On the 20th of May 1997, after one of their most difficult recording processes, and through a sling of line-up changes, the Foo Fighters released what many believe to be the band’s true debut album ‘The Colour And The Shape’. Although the discography records will show that the 1995 self titled release is the first collection of recordings under the name the Foo Fighters, it was largely a solo record by frontman Dave Grohl released under the aforementioned moniker to distance himself from the events of 1994 and the breakdown of grunge pioneers Nirvana. This phenomenal record cemented the Foos place on rock radio and set up the incredible legacy that the band have now gone on to see, becoming largely responsible for keeping rock and roll alive and relevant. The album spawned the huge singles ‘Monkey Wrench‘, ‘My Hero’ and undoubtedly their magnum opus ‘Everlong’. On the 20th anniversary of the album’s release, I take a look back on the album, and reflect on some of my own personal memories.
I remember the exact moment when ‘The Colour And The Shape’ really struck a chord with me. I had been listening to the main singles for a while and had really begun to love the band quite significantly, but was not familiar with any of the deep album cuts, and to be honest because of my age, I was more familiar with their 1999 release ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’ than I was with this album. On a school camp down to Canberra, I had taken a disc-man down with me, armed with a couple of albums I had bought recently. It was on the bus as we made our way around town that I had thrown in TCATS, and for the first time, really give it a listen from start to finish. By the end of the trip I had listened to the album more times than I could count, and for years I considered it to be my favourite album of all time.
What is so great about the album is how in encapsulated the one-two punch that inevitably become the band’s signature. Whether you listen to an album or go and see them live, it’s a wall of destruction right off the bat. The album opens with a little ditty intro called ‘Doll’ and then launches straight into lead single ‘Monkey Wrench’ before continuing on through personal favourite ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’, ‘Wind Up’ and ‘My Poor Brain’. It’s a relentless opening to an album, which was followed up in future releases. Their live set packs the same wallop. It’s normally not until 5 or 6 songs into their set that Dave stops for a break to welcome the crowd.
The other great part of this album is just how many truly fantastic songs it introduced to the world. The singles off this album are still live staples and fan favourites, despite more than 60 songs being released after it. The album is just timeless.
‘Everlong’ is the prime example. The pinnacle of the Foo Fighters catalogue. One of the best rock songs of all time. David Letterman personally requested the band to play this song as the closing act of his final Tonight Show appearance, citing it as ‘his favourite song by his favourite band’. The song has been lauded by everyone from Billie Joe Armstrong from Greenday to Elton John. It’s hard to break down exactly why it has resonated with so many people for so long. The incredible sense of dynamics throughout the song. That glorious opening riff that Bob Dylan asked Grohl to teach him. A feel good song that was recently requested by Neil Young to be played by the band at a benefit concert. The drums – those drums! For a balls-to-the-wall rock album this sat beautifully in between all out and subtle, something the Foos would emulate to great effect on their follow up album.
On the other side of the coin, are songs like ‘February Stars’, one of the first tracks that Grohl and ex-Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic recorded when waiting for Cobain to arrive at a demo session prior to 1994. A song that Grohl had been tinkering for years. Or there’s ‘Walking After You’ – a song Grohl recorded on his own when he was so frustrated with the result of what the album recordings had ended up sounding like. This recording session eventually led to then-drummer William Goldsmith leaving the band after a well-documented recording process where Grohl would have him record takes for over 13 hours, never satisfied with the outcome (Grohl eventually scraps all but a handful of Goldsmith’s work for the album and records the drums himself). These two ballads on the album show a mature side to the band and much like ‘Everlong’ were the perfect introduction to the band’s next album where songs like ‘Aurora’ and ‘Next Year’ would shine.
Or there’s the incredibly random but somehow perfect ‘See You’. A song that was never supposed to make it to the album ends up tying all the loose ends together. An upbeat, bluegrass-feel acoustic song, which is just complete fun and got a new lease in life of the acoustic tour and follow up CD/DVD ‘Skin and Bones’.
It is an album that holds so many memories for so many people. For me, it brings me back to high school quite a lot (for good reason). Jamming the songs from the album with the Horse or Bisho after school, stealing Leggers MP3 player to listen to the album, pretending I could air-drum perfectly to ‘Up In Arms’ with Burkey. When I first saw the Foos live at a free concert at Channel V in 2005, it was ‘Everlong’ and ‘Monkey Wrench’ I was dying to hear. The memories go on and on..
When you listen to this album now, 20 years on from it’s release, it hasn’t lost any of it’s meaning. You still try and not take a breath when screaming the bridge to ‘Monkey Wrench’. You still air-drum to ‘Everlong’. You still get it wrong every time you try to guess just when the outro to ‘New Way Home’ will kick in. The chorus to ‘My Hero’ still makes you a karaoke champion.
Find a copy, strap yourself in and take your mind back to a better time where rock bands were more about music than appearance – and enjoy, ‘The Colour And The Shape’.