Drowned in Sound: Foo Fighters: Skin and Bones

Drowned in Sound
Foo Fighters: Skin and Bones
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

There are few positions less enviable than life in the shadow of Nirvana. Former drummer Dave Grohl, however, has done what he can not to dwell there. Despite lending his near-legendary drum talents to countless artists since, Grohl's biggest step out has been as the frontman for Foo Fighters. The band has taken heat from Nirvana loyalists over the years for its mainstream-friendly anthems, so consider Skin and Bones to be the response. In a live acoustic setting, all pretenses are gone and only the songs remain.
Such an environment is as hard to handle as it sounds. One of the big problems with "unplugged" albums is the tendency to lose dynamics in some songs. Some music is not meant to be played without amplification; anything that relies heavily on feedback or sustain will not translate well. On Skin and Bones, Foo Fighters avoid the traps by cutting out the most distortion-heavy stuff (namely "Monkey Wrench," from the seminal The Colour and the Shape) and using a few electric instruments to add to the performance.
Among the plugged-in equipment are a keyboard and a clean electric guitar, both of which are used sparingly. Yet there are often more instruments and even vocalists on a track than you might expect. Skin and Bones could be aptly described as "half-plugged," eschewing straight minimalism because it isn't the best way to play these songs. The general musicianship is nothing mind-expanding, but it's hard to mind much because everything just fits.
Surprisingly, Grohl's voice is actually the cleanest instrument of all in this performance. Ratcheting down from his typical belting to a vulnerable middle range, Grohl is literally spellbinding. This only changes near the end in "Best of You," which Grohl introduces by telling the enthusiastic crowd, "I can't let you guys get off without screaming at you for a couple minutes." And scream Grohl does; the resultant energy is truly punk and most impressive for a solo acoustic/vocal spot.
It's an all-too-short burst that serves to point out the album's most obvious flaws. If Grohl would have done a little screaming during "Everlong," it would have capped an otherwise goose-bump inducing epic. Without Grohl adding more vocal juice, it stops just short of greatness. Skin and Bones is also back-loaded and needs a more recognizable song in the top of the set list. The album sometimes runs together as well, partially thanks to Grohl's diminished range and the more intimate mood.
But that weakness of Skin and Bones can also be its strength. This is a rare album that is unified enough to capture the ear's attention and not let go if consumed in the right frame of mind. It is dynamically a whisper in the wind, with the occasional crash against the shore. In the embrace of softer instruments and subdued performances, the music here does what Grohl has really needed it to do all along. It soars.
Rating: 4 out of 5