Foo Fighters’ “The Colour and the Shape” (1997) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5 / 5 stars

Once in a band’s career — if they are that lucky — songwriting and performance coalesce on an album in such a way as to inspire both thought and emotion. When that bolt of metaphorical lightning strikes, the result is a collection of songs that breathe like living entities, some tracks crying, some tracks screaming, some tracks shining beautifully. Somehow, through a mixture of careful, intentional strategy and fortunate, indescribable chance, those songs come across as sincere, relatable, and entertaining. Sometimes, they even connect in such a way as to create an interesting statement as a whole.

In the Foo Fighters catalog, The Colour and the Shape is that album.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should make it very clear that I am not a big Foo Fighters fan. Aside from a brief phase of hurriedly listening to all their other albums, I have neither before nor since found their work extraordinary. I do have a great respect for Dave Grohl’s concepts, such as his half-electric, half-acoustic In Your Honor. Until 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace, however, I was unable to find an album that came close to the heights achieved on their 1997 sophomore effort.

Perhaps the greatest strength of The Colour and the Shape is the balance between pure electric energy and calmer, more soothing tones. This is no middle-of-the-road album; in fact, it has some of the loudest screaming — as well as some of the lightest tones and harmonies — of any album I have ever heard. To be sure, it is one of the very few albums that I have found such extremes on and still found it enjoyable. Too much on the soft side can be boring, and too much on the hard side can be, well, too much.

That is certainly one of Dave Grohl’s fortes — he is shredding his vocal chords in one breath and crooning at the next. Because I tend toward liking the latter more than the former, I always find it a sweet relief to hear some simple double tracking or harmonies following an all-out electric track.

Foo Fighters'

Foo Fighters'

The first time I heard the album, the opening track made me shake my head and double check that I had put the correct CD in the drive. “Doll” is a light, bittersweet song with slightly muted vocals that set the tone for the album. This is a collection of songs about a relationship that is falling apart for a number of reasons — the narrator is willing to admit his own shortcomings (“Doll me up in my bad luck…”), but he isn’t shy about calling the other person on hers.

“Monkey Wrench” and “Hey, Johnny Park!” add up to one of the best one-two punches in rock album history. Each song introduces one killer guitar riff layered upon another, stacked with energetic vocals, and boneheaded metaphors not withstanding, the lyrics are fun. Even though it felt a bit out of my range, I ran my vocal chords ragged back in June 2008 to commit a cover song version of “Hey, Johnny Park!” to video for the Laptop Sessions (CLICK HERE to have a listen!).

These are followed by two more songs that vacillate between power chord-fueled electric rage and Grohl’s calmer, clearer tones. It doesn’t get any more blunt than these lyrics (“This is a blackout; don’t let it go to waste. This is a blackout; I wanna detonate…”), but they work on these tracks.

“Up in Arms” borders on tender (and sad), but certainly isn’t lacking in the backbone department. Then, “My Hero” unfolds a tribute to the “ordinary” hero — fans have speculated that it’s an ode to Grohl’s former Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain, but Grohl himself says it’s directed at the average workingman.

I suppose it’s up to you to decide what you believe…

Then comes one of my favorites on the album, a song so unlike the others and yet so wonderfully intertwined thematically. “See You” lends more straightforward acoustic rock sensibilities than you’ll find anywhere else on the album, although they are hinted at in several other tracks.

The rest passes in a blur, starting with the anger and brevity of “Enough Space.” I found this track tough to swallow at first, but my tastes in music have progressed over the years, and I like this song very much now, if for no other reason than it is not what the album as a whole sounds like — Grohl and company seemed to take care to balance such elements.

Although the final four songs are each over four minutes, they pass quickly. “February Stars” boasts a Goo Goo Dolls sound on the outro, and frankly, Grohl does a better job making that sound interesting than John Rzeznik himself. “Everlong” is, of course, a classic. If you listen carefully to the lyrics, it is an emotional, brutal song, and you can almost hear it in the performance — Grohl, Nate Mendel, and Pat Smear must realize what a gem they are recording.

The final two songs work well as a pair, “Walking After You” representing the phase in a breakup where one party clings desperately to the remnants of the relationship even as the other is walking away and “New Way Home” embodying that deep breath and next step for the lonely one left behind. If you’ve been in this situation before and been heartbroken by someone who has lost interest in you, then you’ll appreciate the closing tracks on this album.

In closing, The Colour and the Shape is a standout effort from the Foo Fighters. It is not only the first (and only) album I would recommend to others — with the possible exception of Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace — but it is also one of the great rock albums of all time, in my opinion, an effort that is stronger as a whole than the individual tracks could ever be.

On a more emotional level, it is an album I continually find myself returning to when I’m contemplating relationship problems, and I would highly recommend it as one of the Weekend Review’s picks for albums to keep on hand for those aforementioned sad and/or angry moments!

This is one in a series of acoustic cover songs, original music, and free mp3 downloads here on the Laptop Sessions Music Video Blog.

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