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.