pearl jam - vitalogy (album cover)Ah, the Foo Fighters’ debut: grunge’s last gasp. Seattle heavyweights Alice in Chains and Soundgarden would release their last albums of the decade towards the end of 1995 and in 1996, respectively; both were largely unimpressive. Pearl Jam boycotted Ticketmaster and did a pretty good job of nearly destroying themselves on their Vitalogy tour, and they returned as a different band when they released No Code in 1996. They haven’t really been a grunge band since. As for Nirvana, their demise is the most public of Seattle’s Big Four. Kurt Cobain’s suicide created a power vacuum in alternative rock, and Nirvana’s Seattle peers didn’t exactly rush to fill it. Finally, six months after Cobain’s death, Nirvana’s drummer Dave Grohl decided to book a week’s worth of time at Robert Lang Studios down the street from his house in Seattle to record some demos, playing all of the instruments himself.

He then put together a cassette tape and distributed it among some friends, putting “Foo Fighters” on it instead of “Dave Grohl” to keep the press from knowing about it. That cassette is the Foo Fighters’ first album. Of course, Grohl had to eventually form a band to tour behind the album, and once they were signed to a label their subsequent records would feature much higher production values. But I’ve always loved the Foos’ debut. I have always thought of it as the grunge period’s coda. When Foo Fighters was released in 1995, post-grunge was quickly replacing grunge, as imitators (and their record label enablers) tried to cash in on the gold rush. In fact, Foo Fighters is often considered one of the biggest transition albums from alternative’s shift from grunge to post-grunge and is usually considered post-grunge as a result.

foo fighters - the colour and the shape (album cover)Well, I disagree. The sound of Foo Fighters is different from the rest of their work, thanks to its low production values. (Normally, once the demos are cut they are then “tracked” — each instrument is re-recorded one at a time over the demo version in painstaking fashion.) It doesn’t sound as cleaned up and arena-ready as its sequel The Colour and the Shape (1997). (Or any of the Foo Fighters later work, for that matter.) I love this album because it’s such an important bridge. If Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York is a suicide note (as some overly dramatic music critics will say — I once came across something along the lines of, “It’s like you know Kurt has his fingers crossed behind his back when he says, ‘No, I don’t have a gun.’”), then Foo Fighters is a eulogy.

It carries itself with that morose mood characteristic of grunge, and it still has that grunge sound, which would vanish on the more “straightforward” alternative album The Colour and the Shape. The Foo Fighters would go on to become arguably the most dominant band on alternative rock radio over the next 15 years, with nine singles reaching #1. For a band that’s managed to survive the end of the CD era, it’s pretty startling to think it all started with a cassette tape.