Review Summary: More proficient & expansive than their debut, the arena rock evident here achieves wider appeal through consistency & highlight tracks. The addition of 6 B-sides from the time period improves the already excellent package when viewed as bonuses.
Originally released in May of 1997, this was practically the debut album of the Foo Fighters as a band, considering that the self-titled release from 1995 was basically a Dave Grohl solo project. In July of 2007, a 10th anniversary edition was released containing the original 13 tracks plus 6 B-sides. These 6 bonus tracks were made up of 4 covers in addition to 2 songs that never made the final cut of the LP (one of which was strangely the title track).
It is an understatement to suggest that this album has a different feel to that of the 1995 debut. ‘The Colour and the Shape’ is a more expansive album in almost every way imaginable, although bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and there are quite a few pundits out there who believe that this album is actually a step back! With Producer Gil Norton on board, this 2nd release by the Foo Fighters has a polish to it that makes the earlier self-titled effort seem even rawer than it sounded in 1995. There is both a more radio-friendly sound to this album as well as an arena rock feel to it.
First impressions are not great here with ‘Doll’ being a waste-of-time 80 second opener that seems to have no purpose other than to make the follow-up, 1st single ‘Monkey Wrench’ seem even rockier than it is. Served up at a breakneck pace with excellent guitar and drum-work, Dave Grohl’s vocals may not be technically proficient, but they are especially effective on ‘Monkey Wrench’. The out-of-breath breakdown is a great example of this and a sign of things to come with regards to that arena readiness that I mentioned earlier.
The other point I mentioned in the second paragraph was the words “radio-friendly”. This description may then best be shown on ‘Hey, Johnny Park!’ which is interestingly structured and begins with a terrific and memorable guitar riff, before heading into safer territory vocally. Some would suggest the track has not aged well and the almost corny-sounding backing vocals could be quoted as evidence. However, the song builds up well and Grohl’s more intense vocals toward the end help immensely.
The choice of track ordering is a little dubious at this point in the album as linking ‘My Poor Brain’, ‘Wind Up’ and ‘Up In Arms’ may not have been completely wise. Individually, none of them are necessarily bad songs, but I wouldn’t call any of them highlights either. The latter track works the best of the 3 as it is intentionally delivered in an almost depressing fashion initially before turning into a brilliant hooky piece for the final minute. Then comes the centerpiece of the album; the fantastic 3rd single ‘My Hero’, which is strong lyrically and wisely places the emphasis on that strength. Again, Grohl does a great job in doing what is required to get the best out of the individual track.
Unlike some other Foo Fighters albums, this LP is thankfully not severely front-loaded. In fact, the remaining 6 tracks of this release are a real nice mix of everything that never falls into tedious repetition, even if some songs clearly work better than others. There are the acoustic stylings of ‘See You’ and ‘Walking After You’, both of which are very good, despite not reaching the charming heights of earlier effort ‘Big Me’. There is the slow emotional ballad that is ‘February Stars’ that effectively builds to a satisfying crescendo. And there are the slow/fast rockers that are the disappointing ‘Enough Space’ and the gimmicky, yet effective, closer ‘New Way Home’. Just a word of warning not to turn the volume up half-way through the latter!
Have I forgotten anything on the original release? Oh yes, some little ditty called ‘Everlong’. Gee, where do I start with this gem of a track? Arguably one of the most underrated rock songs of the last 20 years, this builds up beautifully both musically and vocally before being topped off by a practically perfect chorus that you wish would just keep repeating itself over and over! “And I wonder… When I sing along with you… If everything could ever feel this real forever… If anything could ever be this good again… The only thing I’ll ever ask of you… You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when”.
The original release of the album stands up excellently on its own… But what of the 6 bonus tracks included on the 10th anniversary edition? Well, to say that it is a strange little mix is an understatement. But in an atypical way, it’s rather rewarding to see the band experiment to some extent. Beginning with the methodical & prowling Killing Joke cover ‘Requiem’, it’s a shape of things to come as Vanity 6’s ‘Drive Me Wild’ then gets the early days punk treatment with a little bit of robotics mixed in. Gary Numan’s ‘Down in the Park’ then makes an appearance as a moody and almost ominous piece that actually adds some layers to the original.
But while fans of the song may think it best left alone, the highlight of the B-sides is clearly the reworking of Gerry Rafferty’s influential ‘Baker Street’. Thankfully, none of the band picks up a saxophone in an attempt to mimic the original hook. Instead, guitar is used to give this track the same epic and memorable feel that the original song had without losing much of its attraction. Of the 2 original B-sides, I actually like ‘Dear Lover’ and felt it was a little unlucky not to make the album proper. I suppose at the end of the day, it may have been a little too similar to ‘Walking After You’. The extended album then ends with the full of feedback title track that is only so-so for mine, but may be liked by those looking for something a little different.
Overall, the Foo Fighters have clearly aimed for wider appeal with their second release and achieved it successfully without selling their soul. More proficient and expansive than their self-titled debut while also containing lyrical growth, ‘The Colour and The Shape’ shows a professional outfit at work as even the little things such as padding out 4+ minute songs is more efficient here. While there are a couple of misses on the album, they tend to be short and the strength of the highlight tracks more than make up for that. As for the inclusion of B-sides from around that time period on the 10th anniversary edition, one may feel that most of the 6 do not come up to standard as they are fairly experimental. But when viewed as bonuses – which is how they should be – they actually improve the total package!
Recommended Tracks: Everlong, Monkey Wrench, My Hero, Baker Street & Hey, Johnny Park!