Foo Fighters Albums From Worst To Best
The Foo Fighters’ career has been a series of improbabilities. There is the first, and most obvious hurdle: The idea that any member, let alone the drummer, would rise from the ashes of Nirvana after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and, while not necessarily defining a whole other generation of music (in the way of, say, Joy Division and then New Order), would continue to thrive commercially and artistically. This isn’t meant to downplay the roles Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic played in Nirvana — the trio that recorded the band’s two classic albums was one of those lineups you can’t imagine any other way, one of the lineups that you read about coming together through circumstance and seeming forces of nature in a way that becomes simultaneously very discouraging and untouchably inspiring if you’ve ever tried to put together a functional band yourself. And, of course, Grohl was a monster behind the kit, one of the most identifiable and beloved drummers of his generation.
The issue is that the legacy he was stepping out from under, for better or for worse and partially media-created or not, was one of Cobain being a voice of the generation, of Nirvana being a watershed cultural moment in of itself (well, alongside the other Seattle bands). It all seems heavy enough from a professional or artistic standpoint, and that’s not even beginning to reckon with the personal trauma that must have characterized Grohl’s sudden loss of his friend. In another history, Grohl accepted Tom Petty’s offer to become the full-time drummer of the Heartbreakers in ’94, or he might’ve replaced Dave Abbruzzese in Pearl Jam, and maybe he still wound up contributing to Queens Of The Stone Age or something. He’d still be one of the most respected and beloved drummers of his generation, and nobody would fault him for anything.
Thing is, not only did Grohl decide he was going to start his own musical project, he also decided to go at it as a vocalist and guitarist, and then it turned out he emerged from Nirvana with a penchant for indelible hooks and riffs that propelled his next band through a long and fruitful career. This is sort of bizarre to think about, but the Foo Fighters turn twenty in two years (or next year if you count Grohl distributing cassettes to his friends in late ’94). In lesser hands, Foo Fighters would’ve inevitably been a footnote to Nirvana, but Grohl proved himself such a consistent songwriter and able (and perpetually affable) performer that Foo Fighters have weathered multiple changes of the guard, starting with the decline of the grunge era Grohl came out of. Probably most crucially, they distinguished themselves amongst the crop of post-grunge mainstream hop-ons, whether you’re talking about the watered down alt-rock of the Collective Souls of the world or all the histrionically guttural mall-rock Vedder impressions that became inescapable as the ’90s wore on. Grohl, for his part, still trafficked in the quiet verse/loud chorus formula he’d help pound into popularity alongside Cobain, but now even when he was angsty he favored power chords that were power-pop rather than post-grunge, endorphin rush rather than moody posturing.
While the elements Grohl preferred have ensured that the albums the Foo Fighters released in the latter half of the ’90s have aged a lot better than the output of many of their contemporaries, they’ve definitively dated them in more recent years. Now Foo Fighters live on as alt-rock journeymen, on the vanguard of a next generation of classic rock. Grohl & co. never really seemed interested in bids to stay current, never dabbled in the indie-rock trends that came to rule the ’00s. When they have strayed away from their formula, it’s been rather clumsy — like their performance with Deadmau5 at last year’s Grammys. That’s the thing about Foo Fighters: they’re best when they’re dependable, and that’s really what you want them to be. A band that might not have made the album that changed your life, but has made a lot of really strong ones, which maybe you associate with a few important memories. They’re the sort of artist you don’t really want to change, moments like the Deadmau5 collaboration becoming wince-inducing like the cool but aging uncle wandering from what he does best.
If that last bit seems an ambivalent note leading into a Counting Down feature, it isn’t. The idea that bands like Foo Fighters are no longer relevant is more or less a product of writers like me deciding that fact. Yes, their sound is and forever will be rooted in a certain bygone era (whether it’s the ’90s or their own youths), but each time they seem to be flagging they come roaring back with a new sense of purpose, Grohl’s pop hooks garnering late-era hits (occasionally) as strong as their classics. It feels as if the Foo Fighters might be under-appreciated now because they’re the sort of band that keeps plugging along and you wind up taking for granted as this enjoyable thing that’s happening over there. We don’t write about them because there doesn’t seem to be a cultural narrative to attach to them. And yet, they are still a force, playing to massive crowds and winning awards. In their way, those arguments for the band’s continued relevance might ironically underline the extent to which Foo Fighters are left over from another era: a big rock band from the last time big rock bands truly dominated the mainstream. Maybe that’s where the narrative of the Foo Fighters lies, a continuing story of a band that has thwarted any number of circumstances that should have made them fade away. Instead of trivia populating the Wikipedia entry of Grohl’s life post-Nirvana, Foo Fighters have became the sort of rock band whose name will live on itself, with an engaging body of work to accompany that legacy. Here are those albums, ranked from worst to best.
One By One (2002)
Though well-received upon its release in the fall of 2002 and going on to win their second consecutive Grammy for Best Rock Album, the status of One By One in the Foo Fighters' catalog has diminished in the subsequent decade. This has to be partially attributable to the album having been mainly written off by the band themselves. In the lead-up to its release, they talked it up as usual, but as early as the press cycle for its follow up In Your Honor in 2005, Grohl was already clearly distancing himself from One By One. "I was kinda pissed at myself for the last record. Four of the songs were good, and the other seven I never played again in my life. We rushed into it, and we rushed out of it," he told Rolling Stone in 2005.
The band's distaste for One By One is understandable given the album's fraught history. Despite it being the first album with guitarist Chris Shiflett in the fold — and, consequently, the first recorded by what would become the core, longest-lasting Foo Fighters lineup — it can be viewed as a beginning only in hindsight. In reality, the band almost disintegrated in the process. There was dissatisfaction with the initial, drawn-out recording process, the band members becoming frustrated by the songs and the sheen of expensive production. There was personal strife, with infighting and drummer Taylor Hawkins suffering a drug overdose.
Eventually, they decided to give the album another go and re-recorded almost all of it in a two-week burst. The result was the released version of One By One, the ostensibly "rougher" takes. It does bear the scars of its birth, remaining one of the heavier Foos outings and their most consistently dark, but also still feels overly slick and compressed. Though the band's personal bias wouldn't usually be grounds for dismissing an album, Grohl's quote happens to be dead-on. The hooks just aren't here in the same abundance as the other Foos records. Until I listened to One By One for this piece, I hadn't gone back to it for years, and could hardly remember the titles or melodies of anything beyond the first four tracks. Not inconsequentially, these were also the songs the band deemed good enough to be released as singles. I would imagine they're also the four songs Grohl still held in high-esteem during that Rolling Stone interview.
The strength of those songs makes the overall experience of One By One all the more disappointing. Opener "All My Life" is still a Foo Fighters classic, and along with "Times Like These" remains amongst the band's most successful and recognizable singles. I've always been partial to the churning buzz of "Low," and "Have It All" effectively reversed the band's typical approach by having a riff-driven verse that tumbles into a gentler chorus. As the album goes on, though, it seriously drags, trudging through a succession of second-rate Foo Fighters material that manages to feel undercooked and overdone at the same time. There are moments of greatness here, songs that proved the band hadn't lost it. Aside from these exceptions, One By One just doesn't endure in the same way as what came before or after.
Skin And Bones (2006)
A year after the release of In Your Honor, Foo Fighters embarked on a short acoustic tour to more specifically support the second half of that album. Skin And Bones, the band's first live album, is a compilation of performances taken from a three night run in Los Angeles.
The name, derived from the acoustic b-side to the electric single "DOA" that was also later collected on the EP Five Songs & A Cover, is obvious while also being a bit of a misnomer. Sure, compared to their typical live show — really, really big guitars and drums, and Grohl's tendency to scream a lot — this would theoretically be a moment to strip back and show the emotional core of the band, to let everyone indulge a side that was, bereft of the protection that comes with distortion echoing through an arena, more instrumentally and emotionally vulnerable. The problem with that is two-fold. By featuring an expanded lineup comprised of violinist Petra Haden, The Wallflowers' Rami Jaffe on keys, Pat Smear adding some extra guitar, and percussionist Drew Hester, this was actually the most expansive and nuanced sound the band had constructed up until that point. The other thing is that this tour was less about stripping down and rearranging classic Foo Fighters songs to show their inner workings and meanings, but to rather faithfully recreate the acoustic material from In Your Honor.
Not that any of that is really that much of an issue, but it does point to how the whole affair of Skin And Bones takes the Foo Fighters into territory they don't seem entirely sure on how to navigate. What has always seemed odd about this phase of Foo Fighters history is an almost willingness to call up the ghosts of Nirvana when one would imagine they'd be most unwelcome. Grohl was of course involved in Nirvana's MTV Unplugged recording, the gold standard of a rock band going bare instrumentally to show a different side and some serious personal vulnerability. A centerpiece of both the In Your Honor acoustic disc and these shows was "Friend of a Friend," a song Grohl supposedly wrote during his time in Nirvana, and might be about watching Cobain and his struggle with addiction. Foo Fighters also began performing "Marigold," a Nirvana song Grohl had sung, but that had never been officially released until years after Cobain's death. Fans used to call out for him to perform it at the earliest Foo Fighters shows — calls which he reportedly ignored.
It's a weird spot to put themselves in. Foo Fighters have largely succeeded in moving well beyond the long shadow of Grohl's previous band. On one hand, maybe this would be the exact forum in which to revisit the pains of the past. Fair enough, but Skin And Bones, despite its title's conceit, never gets at the sort of rawness it would seem to promise. None of the old songs are too heavily re-imagined, with "Best of You" in particular being played exactly the same, just with a solo acoustic guitar. It's not that some aggrieved, ragged acoustic performance is really what you'd expect or even want from the Foo Fighters, but there's something about Skin And Bones that wants to be insular and bare, and it never quite gets to that point. There is a lot worth listening to here, but there are also moments that are a bit too safe and coffeehouse-ready, which keeps Skin And Bones from becoming as revelatory as it seems to want.
Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace (2007)
Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace took the split experiment of In Your Honor's half-electric, half-acoustic double album approach and crammed it together, not just alternating between mellow stripped back songs and rockers, but often doing both in the same song. Coupled with the experience of touring with added instruments for Skin And Bones, the band seemed more at ease with experimenting with texture, dynamics, and structure. At that point in their career, that's admirable, and it's particularly respectable that they'd try to marry the sides they had previously kept awkwardly separate on In Your Honor. The drawback is that in allowing a more expansive vision of what Foo Fighters music could try to do, the band wound up producing a somewhat schizophrenic and uneven album.
When it worked, it worked well. A song like "The Pretender," still one of the stronger latter day Foo Fighters offerings, manages to meld the melody-driven side of the band as well as their desire to have the big explosive rock moments The hybrid nature is probably most evident on "Let It Die," where serene acoustic guitars give way to chugging power chords and Grohl wailing within the span of four minutes. While in this case "dynamic variety" inevitably equated starting quiet, going big, then BIG, "Come Alive" and "But, Honestly" also use this format and remain some of the more enjoyable tracks here. The latter seems to have occasionally elicited disdain amongst the fanbase, but melodically feels like a call back to their late '90s work in a way that's refreshing rather than a rehash.
Elsewhere, the variety doesn't always work, whether it's a more classic-sounding Foos song falling flat or a bit of experimentation that just isn't a good look for the band. As Foo Fighters have gotten bigger and hung out with a lot of classic rock artists, it seems they've grown more comfortable more directly signaling the influence of their '70s childhoods, not just their '80s punk or '90s alternative sides. In addition, Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace is Grohl's first as a father, and he seems both more interested in timelessness and big ideas. A lot of people cited "Summer's End," which sounds vaguely like a really poppy Neil Young song, as one of the weaker links on the album, though I'd argue it's actually one of the ones that clicks. Its chorus is very small-screen for Foo Fighters, but an earworm in its own way. The piano ballad drag of "Statues" and "Home" (which Grohl, somewhat inexplicably, cited as the best song he's ever written upon the album's release) are where the album's experimentation stumbles.
As for the more traditional-sounding Foo Fighters songs — a lot of those fared better than I'd remembered, with "Cheer Up, Boys! (Your Make-Up is Running)," "Erase/Replace," and "Long Road to Ruin" seeming stronger than they did back in 2007. Even so, after a few listens, and when placed against similar-sounding material from earlier albums, they feel a bit inert, with the possible exception of "Cheer Up, Boys!." Foo Fighters' drive towards experimentation is respectable, and results in some moment worth revisiting, but Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace has come to feel like a transitional work, a point where the band was trying out a lot of different ideas before eventually going back-to-basics with Wasting Light in 2011.
In Your Honor (2005)
Something about the binary of electric and acoustic feels like a remnant of classic rock mentality. Of course the contemporary crop of indie artists will strip back and do an acoustic show still. But there's a different attitude with older rock bands sometimes — "Here's our sensitive acoustic side, here's our aggressive rocking out side" — that feels antiquated and forced. That's the route the Foo Fighters took for 2005's In Your Honor, a double album comprised of one electric disc and one acoustic disc.
Five albums in, this is more or less the moment where the band began making music as "the Foo Fighters," meaning that at this point they were far along enough that there was some abstract assumption of what a Foo Fighters album sounds like, even if one never quite did sound just like that, and this was the moment where they actively embodied that. (This is roughly the same thing U2 did with All That You Can't Leave Behind, for another example). The first disc of In Your Honor is the moment of the Foo Fighters becoming their most quintessentially Foo Fighters-esque, with singles like "No Way Back," "DOA," and "Best of You" sounding like classic Foo Fighters songs that never didn't exist. A lot of it pretty predictable, but Disc 1 has aged pretty well, becoming one of the more reliably satisfying 45 minutes of Foo Fighters music out there.
Oddly, this moment comes paired with the Foo Fighters' decision to change it up and record an entire acoustic disc. The most intriguing bit about this is how the band would fill the empty spaces left in a format that didn't have the same room for their charging riffs, quiet-loud structures, or Grohl's at this point well-cultivated alt-rock roars. Opener "Still" does this better than almost any other song here, ambient background drones and carefully placed piano notes cultivating a sense of mystery and unease that was pretty foreign to the music of the Foo Fighters. Taylor Hawkins deploys a muted tom figure in the chorus of "Over and Out" that gives it a sense of drama and, in comparison to some of other songs on Disc 2, a bit more structure. The unendingly cascading notes of Shiflett's and Grohl's guitars in "On the Mend" rank among the prettier moments in the band's catalog.
There's a sense, though, of the band not having fully figured their mellow side out yet (something the expanded lineup on Skin And Bones did a good job of fleshing out). Some of the songs on Disc 2 really drone on, again getting at that issue that when the Foo Fighters go acoustic it seems to be with the idea that "slow and gentle automatically equals emotionally revealing and engaging," where in reality some of this feels like coffee shop background music (the more uptempo "Cold Day in the Sun" actually being the prime example).
Ultimately the problem with In Your Honor, though, is that it's a double album because it needs to be conceptually, and not because they just had twenty indispensable songs. Nothing is truly disastrous — though Disc 1's "Free Me" feels particularly strained — but shorter halves might've felt tighter, even though that in turn could have resulted in the feeling of two EPs stitched together. Maybe what's more of an issue is that the disparate halves don't seem to have any connective tissue, don't seem to speak to one another at all, reinforcing the idea that the stylistic split of In Your Honor is indeed a forced one.
Wasting Light (2011)
There are two main things to know about the making of Wasting Light. After touring with the band in support of Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace and for Skin And Bones, original guitarist Pat Smear (also the second guitarist in Nirvana's latter days), rejoined the fold for the recording and writing of what would become Wasting Light. As a result, the band had expanded to having three full-time guitarists, which may initially seem excessive — Foo Fighters music, after all, has rarely had room or need for virtuosic guitar duels. The combination is powerful, though, the layering of three guitars resulting in some tangibly increased muscle behind Wasting Light.
Grohl also had a vision for how this one would be produced. Hoping to recapture the rougher sound of his earliest recordings under the Foo Fighters moniker, he planned to strip away the embellishments of Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace as well as the cleaner production of the last few albums preceding Wasting Light. He called in Butch Vig, who had produced Nirvana's Nevermind, and decided they were going to record the entire album on analog equipment in his garage. From that description, if you didn't know the Foo Fighters, you might expect a pretty raw-sounding record. And, well, this isn't exactly a charmingly sloppy home recording. It still sounds like a big and expensive rock album, but it does capture an energy absent from many other Foo Fighters albums, a consequence not only of all the guitars here but also the fact that they recorded the entire album live.
Even if Wasting Light doesn't sound as loose and homemade as Grohl might've intended, it does present a Foo Fighters that sound radically revitalized. This is also thanks in no small part to the fact that Wasting Light is the strongest collection of songs the band had to put together in over a decade, and by a longshot. After the bland One By One, the over-extended In Your Honor, and the uneven Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace, Wasting Light feels almost revelatory, a parade of unshakeable riffs and choruses. There were instant classics in "Arlandria" and "These Days," an unrelenting and contained epic of an opener in "Bridge Burning," and the thrashing "White Limo" actually making good on Grohl's intent to recall the band's earliest material (the only Foo Fighters songs it has anything to do with are "Weenie Beenie" and "Watershed" from the self-titled debut). The idea of going "back-to-basics" can be such an eyeroll-inducing stereotype for a rock band, and so often results in aging musicians trying to capture the spontaneity of their most youthful endeavors but coming up with something stultified. Conversely, burning away the detours of the mid-'00s is the best move the Foo Fighters have made in a long time. After years of ambivalence, Wasting Light yanked me back into paying attention to this band. As of right now it's the masterwork for the latter half of their career, and hopefully promises the possibility of more great things to come.
There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)
Though it's easy to look back on The Colour and the Shape as the moment where Foo Fighters truly "began," there's something to be said for There Is Nothing Left to Lose as a genesis point for Foo Fighters as we now know them. After a few years of personal strife, Grohl found his new band stripped down to a core trio: bassist Nate Mendel, who'd been around since the beginning, and drummer Taylor Hawkins, who had joined in time to tour behind The Colour and the Shape, but would be recording with the band for the first time. The addition of Hawkins is particularly important; he and Dave have always seemed particularly close, and he has provided a steady presence in Grohl's old seat behind the kit, thus serving as a constant foil to Grohl's permanent new role as frontman.
When looking back on the making of There Is Nothing Left to Lose, Grohl cites the camaraderie as the defining characteristic of those days. After living in L.A. for a while, a period he describes as being fairly listless, he bought a house in Virginia and proceeded to record the new album in his basement. He, Mendel, and Hawkins were all very close, and it was apparently a relaxing recording process in comparison to the struggles of The Colour and the Shape (and the struggles to come with One By One). They'd often end a day of hard work with a barbecue.
It's a laid-back, idyllic portrait of making an album, and that feeling seeps into the fabric of There Is Nothing Left to Lose. Though the rest of the world didn't get to hear it until November of 1999, the album is obviously a summer album through and through, directly linked to the time the band spent at Grohl's house. Easily the warmest of the Foo Fighters' releases, There Is Nothing Left to Lose was actually quite a shift in tone and style from its predecessors (in general, there's more variation amongst those first four Foo Fighters albums than you might remember). It's glossier and softer, an album Grohl described as being devoted more primarily to melody. Grohl hardly screams on the whole thing, instead refining his singing ability and crafting the most gorgeous melodies of his career. "Live-In Skin," "Breakout," and "Generator" pushed the power-pop elements of the Foo Fighters to the fore. "Aurora" and "Headwires" revolved around vaguely spacey late-'90s guitar to different ends, the former remaining a beloved, meditative mid-tempo respite in the midst of live sets dominated by the band's louder and more dramatic side, the latter a lost gem that pulses along calmly until boiling over into emotive choruses. The band hadn't gone entirely soft, though. Opener "Stacked Actors" mixes a sinewy groove amongst amongst the chorus' more typical Foo Fighters distorted charge. And while they certainly bear signs of the mellower side There Is Nothing Left to Lose was exploring, "Breakout" and the incredible closer "M.I.A." could both hold their own alongside many of the band's more rock-oriented music.
There Is Nothing Left to Lose wasn't just the beginning of the band as a more permanent unit. It won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2001, marking the band's first Grammy. It also had the single "Learn to Fly," the first song of the Foo Fighters' to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. For those of us who grew up in the '00s knowing the Foo Fighters as rock radio and Grammys mainstays — as, really, a rock artist that was sort of the obvious option to keep popping up in that world — this is the beginning of Foo Fighters as pop institution. Oddly, the album that did it has become more of an anomaly in their catalog. Foo Fighters never sounded this casually and assuredly infectious and pretty again, which is a shame. Aside from the strength of Wasting Light, much of the Foo Fighters' mature work has felt a little lost. There Is Nothing Left to Lose, though it has a collection of the songs it'd be hard for the band to ever match, points towards a different side of the band as strong as the one we're more familiar with, one they might do well to explore more.
Foo Fighters (1995)
Far from the arena-rock destiny that now seems as if it had been inevitable, the beginnings of the Foo Fighters were quiet and personal. Dave Grohl had written songs throughout his tenure in Nirvana, playing guitar before shows but always too intimidated by Cobain's writing to show him any of the songs. By the time Cobain died and Nirvana dissolved, Grohl had a bunch of songs stocked up, and in October of 1994, he decided to record the best ones. Responsible for every sound on the album aside from a guitar part on "X-Static" courtesy of the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli, Grohl described the experience as a frenetic, cathartic way to deal with the death of his friend. The whole thing was recorded in six days. Initially, he wanted to keep the project quiet, circulating tapes of the sessions amongst his friends and adopting the name Foo Fighters — taken from the slang term used by WWII pilots to describe UFOs — as to avoid the pressure that would be impossible to escape as a member of Nirvana making new music.
The issue of dealing with the legacy of Nirvana also came into play when it eventually came time to form a band to tour behind the self-titled debut when it saw official release in 1995. Though Grohl at first spoke with Krist Novoselic about joining his new band, they both agreed that it might attract ill will from fans who perceived it as them trying to carry on as Nirvana in a different guise. Instead, Grohl recruited Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith from the recently disbanded Sunny Day Real Estate, and rounded it all out with Pat Smear on guitar.
While this early lineup wouldn't persist, and the circumstances of the recording of Foo Fighters far differed from any album that would follow, many of the core elements of what would come to define the Foo Fighters sound were already at work. Some could be tied back to Grohl's time in Nirvana. As mentioned before, the quiet/loud formula championed by that band carried over into Foos songs like "I'll Stick Around" and "Alone + Easy Target." The guitars were still grungey and fuzzy, but more often propelled infectious, poppy melodies (in fact, Foo Fighters songs like "This Is A Call" and "Big Me" have a lightness that would rarely be glimpsed in their later work). Some things hadn't quite developed yet. Grohl's voice was gentler, not yet sure of itself, not yet too reliant on full-throated yells and rafter-seeking choruses, but already possessing power when it wanted to. The almost-psychedelic "Floaty" suggests directions that could've been, but weren't. It's not fair to call it mellow, exactly, but like There Is Nothing Left to Lose it exposes a side of Grohl unrelated to his usual rock persona, nor the occasionally flat-footed balladeer that would try to lead mellow Foo Fighters moments in the future.
Despite the traumatic experiences hanging over it, Foo Fighters has an appealingly offhand quality about it that would never be glimpsed on later Foos releases (despite Grohl's claims to be attempting to reclaim it with Wasting Light). Uptempo tracks like the gleefully scuzzy "Watershed" and "Weenie Beenie" have are coated in lo-fi charm, while the moodier tracks ("X-Static," "Exhausted") have a beautifully inviting haze. And while Foo Fighters would go on to record many propulsive rock songs, few match the unbridled charge of "Good Grief," one of the most underrated deep cuts in the Foos catalog. None of these songs needed big rock moves to burn their existence into your memory. That's not to disparage the direction they eventually followed. Foo Fighters has the feel of a one-off, and while there are elements the band maybe should've carried over from these early recordings, it would've been a mistake to try to recapture the feel of them entirely. Foo Fighters' debut is a singular experience, a sketch of what was to come by a man at a complicated crossroads in his life. Years later, its aesthetic has aged well, its version of '90s guitar rock more related to what contemporary indie or alternative artists revive than the version favored on later Foos outings. Aside from that, though, it stands as one of Grohl's best collections of songs, revealing more of itself the more time you spend within its fuzziness.
The Colour And The Shape (1997)
The Colour and the Shape was the first Foo Fighters album recorded with a full band, but as one thing came together another disintegrated. Much of the album is a response to Grohl's experience with his 1996 divorce from photographer Jennifer Youngblood, another personal life rupture. Whereas losing Cobain lead to the endearingly blurry Foo Fighters, the collapse of his marriage instead resulted in an album as focused as anything Grohl would ever put out, the record where the Foo Fighters sound and tone cohered vividly enough to lay the template against which every subsequent release was judged.
Rightfully so: The Colour and the Shape is the Foo Fighters' masterpiece, and will likely always remain as such. For a band whose albums often feel like a collection of good songs that don't necessarily have any thematic relation, The Colour and the Shape was very specific and considered. With Grohl's divorce hanging over the album, it became a narrative strand that ran through the whole experience. The album was supposedly arranged chronologically, moving from the songs that came more directly out of the chaos of his life in 1996, and into songs that pointed towards him finding some new sense of harmony in his life. Nowhere else in the Foo Fighters' body of work is there that level of personal investment so obvious in the music, and in turn it's the album that most rewards the investment of the listener.
On Grohl's end, pouring that much personal strife into his writing coincided with him coming into his own as a singer and bandleader. It's right there in "Monkey Wrench," the second track but in some ways the opener, when Grohl reaches the furious run at 2:33 (the "One last thing before I quit" part). Suddenly his voice is fuller, with more gravel to it, the singing-yell-growl thing that became the distinct element of his performance is just there, where it hadn't been at all on Foo Fighters. That song, along with "My Hero," gave the band their early classics and went some way towards establishing their primacy in the late-'90s alt-rock landscape. They became the blueprints for the modern rock hits the band would become adept at churning out with each successive album: anthemic but never cloying, hard enough to represent the band's DNA but having enough pop sensibility to become more timeless than some of the other alt-rock relics of the day. It helped that Grohl was now putting enough force behind his singing to sell the big choruses required of these songs' proposed sweep.
Those immediately recognizable, Guitar Hero territory songs have become the linchpins of The Colour and the Shape — "My Hero," "Monkey Wrench," and "Everlong," as it happens, are spaced out rather evenly across the album, the mission statement type songs around which the whole thing revolves. But the stuff that comes in between is nearly as strong, with The Colour and the Shape being more consistent than any Foo Fighters record, perhaps aside from There Is Nothing Left to Lose. "Hey, Johnny Park!" and "My Poor Brain" show the band as absolute masters of the quiet/loud moves, the latter particularly memorable for shifting between falsely blissful verses faintly cooed by Grohl into some of the band's heaviest music. There's the pissed-off swagger of "Wind Up," a song that takes on media and pop criticism culture in a way that ties back to the strains of a personal relationship. There's the overwhelming conclusion of "New Way Home," the best album closer they've ever had, and a song that should be ranked amongst their strongest.
To return to the hits for the moment: there's also "Everlong." In short, "Everlong" is the best song Grohl has ever written, one of the quintessential modern rock songs, and a master class in creating dramatic push and pull, in crafting an anthem that is just big enough without over-reaching. Everything about the song is structured perfectly, the opening clean-toned guitar continuing to ride underneath the heavier main riff, forming a sort of dual pulse (or triple, if you count the song's propulsive hi-hat work). There's so much going on here, and yet it moves along gracefully, subtly, so that when the big chorus hits it feels a logical extension of that verse's push, not a sudden and unearned bid for the life-changing chorus. "If everything could ever feel this real forever/ If anything could ever be this good again/ The only thing I'll ever ask of you/ You've got to promise not to stop when I say when," Grohl sings on the chorus. It's the kind of lyric you put into a song you know will define you. It's the kind of lyric you write when you've poured forth everything, and you know, deep-down, you've recorded your classic album.