big, bloated double album, of course, with 10 tracks devoted to rage and rumble, and another 10 of whispery, acoustic-based ballads. A celebration of the band's 10th anniversary -- drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarist Chris Shiflett and bassist Nate Mendel complete the quartet -- this is the album that will forever divide Foo fans into Those Who Liked "In Your Honor" and Those Who Returned "In Your Honor" And Used the Money to Buy Another Back Tattoo.
Grohl has said "In Your Honor" is a gift to his fans, an outpouring of his cumulative thoughts and emotions. The disappointing truth, however, is that despite the twin-platter presentation, the album often sounds uninspired. For the first time, Grohl just doesn't have that much to say: The songs are Matchbox 20 deep at best. Imagine a Foo Fighters album without the window-smashing highs and a lot fewer singalongs. It's not bad -- but it ain't all that great, either.
You could even say that Grohl has already made this album, and he did it much better the first time. The phenomenal "There Is Nothing Left to Lose" (1999) was a conceptual travelogue as Grohl and Co. lambasted the phoniness of Los Angeles with a handful of ferocious slapshots then "musically" moved across the country to Virginia, where the honesty and realness of the Old Dominion was celebrated with tingly alt-country charmers.
Not only was it a smart idea, but almost all of the songs were endlessly catchy and radio dynamite. "In Your Honor" also addresses Grohl's split personality, but here there's no genuine emotion -- on the hard songs or the soft -- and most of those glorious hooks have gone missing.
Before getting lost in a loud, lackluster drone of chugga-chugga power chords and ho-hum aggression, Disc 1 holds a few fine moments. The title track gets hard, harder, hardest, with Grohl's underrated voice unleashing that trademark two-step of throat-scraping rebel yells and Beach Boys-style sunniness. "No Way Back" and "Best of You" sound like surly leftovers from 2002's breakup disc "One by One," with Grohl going from solemn to Satanic in seconds, and Hawkins -- think the Muppets' Animal in human form -- flailing away with a sinister sense of rhythm. The album's best cut, "DOA," is an apocalyptic mosh of "we're doomed" lyrics -- "It's a shame we have to die my dear / No one's getting out of here alive" -- and an out-of-nowhere chorus that you could surf, too.
A few synthy swirls and prickly guitar work appear here and there on the perilously mellow Disc 2, but there just aren't enough twists to keep the pretty approach from becoming pretty dull. Opening song "Still" ("If you'd like to walk awhile / We could waste a day") stands out as the best tune on the soft side, but perhaps that's because I listened to the discs back-to-back and my ears were thankful for the rest. And "What If I Do" has an easy-breezy campfire charm and a wistful vibe.
Significant ballyhoo has surrounded jazz-folkstress Norah Jones's cameo on "In Your Honor," but her duet with Grohl, "Virginia Moon," will no doubt induce cringes back at the Foo Fan Club. Sure, she knows her slinky way around a bossa nova, but Grohl sounds like a hobo who wandered in off the street.
Album closer "Razor" starts off as a classical gas, as Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme trade fluttery guitar parts back and forth. But then the lyrics kick in -- "Sweet and divine / Razor of mine" -- and things go bad-teen-poetry in a hurry.
If you take both discs and do a little iPod paring, there's a nice mix to be had here. Taken as a massive whole, however, "In Your Honor" gives Grohl a dubious new entry on his otherwise impressive resume: "career disappointment."