by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
In Your Honor (2005, RCA)
Sporting twenty songs stretched out over two discs, many are likely to claim, as is so often said of double albums, that In Your Honor is overly long, but, while there may be a bit of filler here, it’s also hard to imagine the album being sequenced any other way, and combining all the best songs on a single disc likely wouldn’t have worked (or at least not nearly so well), if for the simple reason that the songs are just so radically different from each other. [In Your Honor, for the unfamiliar, is comprised of a full disc of some very raucous rockers, while the package’s second disc goes the polar-opposite route, the band allowing itself the freedom to indulge their softer side to a greater degree than they have on any prior disc. Not every band is quite so talented and multifaceted to be able to pull off this very difficult balancing act, but then, not every hard rock band has a leader with quite as much of a fondness for a light and pretty melody as Grohl has.] And, boy, do these guys ever rock up a storm on the package’s first half, tearing through such heated – and wickedly infectious – ragers as “D.O.A.” (easily one of the band’s most criminally underrated singles), the Top 40 hit “Best of You” (later memorably covered at the Super Bowl by, of all people, Prince, surprisingly enough), and the title track while also crafting a brilliantly Cheap Trick-esque midtempo slice of power-pop in “Resolve.” But it’s perhaps the second disc that’s the most eye-opening, as the band reveals a gift for crafting stunningly gorgeous, sparse acoustic tunes like “Miracle,” “What If I Do?” and “On the Mend” while Grohl also expertly croons his way through the laid-back bossa-nova duet “Virginia Moon” with jazz-pop star Norah Jones and drummer Taylor Hawkins takes over the mike on the infectious acoustic rock of “Cold Day in the Sun.” Is there some filler? Absolutely. But it’s still a tour de force all the same and ultimately ends up being only slightly less satisfying than There Is Nothing Left to Lose.
Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace (2007, RCA)
A real grower of an album (in spite of being nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year, the band’s first disc to receive that distinction), the songs here aren’t nearly as immediately infectious as the band’s best singles from prior discs (even the album’s leadoff single, “The Pretender,” isn’t nearly so memorable as “D.O.A.” from the last record), but with just a bit of patience, the hooks start to bubble to the surface and work their charms on you. Aside from “The Pretender” and the equally intense “Erase/Replace,” the band tends to fare best here when they lay back a little, whether on such breezy mid-tempo fare as “Cheer Up, Boys (Your Makeup Is Running)” or “Long Road to Ruin,” the largely acoustic but no less dramatic “But, Honestly” (which starts off in sparse fashion but builds to a gripping metallic crescendo) or the pure balladry of “Stranger Things Have Happened.”
Wasting Light (2011, RCA)
Arguably the band’s most overrated record, it’s certainly not without its charms. Butch Vig – the drummer for Garbage and, more significantly, the producer of many an iconic ‘90s rock album, including Nevermind by that other band Dave Grohl used to be in – has been brought in to produce, while Grohl’s ex-Nirvana bandmate Krist Novoselic comes in to play on “I Should Have Known,” ex-Husker Du frontman Bob Mould cameos on “Dear Rosemary,” and Tubes lead singer Fee Waybill sings backup on “Miss the Misery.” The band also garnered enormous attention for its public boasts about recording the album in old-school fashion on analog tape and proving it by including a slice of the master tape in each of the initial copies of the CD. But though it makes for a fairly impressive album piece, it’s clear at this point that Grohl’s prior knack for turning out effortlessly hooky modern-rock songs is really beginning to escape him, and the lead-off single “Rope” just never quite fully sinks in no matter how many times you might try to crack its code. The band seems less concerned with its melodies here than in proving that they’re the saviors of rock in a Top 40-radio climate that was steadily and sadly becoming very much devoid of guitars and live drums. This isn’t to say the album is completely lacking for hooks – they’re there, if a bit more hidden. The band’s simply just not very good at picking singles anymore, all the best songs here (among them “Walk,” “Bridge Burning,” and, even better, the infectious “These Days” and “Arlandria”) only seeing single release following “Rope” and the equally forgettable “White Limo.” It’s still a fairly solid album, just one that falls well short of the hype it received at the time and is ultimately no more or less satisfying than its immediate predecessor.
Sonic Highways (2014, RCA)
Unfortunately, the band became just a bit too self-important in the years following In Your Honor, and Sonic Highways is a slightly pretentious exercise that finds the band deliberately and literally travelling all across the country (from Seattle and Austin to New Orleans and Nashville, to name just four of the cities the band recorded at) for inspiration, no two songs having been recorded in the same studio. Furthermore, each song sports a different famous guest, ranging from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (seriously!) on “In the Clear” to Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard on “Subterranean.” The band’s determination to maintain its rock credentials is still clouding their judgement when it comes to picking songs to push for radio play, and “Something for Nothing” (in spite of featuring the great Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick on guitar) is a strangely not-especially-catchy song to have chosen as the lead-off single. That questionable decision aside, there are some more immediate tunes to be appreciated here, namely the aforementioned “In the Clear,” “Congregration” (featuring Zac Brown),” and “Outside” (featuring Joe Walsh), but with only eight songs here, some of it still filler, the disc definitely feels too brief to feel nearly as satisfying as any of the prior full-lengths, even in its best moments.
Concrete and Gold (2017, RCA)
Grohl and his bandmates are trying a bit harder here to shake up their usual formula, which resulted in the disc getting the band’s best reviews from the rock press in many a year, but the praise was admittedly a bit excessive. (But then, in a mainstream-radio climate so devoid of true, bona fide rock bands, I guess even a rock record of this quality is still pretty welcome, and it is nice to see the band trying to take more chances.) As an album piece, this holds together much, much more cohesively than Sonic Highways, and the band is definitely trying some interesting things here – even bringing in such unlikely guests as The Bird and the Bee’s Inara George on “Dirty Water,” Justin Timberlake on “Make It Right,” Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman (no, seriously) on the title cut, and – wait, this gets even weirder – smooth-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz on “La De Da.” [I swear I’m not making that up. Read the liner notes and see for yourself.] Oh, and some guy named Paul McCartney – you may have heard of him – pops up to play drums on “Sunday Rain.” But Grohl is still suffering enormously from paying greater attention to playing really loudly and maintaining his rock cred than he is on his melodies, which just don’t stick the overwhelming majority of the time, “Run” arguably being the band’s least infectious lead-single to date. (Why the band has been in the habit in recent years of picking such wildly uncommercial songs to preview their respective parent albums is a bit of a head-scratcher.) The disc does get more appealing with such more approachable sides as the unfortunately-titled “La De Da” (a far greater song than you might expect at first glance of the lyric sheet) or the stark “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” (which calls to a mind a grungier version of the Beatles circa Abbey Road), but if you ignore the band’s still-solid instrumental prowess and focus solely on the songwriting, there’s really not a whole lot more here to grab onto than there was on Sonic Highways, even though it’s still easily more satisfying than that disc.
Your sole option at the moment is the 2009 package Greatest Hits. Like a lot of other modern-day best-of discs, it suffers from including a handful of new cuts (three in all, out of sixteen total tracks) as sales bait at the expense of better-known material, so “I’ll Stick Around” and “D.O.A.” have both criminally been left out here. (In fact, In Your Honor is sadly and strangely only represented here by just one song, “Best of You.”) But, overlooking those two omissions, the disc otherwise does a fine job of rounding up all the essentials, from “Big Me,” “My Hero,” and “Everlong,” to “Learn to Fly,” “All My Life,” and “The Pretender.”
The lone official live full-length CD from the band to date is 2006’s acoustic Skin and Bones. It’s fairly entertaining, but it’s not representative of your standard Foo Fighter show, of course, not to mention that many of the songs are plucked from the half-acoustic In Your Honor, which makes the album partly redundant, and the disc might have been more intriguing had the band opted to choose more of their harder-edged material to re-envision.