Skin and Bones
fter the blow-me-down-with-a-feather surprise appeal of the acoustic half of Foo Fighters’ midlife-crisis double album In Your Honor, Norah Jones duet ‘n all, a live-acoustic victory lap was probably inevitable. It’s not a terrible idea: when the eight-piece configuration hits its stride, Skin and Bones approximates the Springsteen-ization of the Foos shiny, toothy sound, adding some satisfying clout to the acoustic numbers. But like a sixteeen-year-old’s hard-on, Grohl’s songs haven’t the finesse nor the staying power for the intimate treatment.
Skin and Bones is no MTV Unplugged. Grohl has something else in mind—warmer and more triumphal. Trouble is, unlike Nirvana, Grohl’s songs are good but seldom great. Under a conventional acoustic arrangement, “My Hero” turns, as the song suggests, quite ordinary, even ponderous in places, something never true of the original; the song’s lyrical muscle atrophies from too much gravity, or possibly too little.
About halfway through Skin and Bones, it’s uncomfortably obvious how much of Grohl’s considerable charisma is invested in his throttled howl and armored sound. In traditional registers, his rather bland voice and blander phrasing on “February Stars” sound like a second-rate folkie. “Next Year” has the cheerful sheen of a twelve-string and mandolin strummed in unison, but still meanders rather fruitlessly. “Big Me” contrives to be loungey without the unexpected class of “Virginia Moon.” Thing is, when you strip these songs to skin and bones, there’s not always a whole lot left; the secret of a good Foos song lies in the texture, as bristly and satisfying as a two-day-old beard.
Somewhat surprisingly then, the best of these performances are the sparest. The title track begins with Grohl strumming a fragile minor-key pattern and adds organ and percussive mass. Even better is Grohl’s solo take on “The Best of You,” prefaced by an acknowledgement that a Foo Fighters show that omits Grohl’s shredding isn’t worth the price of admission. As Grohl blasts through the blustery song and its insistent one-note chorus, you can hear those magnificent sinews in his neck stretching. His growl bleeds all over the acoustic strumming and simple lyrics, until he dissolves in a Howard Dean-worthy screech. The acoustic experiment was fun, but the sooner the Fighters get back to combating Foo with their full arsenal, the better.