The Way it Was: Foo Fighters, The Colour and the Shape

For 30 years, Foo Fighters have ranked among the most popular and prolific bands in mainstream rock.
For 30 years, Foo Fighters have ranked among the most popular and prolific bands in mainstream rock. Photo by Jennifer Lake Reister

On a monthly basis, the Houston Press will deep-dive an album that dropped on that particular month in the '90s. Some were well-received. Others not. Some have held up. Others, far from it. Some marked an artist’s critical or commercial peak. Others simply set the table for more greatness to come. Regardless, they all helped constitute a decade that ranks among the most influential in music history.

This is “The Way it Was.”

The artist: Foo Fighters

The album: The Colour and the Shape

The release date: May 20, 1997

The backstory: So, you’re Dave Grohl. You’re the drummer for arguably the biggest and most influential bands of the 90s (Nirvana). You’re pretty much minted off the fact that you helped create some of the most impactful and long-lasting music in rock history. You can coast, lend your name to some cameo/supporting material, be the ever-charming Dave Grohl and basically ride your early work to a career of credibility and riches.

Or, you can do your previous band one better.

Not long after Kurt Cobain’s April 1994 suicide officially ended Nirvana, Grohl (a la Trent Reznor in Nine Inch Nails) basically put out a self-titled solo album under a band pseudonym. Grohl played every instrument, wrote every song and recorded every vocal of Foo Fighters’ 1995 self-titled debut, which, thanks to hit singles like “I’ll Stick Around” and “This is a Call,” went Platinum.

The secret was out. Foo Fighters (Grohl later assembled an official band to help tour and record new material) were legit and Dave Grohl was a master of his trade, far more than a supporting player for Cobain, far more than “that other guy from Nirvana.”

Foo Fighters was a great debut. Its follow-up upped the ante – and then some.

The impact: Expectations seemingly never bothered Dave Grohl all that much. A year after Cobain’s tragic suicide officially ended Nirvana, Grohl dropped a glorified solo album with hits for days and musical undertones of his prior outfit. It was a well-received, certifiable hit.

Then came The Colour and the Shape.

Mainstream, arena-style rock music (pour one out) was pretty huge in the 90s, and Grohl realized as much when he recorded Foo Fighters’ sophomore album (by then, he had recruited some fellow musicians to join in the studio). Fresh off a divorce and grappling with his post-Nirvana fame, The Colour and the Shape is an introspective listen, one that runs the gamut between angst (“Monkey Wrench," "My Poor Brain") and melancholy (“February Stars,” “Walking After You”).

Simply put, The Colour and the Shape is damn near a perfect rock album. It’s lean (13 tracks at under 50 minutes in runtime). It’s well-produced (Gil Norton, who had previously worked with Pixies and Counting Crows, was a maestro at blending rock and pop sensibilities). Oh yeah, the album also produced, not one, but two songs that will live on forever.

“My Hero” and “Everlong” are not only the best tracks on The Colour and the Shape; they are the most memorable. Nearly 30 years after the album’s release, both tracks still receive ample play on terrestrial rock radio. They are karaoke staples, fan favorites, about as perfect as pop-rock gets. Also, if you wanna know what Grohl is whispering on “Everlong,” look no further.
The legacy: The Colour and the Shape isn’t even Foo Fighters’ best album; that would probably be reserved for the 2005 rock/acoustic double album, In Your Honor.

But “best” and “most significant” are not mutually exclusive, and The Colour and the Shape – some 27 years after its release - is unquestionably Foo Fighters’ most significant album, one of the best rock albums of the 90s and a signifier of what the genre can be.

Will rock ever again reach such creative and commercial heights as The Colour and the Shape? Hard to say, and I’m not sure it matters in this instance. Being present and facing down the future are noble traits, but sometimes, it’s better to just look back and remember how f**king awesome something was.

Biggest track: “My Hero,” due to its message of ordinary people as heroes, its placement in movies and assorted pop culture and, most notably, the fact that it’s an absolute banger of an arena rock album, is probably the most memorable track on The Colour and the Shape. But it’s not the best …

Best track: Sometimes, the most obvious choice is the right one. “Everlong” is one of the greatest rock songs ever released, and I will die on that hill. Could everything ever be this real forever? We can only hope.

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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale