Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘The Colour and the Shape’ from drummer turned frontman Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters..
Given that he’s been making music pretty constantly since his mid-teens, for Dave Grohl to jump straight into another project following the death of his friend and Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain must have been gut-wrenchingly cathartic.
The result was the Foo Fighters – a self-titled album by the then one-man band that Grohl was too humble to call a solo project. When ‘Foo Fighters’ picked up some serious momentum, what was probably intended as a once-off morphed into a genuine band. For the follow-up album Grohl was determined to make a record he could really be proud of, something that would put his new band on the map.
Produced by Gil Norton (hired on the basis of Grohl’s love for Norton’s work on Pixies’ ‘Trompe Le Monde’), ‘The Colour and the Shape’ was a world apart from the previous Foo Fighters album. The grungy punk aesthetic was almost entirely scrapped – with a large scale rock record assembled in its place. The composition on ‘The Colour and the Shape’ became a template that the Foo Fighters would return to again and again on subsequent albums as a default sound, shining it ever further as the line-up fluctuated and evolved into the current iteration of the band.
For all its radio-friendly big rock sound that would see Grohl leave grunge behind (bar one or two occasional nods of the head), ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is far from the typical rock record either. It may not have the raw, unpolished ferocity of grunge, but the angry, insecure and confused emotional core that underpinned the genre is still there.
The album opens with a tentative dip of the toe in the form of the lullaby-like Doll, as if Grohl is trying to get his feelings straight in his own head before the record can really let loose. But after a minute and twenty four seconds the record dives in full force with the upward swell of Monkey Wrench. The song segues effortlessly from slightly surf-y harmonic rhythms to chunky guitars, and from melodic vocals to the breathless screaming bridge “One last thing before I quit…” that sees Grohl let rip completely before reining everything back in a moment for one more hooky chorus.
Hey, Johnny Park keeps this balance going, with a slow (almost reggae) drift that flows along softly until the moment that the big drums and driving riffs come crashing in, pushing the song into a fully-fledged rock anthem the likes of which Nirvana would have been way too self-conscious to even attempt.
But for all its mainstream polish there is plenty of dirt between the fingernails, most notably when the songs build up enough momentum and Grohl breaks into full on screaming mode, as in My Poor Brain (“Sometimes I think we’re getting stuck/ Between the handshake and the fuck”).
But it isn’t exactly the typical coming together experience that might be expected on such a formative album. Even with a full band behind him, ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is primarily Grohl’s album; Grohl’s heartache, Grohl’s evolving frontman persona and (much to the chagrin of original Foos touring drummer William Goldsmith) Grohl’s drumming.
The emotional core of ‘The Colour and the Shape’ lies in the trio of February Stars, Everlong and Walking After You – a mini movement within the larger scope of the album that cuts right to the heart of Grohl’s personal life, laying a swathe of emotions bare for the listener to devour.
Building upon a theme of shattered emotions in the heart-wrenchingly tender February Stars before seeking out the redemptive solace of true love in Everlong, hammered home with the acoustic coda of Walking After You. Inspired by the divorce Grohl was going through at the time, the emotional resonance captured here lifts ‘The Colour and the Shape’ from a good album to a great one. Suddenly the album has morphed into something more complete, more well-rounded, and more sincere.
As it turns out it is the quiet sections between the energetic riffs and rolling drums that have the most punch, making the finished product greater than the sum of its individual tracks. ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is a journey through a stew of mixed and conflicting emotions, the soundtrack to a mood that doesn’t know whether to scream and climb the walls or curl up in a corner and cry. For all its up-tempo fury, ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is a much softer album than almost anything that came out of Seattle in the early ‘90s.
‘The Colour and the Shape’ went on to cement the Foo Fighters as a major name in rock, and prove Grohl’s name as something other than that drummer from Nirvana. The only problem was the template was a little too good, and the next few Foo Fighters albums followed it a little too rigidly, imitating ‘The Colour and the Shape’ rather than topping it.