Foo Fighters’ second album begins with a song about fear. “I’ve never been so scared,” sings Dave Grohl on “Doll,” a supershort ballad about a dare he shouldn’t have taken. The dare is not identified. Could it have been starting Foo Fighters after a career as Nirvana’s drummer? Or is it something a little more complicated?
When Foo Fighters’ eponymous first album came out, following Kurt Cobain’s suicide, it was hungrily received by a nation of Nirvana fans looking for a substitute and maybe wanting to comfort Grohl in his grief. The best songs on Foo Fighters’ debut sounded much like Nirvana (the quiet mumbles followed by loud screams; the melody under the noise). Grohl seemed to be emulating — and maybe speaking for — Kurt Cobain when Grohl yelled, “I don’t owe you anything,” on “I’ll Stick Around.” On The Colour and the Shape, Foo Fighters’ second album, there are certainly moments that bring to mind Grohl’s ex-band. You can’t listen to “My Hero,” a song about the disillusioning experience of finding out that your idol is merely human, without wondering if it’s about Cobain. Grohl’s repeated chorus on “Enough Space” recalls Cobain’s keenings on Nevermind’s “Stay Away” so much that you wonder if the song is an hommage.
At the same time, The Colour and the Shape is the first proper Foo Fighters album. The debut record was more of a Grohl solo project, co-produced by Grohl and Barrett Jones; The Colour and the Shape was produced by Gil Norton (who has worked with the Pixies, among others) and was cowritten with the rest of the band (although drummer William Goldsmith left the group after the album was finished and has since been replaced by Taylor Hawkins). But don’t expect anything like the abrasive, recorded-in-a-garbage-can punk that guitarist Pat Smear made with his former band, the Germs – 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. Screaming can get boring, but it’s what Grohl does best.
The lyrics on Foo Fighters seemed random; here, they are inward looking. There might be a concrete reason for that: Grohl recently split up with his wife (he is reportedly now dating Louise Post of Veruca Salt). The Colour and the Shape gives the impression that Grohl is working out some romantic issues — there are lots of relationship tunes both about breaking up and about a new love, such as the lovesick-soft, then bracingly loud “Up in Arms” and the truly mushy “Everlong,” in which Grohl chronicles being smitten with a singer. On the single “Monkey Wrench,” one of the harderedged songs on Colour, he sings: “I was always caged, but now I’m free.”
On “New Way Home,” the last song on The Colour and the Shape, Grohl has an epiphany. He is driving to an unnamed location in Seattle, passing “boats and the Kingdome,” when he realizes that he “felt like this on my way home.” More important, Dave Grohl proclaims, “I’m not scared.” Whatever his fear was — starting the band, breaking up with his wife, making a highly autobiographical second record, or something totally different — it has been worked through. At least for now.