This album is a marker for me, a placeholder, a doorjamb. It came out in the spring of 1997 which was a very full time for me, as Cashel would be born on Halloween several months later. If you tested my DNA you would find microcosmic snippets of these songs in there.
I know many people who are big fans of this band and most of them dislike this album. Most of them had flipped over the first Foo Fighters record which I have never gotten into. In fact, I don't own any other Foo Fighters music. I've heard the songs and like them, I enjoy Dave Grohl immensely and root for them, but I never needed anything but 'The Colour And The Shape'.
There are a few albums like this in my collection. I knew they were in the pantheon the first time I heard them, I listened to them obsessively until I could sing every note (and by every note I mean every vocal, every guitar solo, every bass line, every drum roll, EVERYTHING), and I consistently revisit them once the initial obsession has passed.
From what I can tell, Grohl was going through a break up and much of the album delves into this difficult territory. It's hard not to layer Cobain over everything which gives it a whole different level of depth and tragedy, something that doesn't detract at all. It's like Mickey Rourke in 'The Wrestler'. The movie isn't about Mickey Rourke fucking up his movie career but those echoes certainly add to the impact the story has.
So it is with this album. For me, a guy who was in a trying relationship of his own, it hit me like a ton of bricks. From the gentle opening notes of 'Doll' which segue violently into 'Monkey Wrench', it is clear that we are in for a tough ride.
Actors all have little tricks for getting at difficult emotion. Or good actors do. Years later doing my cousin's play 'Searching For Certainty' in Los Angeles, I would use 'The Colour And The Shape' to channel myself into the state I needed to be in. My character has been pining away for 9 years over the girl that got away in college. He takes a road trip to New York and has a dinner with her in which he finally comes clean. They kiss. The pent up emotion lets loose and he begins to cry at this dream which has finally come true.
This is what this album sounds like to me. A triumph, a moment so hard-earned that your celebration has a wide swath of regret braided into it. You wish you could merely jump for joy but you paid such a price in getting there that your capacity for that kind of unfettered positivity has diminished. You receive your trophy, it is in your image, but it needs crutches to stay on its pedestal.
To my taste, the sound on this album perfectly represents that kind of contradiction. The guitars are crisper than crisp but still pack major punch. The drums are powerful and full of abandon but never stray over into bombast. Grohl's singing is emotionally spot on, to the point that he disappears and the song becomes its own performance. This album is alive to me, it has a personality and a point of view. It hurts.
To this day if I need to cry for any reason, all I have to do is try and sing along to 'February Stars'. I simply can't get through that song without having the primal response I had when I first heard it, when I felt as if I'd never be happy again, but at least I was admitting I had to try.
I said you'd find snippets of this album in my DNA which is true. The strange thing is, it hit me so hard it felt like it had been there my whole life. As if I'd been born with this album. Just like Dave Grohl. And I would like to give him a prize for it, one that didn't have to use crutches to hold itself up.