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The Colour and the Shape

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Colour and the Shape
Blue background with gray shape
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 20, 1997 (1997-05-20)
  • November–December 1996
  • January–February 1997
ProducerGil Norton
Foo Fighters chronology
Foo Fighters
The Colour and the Shape
There Is Nothing Left to Lose
Singles from The Colour and the Shape
  1. "Monkey Wrench"
    Released: April 28, 1997
  2. "Everlong"
    Released: August 18, 1997
  3. "My Hero"
    Released: January 19, 1998

The Colour and the Shape is the second studio album by American rock band Foo Fighters, released on May 20, 1997 by Roswell and Capitol Records. Produced by Gil Norton, it was the official debut of the Foo Fighters as a band, as their eponymous 1995 debut album was primarily recorded by frontman Dave Grohl and producer Barrett Jones as a demo. After the project ballooned and became an international success, the group convened for pre-production on their second album 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 from photographer Jennifer Youngblood in 1996, the lyricism on The Colour and the Shape is substantially more introspective and the music more developed. The album's track listing was designed to resemble a therapy session, splitting the album between uptempo tracks and ballads, reflecting conflicting emotions. Early sessions at the Bear Creek studio in Washington 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 studio, 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.

The singles "Monkey Wrench", "Everlong" and "My Hero" peaked within the top ten of US rock radio charts, 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 a seminal modern rock album. It was nominated for a 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.[1] The album was remastered and reissued in 2007 with several bonus tracks for its tenth anniversary.

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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 the 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.[2] The deal the band struck with Capitol Records allowed a large degree of creative control regarding the band's true "debut."[3] The songs on the record were composed during soundchecks during the extensive touring that the band went through for the previous eighteen months.[4] 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.[5]

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.[2] Grohl admired Norton from his work with the Pixies and how he was able to "distil a coherent pop song out of all their multi-layered weirdness."[3] Norton was very demanding of the band's performance, eventually leading bassist Nate Mendel to enhance his musical formation.[6] 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."[7]

Recording and production

While recording this record two marriages fell apart, we lost a drummer, someone nearly went to jail, and we discovered late in the day that record making is hellishly expensive and best done with a budget prepared beforehand.

Nate Mendel, May 2007[3]

The Colour and the Shape was recorded over the period of two months, primarily at Grandmaster Recorders in Hollywood from January to February 1997.[2] The band spent two weeks in pre-production the previous autumn, rehearsing the tracks and changing arrangements.[2] Norton had his greatest impact during pre-production, during which he spent days with Grohl in his hotel room "stripping the songs back to their absolute basics."[4] His role in production taught the band the importance of self-editing and gave them confidence to see "the larger picture in a song."[3] Afterwards, the band set off for Bear Creek Studios in Woodinville, Washington, where the first recording sessions for The Colour and the Shape began on November 18, 1996.[4] Bear Creek, described by Mendel as "a converted barn with a salmon stream running through it," was located on a farm and the band lived in a cabin-like home adjacent to the studio.[3] Grohl described the sessions as a "bad experience," deciding to scrap nearly all of the recorded tracks.[3][8] Over the holiday break, Grohl returned to Virginia and wrote several new songs, recording two of them, "Walking After You" and an acoustic version of "Everlong", by himself at WGNS Studios in Washington, DC.[9]

The band (minus drummer William Goldsmith) relocated to Hollywood's Grandmaster Recorders in February 1997, described by Mendel as "a small studio that sometimes moonlighted as a porn set, and looked the part."[3] For a period of four weeks, the band re-recorded most of the album with Grohl performing the drum tracks. It started with only "Monkey Wrench" as Grohl and Norton felt the drums needed more work, but eventually Goldsmith's drums remained on only two tracks, "Doll" and "Up in Arms".[10] According to Grohl, Goldsmith's drumming had good moments, but his performances mostly did not fit what Grohl had conceived for the drum track, so the frontman decided to redo them himself. Goldsmith even asked if he should go to Los Angeles, but Grohl dismissed this by saying he was only performing overdubs. Once Mendel told Goldsmith the situation, Grohl said that despite replacing Goldsmith's tracks, he still wanted him as a bandmember, but the disgruntled drummer decided to leave the Foo Fighters instead.[6] Speaking about the tension surrounding the departure of Goldsmith, Grohl in 2011 said, "There were a lot of reasons it didn't work out... but there was also a part of me that was like, you know, I don't know if I'm finished playing the drums yet." He would also state, "I wish that I would have handled things differently..."[11]

After the move to Los Angeles, the album's budget ballooned and deadlines became even more of an issue.[12] Studio time was expensive and the group was pressured by Capitol to deliver the record in a timely fashion.[8] The pressure never materialized for the band, and the band's main priority was to make "music for its own sake […] and let the commercial concerns take care of themselves."[3] The album's title comes from the band's tour manager of the time, who would often spend afternoons rummaging thrift stores and purchasing strange memorabilia.[13] On one occasion, he purchased a bowling pin with red and white stripes, remarking to the band he rather liked the "colour and the shape" of the object. The group found it arbitrary and hilarious and decided on that title, rather than base the title on the theme or mood of the music.[13] The band considered placing a therapist's couch on the album cover, as a reflection of the record's track sequence (see Composition).[12]


The Colour and the Shape has been characterized as alternative rock,[14] post-grunge,[15] hard rock,[16] and grunge[17] by professional reviewers. Much of the lyricism found on the album revolves around battered romanticism, more specifically the dissolution of Grohl and Jennifer Youngblood's marriage during the winter of 1996, which Grohl described as "the winter of my discontent."[18] The album's track sequence reflects this sentiment, chronicling his change from chaos to newfound happiness.[12] Although Grohl admitted the lyricism found on Foo Fighters was obscure and "nonsense," Norton pushed Grohl to write lyrics that had meaning.[18] 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."[7]

The album's opener, "Doll", involves the fear of entering into situations unprepared.[12] "Wind Up" was written about the relationship between musicians and journalists, wherein the latter tend to paint the former as convicted and reluctant.[12] "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.[2][12] On the record's closing track, "New Way Home," Grohl longs for his hometown 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."[12] 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.[13]

Track information


Grohl stated that it is "basically a song about being afraid to enter into something you're not prepared for."[19]

"Monkey Wrench"

Grohl stated that it was "a song about realizing that you are the source of all of the problems in a relationship and you love the other person so much, you want to free them of the problem, which is actually yourself. It was a riff that turned into another riff that turned into another riff and ended up being a nice little power punk song."[19] In another interview, Grohl stated his pride in the song, "With Monkey Wrench I remember I had the main riff, but I didn't have the little jangly riff that goes over the top of it and I thought it needed something. So I came up with the jangly riff and thought 'Oh my God this is never gonna fly! Everyone's gonna hate it'. But I was really excited the first time I heard it on the radio - it was in the middle of a load of mid-'90s grunge shit and I thought it was so killer."[20] The song was released as the first single from the album in 1997.

"Hey, Johnny Park!"

The lyrics to this song follow a series of different themes, as Grohl noted himself, "Oh, my God, that song's about 15 different things! The only reason why it's called 'Hey, Johnny Park!' is because when I was young, my best friend was this kid who lived across the street from me called Johnny Park and we were like brothers from the age of 5 to 12. I haven't heard from him since I was about 14 years old and I thought if I named a song after him he might call."[19]

"My Poor Brain"

Grohl says of the song, "This song's an experiment with dynamics, whether it's the lyrics or the sound of the song. It's just going from dreamy vocals to screamy vocals and Jackson Five to Black Sabbath. Sling it all in there."[19]

"Wind Up"

Grohl described this song as about successful musicians who constantly complain about their lives to the press. He elaborated, "It drives me insane when I hear musicians that don't understand how fortunate they are that they don't have to go and pump gas for twelve hours a day. They can sit on their couch and smoke pot, and complain to their friends that they hate it when someone comes up and says that he likes their band... there are two sides: there's the reluctant rock-star, and then there is the prying journalist that almost lives for the reluctant rock-star, it's just talking "about the hand you've been dealt." Every time I hear about "the hand you've been dealt," it drives me fucking nuts, spare me your confessions... I've had so many fucking bullshit jobs for the half of my life - you know, working in furniture warehouses and planting trees, painting houses - and it's a lot more fun to play music."[21]

"Up in Arms"

Of the song, Grohl said, "A typical love song. It's almost like a Knack song, just a simple pop song."[19] In another interview Grohl stated, "I wrote that song to be a teenage makeout song. I just love the image of two teenagers making out on the beach listening to that song."[22] Also in the song, Dave changed the last line which is meant to sing "always coming back I cannot forget you girl" to "always coming back I cannot forget you Gil" in reference to their producer Gil Norton.[23]

"My Hero"

Many fans have speculated that this song was a tribute to Grohl's deceased friend and bandmate, Kurt Cobain. However, in Grohl's own words, the song is, "(his) way of saying that when I was young, I didn't have big rock heroes, I didn't want to grow up and be some big sporting hero. My heroes were ordinary people and the people that I have a lot of respect for are just solid everyday people - people you can rely on."[19] This was the third single to be released from the album.

"See You"

Grohl stated this song was "the one song that nobody wanted to put on the record, but it's my favorite song." After the original version's drum part was changed to resemble Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", it made the final cut.[19]

"Enough Space"

The song is about Arizona Dream, one of Grohl's favorite films.[19] He also said the song emerged from his desire to create a song that would be a good opener on their set lists, with a tempo that mimicked the jumping and bouncing of European crowds in the beginning of sets.[6]

"February Stars"

The lyrics are said to be about "hanging on by the tips of your fingers and hoping you don't slip and fall."[19] This song dates back to at least January 1994, when an early take of the song with alternate lyrics, titled "Dave/Acoustic + Voc" was recorded by Grohl and Krist Novoselic on Harmonium during Nirvana's last recording session.[24]


The song was written when the band took a break from recording after the initial sessions. Grohl reworked "Everlong" by himself at his home in Virginia.[25] It is considered to be one of the best songs by the band and is highly acclaimed.[26] Grohl was almost reduced to tears after performing the song at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit.[27] In 2000, David Letterman revealed that it is his favorite song.[28]

"Walking After You"

"Walking After You" was written and recorded by Grohl on his own in a studio in Washington. This version appears on the album. The band would later re-record the song with all the members for The X-Files soundtrack, and this version was released as a single.[29] Grohl stated that "Walking After You" was "an emotional, sappy song about getting dumped."[19]

"New Way Home"

According to Grohl, "New Way Home" is about "winding your way through all of these songs, emotions and pitfalls and ups and downs, but at the end of the day, you realize that you're not scared any more and you're gonna make it."[19]

Release and reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[15]
Blender4/5 stars[30]
Chicago Sun-Times3/4 stars[31]
Entertainment WeeklyB[17]
Los Angeles Times3/4 stars[32]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[34]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[35]
The Village VoiceA−[37]

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.[7] For instance, each member gave interviews with press of their interests, with guitarist Pat Smear talking to guitar and fashion magazines.[5] Just as the album was finished and Taylor Hawkins was hired as the new drummer (he was the former touring drummer for Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill in 1995), Smear expressed he would also leave the band, claiming he was exhausted and not motivated to go into another extended tour.[6] The promotional tour started in May 1997,[7] 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.[6]

Critical response to the record was generally positive. UK-based Melody Maker viewed The Colour and the Shape to be a significant American rock release, writing, "The Colour and the Shape is a great rock album at a time when great rock albums are viewed with increasing suspicion."[18] The publication saw the album as leagues ahead of other post-grunge acts: "The first album might have been a collection of loveable songs, but lacked the sheer visceral attack that thrills this time round," wrote Victoria Segal. "An attack that would have […] almost any other US rock band biting their nails in anguish and embarrassment."[18] Christina Kelly of Rolling Stone was largely positive, although she singled out Norton's production as distracting: "Colour has a big, radio-ready, modern-rock sound. Some might even call the album overproduced: On the ballads, the vocals are overprocessed and fake sounding."[34] Entertainment Weekly praised the band's growth, but criticized the sound journalist David Browne described as "like much current alt-rock: been there, grunged that."[17] In contrast, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic described that production as revolutionary: "everything here wound up defining the sound of post-grunge modern rock, and it remains as perhaps the best example of its kind."[15] In his review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau said the music is routine but elevated by Grohl's "marital breakup content/concept," allowing him to "fully inhabit the music that meant so much to him and millions of other Kurt Cobain fans."[37] Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork was less favourable, rating the album 3.4/10 and calling the music "sorely dated."[38]

To commemorate The Colour and the Shape's tenth anniversary, the album was re-released on July 10, 2007, with six additional tracks: the B-sides "Dear Lover" and "The Colour and the Shape", and covers of Killing Joke's "Requiem", Gary Numan's "Down in the Park", Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Vanity 6's "Drive Me Wild".[39]

Track listing

All tracks written by Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel and Pat Smear except where noted.

2."Monkey Wrench"3:51
3."Hey, Johnny Park!"4:08
4."My Poor Brain"3:33
5."Wind Up"2:32
6."Up in Arms"2:15
7."My Hero"4:20
8."See You"2:26
9."Enough Space" (Grohl)2:37
10."February Stars"4:49
11."Everlong" (Grohl)4:10
12."Walking After You" (Grohl)5:03
13."New Way Home"5:40
Total length:46:47


Foo Fighters
Additional personnel
  • William Goldsmithdrums on "Doll", "Up in Arms" (credited for slow intro), "My Poor Brain" (verses only, uncredited), "The Colour and the Shape" (uncredited), and "Down in the Park" (uncredited)
  • Taylor Hawkins – drums on "Requiem", "Drive Me Wild", and "Baker Street" (10th anniversary edition's bonus tracks only)
  • Lance Bangs, Chris Bilheimer and Ryan Boesch – handclaps on "See You"
  • Gil Norton – production
  • Bradley Cook, Geoff Turner – engineering
  • Ryan Boesch, Todd Burke, Don Farwell, Ryan Hadlock, Jason Mauza – assistant engineering
  • Chris Sheldon – mixing
  • Bob Ludwig – mastering
  • Bradley Cook, Geoff Turner – recording technicians
  • Jeffery Fey, Foo Fighters, Tommy Steele – art direction
  • Jeffery Fey, George Mimnaugh – design
  • Andy Engel – logo design
  • Josh Kessler – photography

Charts and certifications


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications
US Air



1997 "Monkey Wrench" 58 9 9 17 37 3 51 12
"Everlong" 42 3 4 45 3 36 34 18
1998 "My Hero" 59 6 8 74 53 21


  • Kerrang! magazine "100 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" - Readers Choice No. 10 (1998)
  • Kerrang! magazine "100 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" - Editors Choice No. 95 (1998)


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