Foo Fighters - The Colour and The Shape

AMERICA HAS lost its thirst for greatness. The death of Kurt Cobain negated all that Nirvana had achieved in the preceding six years. Music froze. What followed was an endless rehashing of his ideas enamelled in corporate superficiality and slick mediocrity. The dream was over, and all that remained was a perspiring Bush desperate to bank your money.

Three years on, the options remain limited. There have been great American albums since, but they've mostly come from either Cobain's close friends or his contemporaries (Screaming Trees, The Afghan Whigs, Pavement, Beck). And so American music finds itself staggering around contemplating taking up disco with The Prodigy or surviving yet another year of worthless sub-grunge nostalgia.

Into this morass arrives the new Foo Fighters album - and surely there's not many who'll be gambling on it being the record to save the situation. After all, the Fighters' patchy, if occasionally sublime debut carried many of the traits of this current US epidemic: those anti-personality porridge guitars, an obsession with UFOs and that ubiquitous no-thrills hardcore aesthetic. At its centre was grinning Dave Grohl, the rocking beagle. Post-Nirvana, he was the optimist; still standing, determined to reshape the music industry by proving that: a) nice men could make important music; and b) doing interviews wasn't so bad as long as you kept a smile on your face. The Foo Fighters were nice, inessential and highly unlikely to be your favourite band.

Shocking to relate, then, that 'The Colour And The Shape' finds Grohl and his Foo Fighters transformed and invigorated. Forget the atrocious sub-rock 3 Colours Red B-side that constitutes recent single, 'Monkey Wrench', and concentrate on the bulk of an album that sees no value in insincere angst, preferring instead to deal with personal upheaval and silver-tipped melodies.

As far as Grohl's concerned, this is the real Foo Fighters debut, not the hastily assembled demos of the first album. This is the sound of a life that's changed. There's a realisation here that there's only so long you can be carefree. After all, these past three years have been a disaster: the suicide of a best friend, the break-up of a marriage and the threat of a band split after the acrimonious departure of original Fighters drummer, William Goldsmith.

After the abstract (and frequently meaningless) songs of their eponymous debut, 'The Colour...' offers a diary of Grohl's recent past. There is anger at journalists obsessed with Nirvana ('Wind Up'), insights into elicit but doomed affairs ('Everlong' and 'February Stars') and finally, the harrowing details of a marriage hopelessly slipping away: "If you walk out on me," whispers Grohl, "I'm walking after you" ('Walking After You').

And it's this tenderness that obliterates any anxieties created by the no-ideas, Melodic Rock FM opening. Apart from the single, there's the putrid riffs of 'Hey Johnny Parki' and the clamour of 'My Poor Brain', where Dave Grohl shouts One. Word. At. A. Time. Very. Loudly. Indeed. For four songs at least then, it sounds like an open invitation to bury him in a lead box and wave goodbye to America.

Finally, though, comes the renaissance. Grohl was always more than an ex-drummer who knew a few bar chords, and suddenly he decides to show it. What follows is effortless reinvention: psychedelic acoustic guitars ('See You'), needling melodies ('Up In Arms') and a rejection of the sci-fi persona of the last album ('Enough Space'). Where there had been chest-beating and Black Flag-loving hardcore, now there is both subtlety and invention.

'My Hero' is the centrepiece of this album and the best song Grohl's ever written. It might be a tribute to Kurt Cobain, the friend who became a legend, but rather than become ensconced in whining nostalgia, it nails Grohl's feelings to a barrage of angular guitars and invites us to deal with the mundane reality of it all. "There goes my hero/Watch him as he goes," yelps Grohl in resigned tones. "There goes my hero/He's ordinary."

From here, Grohl never looks back. The second half of this record contains the sort of genuine abject emotion that America last enjoyed on the 'Nirvana Unplugged' album. Affairs begin, marriages collapse and Grohl finally emerges proclaiming that he's found a 'New Way Home'. Hardly, but in the context of America's current unshakeable obsession with post-grunge fake misery, 'The Colour And The Shape' at least colours around the edges.

It might not be perfect, and it certainly isn't the album that will revitalise American music, but it does learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. The rocking beagle has matured, his life has disintegrated around him, and he's still produced an album that wouldn't have disgraced his friend and mentor.

And while Nirvana's memory continues to spawn grubby Xeroxes of an inspirational original, that's surely enough. American music might be sick, but Grohl's still smiling.


James Oldham