The Colour and the Shape is the second studio album by American rock band Foo Fighters. Produced by Gil Norton, it was released through Capitol Records and the group’s own Roswell Records on May 20, 1997. The record is the debut of the Foo Fighters as a group, as the band’s previous record, Foo Fighters (1995), was primarily recorded by frontman Dave Grohl and friend Barrett Jones as a demo. After the project ballooned and became an international success, the group convened for pre-production in the fall of 1996 and brought in producer Norton to establish a pop sensibility for the tracks. The band strived to create a full-fledged rock record, although the music press predicted another grunge offshoot.
Primarily inspired by Grohl’s divorce with photographer Jennifer Youngblood in 1996, the lyricism on the record is substantially more introspective and the music more developed. The album’s tracklisting was designed to resemble a therapy session, splitting the album between up-tempo tracks and ballads, reflecting conflicting emotions. Early sessions at Washington farm studio Bear Creek were poor and led the band to discard most of the recordings. The band regrouped without drummer William Goldsmith in early 1997 to record a second time at Hollywood’s Grandmaster Recordings, with Grohl sitting in on drums instead. Goldsmith was offended and disgruntled that most of his material was re-recorded and left the band shortly thereafter.
Main singles “Monkey Wrench”, “Everlong” and “My Hero” peaked within the top ten on United States rock radio, and the album charted at number three in the United Kingdom. Critics found the album a significant American rock release of the era, and it is now viewed as seminal modern rock album. It was nominated for Grammy Award in 1998 for Best Rock Album. The Colour and the Shape is the Foo Fighters’ biggest U.S. seller, having sold over two million copies according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album was remastered and reissued in 2007 with several bonus tracks, celebrating its tenth anniversary.
The album was the debut of Foo Fighters as a band, as frontman Dave Grohl had recorded all of the first album by himself with the exception of one guitar part by Greg Dulli. The band’s original lineup was assembled for their exhaustive touring schedule throughout 1995 and 1996, during which the band became an international sensation on the strength of singles “This Is a Call”, “I’ll Stick Around” and “Big Me”. Although music press generally speculated the band’s sophomore record would showcase grunge-inspired garage rock, the band’s intention was to make a proper rock record. The deal the band struck with Capitol Records allowed a large degree of creative control regarding the band’s true “debut.” The songs on the record were composed during sound checks during the extensive touring that the band went through for the previous eighteen months. Mendel stated “the germ of every song is Dave’s”, with the frontman providing a riff and the basic structure, and afterwards the band would jam and each member would contribute to a part of the song.
For the band’s second album, Grohl recruited producer Gil Norton to provide additional pop polish to the material, demanding to hear guitar overdubs and harmonies with significant clarity. Grohl admired Norton from his work with the Pixies and how he able to “distil a coherent pop song out of all their multi-layered weirdness.” Norton was very demanding of the band’s performance, eventually leading bassist Nate Mendel to enhance his musical formation. Grohl also stated that “it was frustrating and it was hard and it was long, but at the end of the day you listened back to what you’d done and you understood why you had to do it one million times.”
Much of the lyricism found on The Colour and the Shape revolves around battered romanticism, more specifically the dissolution of Grohl and Jennifer Youngblood’s divorce during the winter of 1996, which Grohl described as “the winter of my discontent.” The album’s track sequence reflects this sentiment, chronicling his change from chaos to newfound happiness. Although Grohl self-admitted the lyricism found on Foo Fighters were obscure and “nonsense,” Norton pushed Grohl to write lyrics that had meaning. Grohl also found new strength in his singing compared to the insecurities on his voice for the debut, and delved deeper into his feelings with the lyrics, with him stating that “there was a new freedom: ‘Wow, I can actually write about things I feel strongly about and things that mean something to me and things I wouldn’t normally say in everyday conversation.'” The frontman stated that the experience was “kind of liberating”, comparing the album to going to a weekly visit to the therapist “and then the rest of the week feel pretty good about everything”.
The album’s opener, “Doll”, involves the fear of entering into situations unprepared. “Wind Up” was written about the relationship between musicians and journalists, wherein the latter tend to paint the former as convicted and reluctant. “My Hero” criticizes idolatry and instead extolls friends who are ordinary heroes, which has been considered a statement on fame and partially inspired by former bandmate Kurt Cobain. On the record’s closing track, “New Way Home,” Grohl longs for his hometown of Seattle and recalls the drive there on Highway 99. Through this journey, “I realise that it’s OK, I can make my way through all of this, and I’m not that freaked out at the end.” Three types of songs permeate the record: ballads, up-tempo tracks and combinations of the two. Grohl felt they were representative of the specific emotions he would feel after the divorce.
The Colour and the Shape was released on May 20, 1997, being preceded the month before by lead single “Monkey Wrench”. The promotional campaign tried to emphasize the group identity and each of the bandmembers’ personality. For instance, each member gave interviews with press of their interests, with guitarist Pat Smear talking to guitar and fashion magazines. Just as the album was finished and Taylor Hawkins was hired as the new drummer, he was the former drummer for Alanis Morissette for her Jagged Little Pill album in 1995, Smear expressed he would also leave the band, claiming he was exhausted and not motivated to go into another extended tour. The promotional tour started in May 1997, with Smear remaining until a replacement was found, which turned out to be Franz Stahl, Grohl’s former bandmate in Scream. Smear announced his departure and handed the guitar over to Stahl during a performance at the Radio City Music Hall in September, just before the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.
All songs written and composed by Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel and Pat Smear except where noted.
|3.||“Hey, Johnny Park!”||4:08|
|4.||“My Poor Brain”||3:33|
|6.||“Up in Arms”||2:15|
|9.||“Enough Space” (Grohl)||2:37|
|12.||“Walking After You” (Grohl)||5:03|
|13.||“New Way Home”||5:40|