The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters

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The Colour and the Shape by Foo FightersOne could argue that Foo Fighters are a better overall group than Nirvana and that their sound is an evolution of the sound that was started earlier in the decade by Dave Grohl‘s former band. As for this new band, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape was the first Foo Fighters group album, as the 1995 self-titled debut carried the band name but was mainly a solo effort by Grohl. This album also contains tunes which are a bit more introspective than the material on the debut.

After the success of that debut album, Grohl assembled a proper band which included guitarist Pat Smear formally of The Germs, bassist Nate Mendel from Sunny Day Real Estate, and drummer William Goldsmith, who let Grohl move out from behind the drums during the live performances.

After over a year of extensive touring, Foo Fighters and producer Gil Norton set out to create a full rock record in classic style. The earliest sessions were at a studio in Washington state with Goldsmith as part of the group but these recordings were unsatisfactory and mainly discarded. Soon Goldsmith left the group, which made it a necessity for Grohl to return to his traditional role as drummer in addition to his primary role as lyricist and vocalist during the initial recording phase in California.


The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters
Released: May 20, 1997 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gil Norton
Recorded: Bear Creek Studios, Woodinville, WA, WGNS Studios, Washington, DC, & Grandmaster Recorders, Hollywood, November 1996–February 1997
Track Listing Group Musicians
Doll
Monkey Wrench
Hey, Johnny Park!
My Poor Brain
Wind Up
Up in Arms
My Hero
See You
Enough Space
February Stars
Everlong
Walking After You
New Way Home
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Drums, Guitars
Pat Smear – Guitars
Nate Mendel – Bass

 
The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters

 

The short track “Doll” starts things off with a very low-fi, demo-style intro leading to the full-fledged pop/rocker “Monkey Wrench” with a sharp and unambiguous approach through the verses and a tad more ambient noise in the choruses. On “Hey, Johnny Park!” we get the initial dose of Grohl really exercising his vocal chops while Norton still uses some creative production techniques during the fully arranged choruses, but not to the detriment of the overall tune. This song got its title from Grohl’s childhood friend.

“My Poor Brain” features some really really creative contrast between the smooth, bouncy verses and the raging, unhinged choruses and this is especially true in the contrasting vocal styles. “Wind Up” is a heavy alternative rock track about the music press, while “Up in Arms” is textural and mellow with fine bass playing by Mendel. The anthemic “My Hero” starts with a rich, mechanical drum pattern with bass, rhythm and lead guitars layering before the first verse. The great vocal hook and chorus riff makes for one of the most indelible phrases of the late nineties while Grohl has stated that this majestic theme is really about ordinary people he has known through his life.

Foo Fighters 1997
The fun and sonically pleasant “See You” is a fun, bouncy folk-rock acoustic track and is followed by “Enough Space” with heavy distorted bass, screeching guitars and thumping drums during its potent intro. The melancholy “February Stars” is a sort of a drug out power ballad, very emo but with not much reward overall.

Perhaps the overall highlight of the album, “Everlong” features a sound which is at once smooth and hard and features a good melody and a heavy romantic lyric. Grohl stated, “That song’s about a girl that I’d fallen in love with and it was basically about being connected to someone so much, that not only do you love them physically and spiritually, but when you sing along with them you harmonize perfectly.” Overall, this song is celebratory but with just enough edge to make it a rock classic. “Walking After You” has an acoustic, calm, almost country approach with the slightest bit of laid back percussion and sonic effects. “New Way Home” closes the record as a pleasant, upbeat rocker which summarizes everything from the journey of this album.

The Colour and the Shape was a hit around the world, reaching the the Top 10 in seven countries including the USA and achieving double platinum in sales. Its arrival in 1997 came at the moment when the grunge era began to give way to the heavy pop rock of the late 1990s, which made this timely and important as well.

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1997 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1997 albums.

 

Foo Fighters

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Foo FightersWith the suicide of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain abruptly ending what looked like a promising rise for the rock trio in 1994, the group’s drummer, Dave Grohl, decided to write and record independent material as a “cathartic experience”. The resulting work, Foo Fighters, an album and act which derived its name from a term World War II aircraft pilots would use to describe various UFOs. No one (even Grohl) at the time knew that this album would act as the commencement of a highly successful rock band for decades to come.

The name originally served as a proxy, intentionally used by Grohl to preserve his anonymity after recordings were completed. Those recordings took place over just one week in October 1994 at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle, with Grohl frantically recording all instrumentation and vocals himself. Along with producer Barrett Jones, the duo spent long days recording up to four songs each day in the order that they would ultimately appear on the album. Having never been a front man, Grohl was initially insecure about his singing so he often double-tracked and applied added effects to his voice. Many of the compositions were initiated during Grohl’s time in Nirvana, as he would often bring a guitar along on tour. However, there were many parts composed on the fly during the short studio time.

Grohl originally pressed a limited number of LPs and cassettes to pass out among fellow musicians and friends. He had been offered a permanent gig as drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and briefly considered taking it before Petty heard one of his tapes and encouraged Grohl to pursue “the solo thing”. Soon these tapes reached some major labels and Grohl signed with Capitol, who accepted the original recordings but had them remixed. Grohl then recruited a full band to forge a live show and fulfill Capitol’s request for a photo of a full band.


Foo Fighters by Foo Fighters
Released: July 4, 1995 (Capitol)
Produced by: Barrett Jones and Dave Grohl
Recorded: Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, October 1994
Album Tracks Primary Musician
“This Is a Call
I’ll Stick Around
Big Me
Alone + Easy Target
Good Grief
Floaty
Weenie Beenie
Oh, George
For All the Cows
X-Static
Wattershed
Exhausted
Dave Grohl – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums

Foo Fighters

The opener, “This Is a Call”, is actually one of the more recent songs written by Grohl and, right from the jump, his sense of melody and accessibility is evident along with his penchant for unabashed, hard-edged rock. the song starts with some double vocals above strummed electric for one line before the song explodes into a full and intense rock arrangement and it peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. “I’ll Stick Around” is more like a traditional Nirvana song with rotating riffs and a quasi-punk feel. The song’s vocal vibe ranges from detached whine to emotional screed with the music following perfectly throughout. The third song, “Big Me”, displays a third distinct type of talented musical style by Grohl. As a calm and melodic pop song, the track displays a knack for effective use of repetition and arrangement in getting the songs message out in a quick and effective way.

“Alone + Easy Target” dates back to 1991 and is another good jam, albeit not quite as innovative as the first three songs. “Good Grief” is driven by steady, upbeat drums and drilling guitar textures and the choruses get a little punk intensive, while “Floaty” contrasts with a pleasant 12-string acoustic intro before launching into a flange-drenched steady rock sway during the verses. “Weenie Beenie” brings the effects to a nearly absurd level with its textures and heavily treated vocals. While this is all fun as a headbanger, there is not much in terms of musical substance. “Oh, George” returns to melodic hard rock and is a loose tribute to George Harrison, who he calls his “favorite Beatle”.

Dave Grohl

Coming down the stretch, Foo Fighters maintains its energy and vibrancy while offering more diverse selections. “For All the Cows” is another Nirvana-esque track, starting with calm, jazzy verses and exploding into heavy punk screeds during the choruses. “X-Static” is notable as the only track with an outside musician, as Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs plays guitar. “Wattershed” is a punk jam with nearly screamed vocals that rail against mailmen, banks, record contracts, and other divergent subjects. “Exhausted” closes things out and works great with its title as the closing track to this rapidly recorded collection. The track is notable for an extremely long “feedback” section in the middle, before the main musical riff reprises to shepherd out the album.

Foo Fighters charted well throughout the world and was promoted through several tours domestically and internationally. These tours served to gel the members as a proper “group” and much success would follow, starting with the 1997 second album, The Colour and the Shape, and continuing well into the next century.

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1995 page images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1995 albums.

 

In Utero by Nirvana

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In Utero by NirvanaEven though it was a phenomenal commercial success, all three members of Nirvana had expressed dissatisfaction with the polished production of their 1991 album, Nevermind. With this in mind, the production of In Utero was intentionally stripped down with little to no overdubs and recorded in two weeks flat. Produced by Steve Albini, the oft-abrasive sounding album was nearly rejected by the group’s label DGC and ultimately the band hired a secondary producer to make minor changes to the album’s two radio singles. Still, the album shot instantly to the top of the album charts upon its release and has since been certified five times platinum.

The band had originally wanted to record during the summer of 1992, but domestic situations made that impossible. In October 1992, they recorded several instrumentals during a Seattle demo session with Jack Endino, who had produced the group’s 1989 debut album Bleach. In January 1993, the group recorded another set of demos while on tour in Brazil, one of became the “hidden” track “Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip”. Using these groups of demos along with other material composed as early as 1990, Albini and the band members decided on a self-imposed two-week deadline for recording and paid for the sessions with their own money to limit label interference.

Albini felt the sound of Nevermind was “sort of a standard hack recording that has been turned into a very, very controlled, compressed radio-friendly mix. After the recording sessions were completed, Nirvana sent unmastered tapes of the album to several individuals, including the president of DGC’s parent company Geffen Records Ed Rosenblatt. When asked about the feedback he received, the group’s leader Kurt Cobain said “the grown-ups don’t like it.”
 


In Utero by Nirvana
Released: September 13, 1993 (DGC)
Produced by: Steve Albini
Recorded: Pachyderm Studio, Cannon Falls, Minnesota, February 13–26, 1993
Track Listing Band Musicians
Serve the Servants
Scentless Apprentice
Heart-Shaped Box
Rape Me
Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle
Dumb
Very Ape
Milk It
Pennyroyal Tea
Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
tourette’s
All Apologies
Kurt Cobain – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Krist Novoselic – Bass
Dave Grohl – Drums
 
In Utero by Nirvana

 
An almost “new wave” approach makes for a surprising start to the album with “Serve the Servants”. The song is strong, upbeat, and melodic (with the exception of what seems to be intentional de-tuning of some notes). “Scentless Apprentice” is the only track on the album not written solely by Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl add their compositional skills. However, the production of this second song is a bit unfocused with an attempt at junk metal, which comes off as less-than-authentic with noisy guitars and muddled drum sounds.

“Heart-Shaped Box” is the first track on the album that sounds similar to the material on Nevermind. Although it never really leaves the same three chords, the song was melodic enough to be released as the album’s first single after some additional “treatment” mixing was done by engineer Scott Litt. The song reached number one on Billboard‘s Modern Rock Tracks chart and reached number five on the UK pop chart.
 

 
The controversial “Rape Me” had been performed live by the band since 1991. The song addresses Cobain’s distain of the media in light of their sudden success and is the first on the album to contain decent sounding bass by Novoselic. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” was inspired by the 1978 biography Shadowland, which Cobain had read in high school. Sonically, the song is all about dynamics but is not very well put together compositionally and the droning vocal screams tend to wear thin by this point in the album. The album hits a bit of a lull through the middle. “Dumb” is a very apt title and is uninspired with its subject of the struggles with complacency. “Very Ape” is fast and surprisingly crisp for this album’s production, punk influenced with some actual overdubbed guitars. “Milk It” contains some slightly interesting stop/start action musically, but this is counterbalanced with some frivolous lyrics.

“Pennyroyal Tea” starts as an almost REM-like song before breaking into a strong punk/metal section during the chorus with an (almost) standard guitar lead. The song was due to be released as the third single from the album but plans were halted after Cobain’s suicide in April 1994. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” is one of the most unique and rewarding songs on the album. Grohl’s steady drumming holds together this wild piece with flavored feedback effects and a cool anti-hero chorus hook. The experimental “Tourette’s” contains a heavy “noise machine” type sound with a three chord punk screed which ultimately does little more than set up the fine closer.

The finest track on the album is saved for last with “All Apologies”, a melodic, deep, and excellent closer. The song had been around since 1990 and Nirvana first recorded the song in Seattle on January 1, 1991. The In Utero track features Kera Schaley on cello, the only extra session player on the album. It was also remixed by Litt when Cobain asserted that the original vocals and bass sounded muddy. Lyrically, the song was inspired by Cobain’s wife and newborn daughter. The song received heavy airplay and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1995. More importantly, the song was an excellent closer for the band’s final album.

Nirvana embarked on a world tour to promote the In Utero. On the European leg of the tour in March 1994, Cobain suffered a drug overdose in Rome and agreed to enter drug rehabilitation, but he soon went missing. On April 8, 1994 he was found dead in his Seattle home as the result of self-inflicted shotgun blast, ending his life at age 27, and sealing Nirvana in the tomb of rock history.

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1993 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1993 albums.

 

Nevermind by Nirvana

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Review by J.D. Cook

Nevermind by NirvanaI was born on the same day in February 1991 that Kurt Cobain, the lead singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter for Nirvana, celebrated his twenty fifth birthday. Later that same year, Nirvana released their breakthrough album Nevermind, an album which many reviewers consider a classic and some even consider “all time” material. But, even though I’m virtually the same age as the naked baby on the album’s cover (although, I assure you, it is not me), I couldn’t disagree more with this “classic” and “all time” jibberish.

In all honesty, it was not until my freshmen year of college that I started to allow myself to like Nirvana. My pre-college hatred of the band was due entirely to their popularity, especially among a very fickle group of emo, “misunderstood” high school teens who seemed to love the band just because Kurt Cobain committed suicide. The way the man and the band is idolized because he was “brave” enough to kill himself really irks me to this day, especially when it seeps into the realm of mainstream music journalism. All of that said, when I went off to college I was able to accept the music without being confronted with teenage Goths sporting his face on their purses.

But I still contend that Nevermind is NOT a classic. It certainly has some good tracks, and maybe even one or two great ones, but as a true album it falls short of being anything beyond mediocre to OK. In the early nineties this album’s new grunge sound may have been cutting edge but that hasn’t stopped it from sounding dated and trashy today. Of course, it will always be a famous album for simply being a Nirvana album since they had such a short run before Cobain’s death. In a way this may be understandable, as the “shooting star” phenomenon has always been romanticized in rock n’ roll. But I will try to give this album as fair and honest review as any other.


Nevermind by Nirvana
Released: September 24, 1991 (Geffen)
Produced by: Butch Vig
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Hollywood, May-June 1991
Track Listing Group Musicians
Smells Like Teen Spirit
In Bloom
Come As You Are
Breed
Lithium
Polly
Territorial Pissings
Drain You
Lounge Act
Stay Away
On a Plain
Something In the Way
Kurt Cobain – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Krist Novoselic – Bass, Vocals
Dave Grohl – Drums, Vocals

Buy Nevermind by Nirvana

The album opens fairly strong with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In the past I had always viewed this song as an overplayed cliché tune, but it really is the best of that album. Further it is one of only two songs that wasn’t written completely by Kurt Cobain, as bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl share the credit (maybe that means something). Stranger still the song would be vastly improved if the lyrics weren’t completely nonsensical and hard to understand. That said Cobain provided awesome reverb sounds from his guitar, and the drums sound straight out of a garage which really works for this song. Combine those elements with the continuing changes in the songs melodies and you’ve got a hit.

The following two tracks, “In Bloom” and “Come As You Are”, contain more of the same – the guitar is crisp and fun on both, the lyrics stay nonsensical, but Cobain’s voice no longer hurts one’s ear. Novoselic’s opening bass rift of “Come As You Are” is of particular note, but it unfortunately stays mostly the same throughout the song. The guitar solo of this song is also quite fun. The song following these three solid opening tracks is Breed. There is little to nothing good about it. It is fast, it is furious, it is boring.

With “Lithium” the album returns to the sound most people define as Nirvana. The lyrics are actually discussing being on lithium pills and this lends the song a bit of lyrical meaning. Cobain’s vocals are both understandable and emotional throughout the songs various changes in pace. I especially appreciate the lyrics “I’m not gonna crack,” when placed with the various other lyrics like “I killed you”. You can really hear someone emotionally cracking and trying to pretend they aren’t. Unfortunately from Lithium the album pretty much drops into the gutter.

“Polly” and “Territorial Pissings” are both entirely forgettable. The only thing of value the songs lend to the album are an acoustic break from the fast pace in “Polly” and a bizarre intro featuring the lyrics from The Youngbloods “Get Together” on “Territorial Pissings”. The screaming on this latter song is particularly terrible.

By the time “Drain You” comes you are breathing a sigh of relief. Grohl’s drums in this song are admirable, and the crescendo within is fun, but it’s special. This is followed by the decently solid “Lounge Act”, a song with not much to it, but nothing terrible either. It is a good mid-album filler song with the exception of Cobain’s banshee vocals in the middle of the song which do nothing but make you want to skip to the next track.

Nirvana

After “Lounge Act” the album sticks to being mediocre – “Stay Away”, “On a Plain”, and “Something In the Way” are all fairly forgettable. “Stay Away” has a boring and simple drum into that leads into a decent song with an interesting dueling-voices dynamic, “On a Plain” is simply boring, and “Something In the Way” would have been a good ending had it not been so monotonous. But wait the album is not over! After waiting though ten minutes of silence there is a secret track called “Endless, Nameless”. I will simply say I was so enraged by its sheer horrid nature that it harmed my ears.

Nevermind was Nirvana’s breakthrough album and it certainly has been successful commercially. By the end of the decade, it was certified diamond (double platinum) and has continued to sell very well since. Unfortunately it just seems like Nirvana’s success is due to their folklore as much as their musical capabilities and philosophical lyrics. I guess sometimes your first impression of a band, that they were only popular because of Cobain’s suicide, is right. Nevermind isn’t a terrible album – there are some really good tracks – but much of the album is entirely forgettable.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1991 albums.