Nothing lost, everything gained
On November 2, 1999, There is Nothing Left to Lose entered this world, after being created by three dudes in a basement.
The album went platinum in four countries, boasted a handful of singles that reached the U.S. Billboard Top 100 charts, and took home a pair of Grammy Awards. However, before the eventual, massive success of the record, the band experienced some turmoil.
Following the successful 1997 sophomore album The Colour and the Shape, guitarist Franz Stahl was fired, while Pat Smear elected to pursue other musical projects (though he would later return). On top of that, frontman Dave Grohl was leading a toxic lifestyle in Los Angeles, and dreading the phoniness surrounding the city.
Sick of Hollywood frauds, Grohl returned home to Alexandria, Virginia, along with drummer Taylor Hawkins and bassist Nate Mendel. It was here that Studio 606 (Dave’s basement) was formed, completely free of corporate suits from the record labels. Likewise, it is where jam sessions turned into Top 40 hits and fan favorites for years to come.
In previous interviews, Grohl has expressed his pride with There is Nothing Left to Lose:
“When we won (the Grammy) for best rock album for our third record, which we made in my basement, I was so proud — because we made it in my basement, in a crappy makeshift studio that we put together ourselves. I stood there looking out at everybody in tuxedos and diamonds and fur coats, and I thought we were probably the only band that won a Grammy for an album made for free in a basement that year.”
Three friends, jamming in a basement, producing one of the most iconic albums of the nineties.
Happy birthday, Foo Fighters. Now, let’s dig into the album.
1. “Stacked Actors”
Despite rumors, “Stacked Actors” is not about Courtney Love. According to Grohl, “‘Stacked Actors’ is about my disdain and disgust of everything plastic and phony, which is the foundation of that city (Hollywood). And I Just hated it. I had a lot of fun, but I had a lot of fun hating it.”
Stack dead actors, stacked to the rafters
Line up the bastards all I want is the truth
The play on words between “stack dead” and “stacked” is quite clever, David.
There is Nothing Left to Lose comes in hot with a flurry of pounding snare drum hits, along with a gritty, distorted riff. “Stacked Actors” is all business right off the bat, before transitioning into a wavy guitar riff straight out of Dave’s previous home in Hollywood.
As a general rule of thumb, albums should always start a punch. Rope listeners in from the beginning. Thankfully, nearly every Foo Fighters’ record abides by this law. “Stacked Actors” joins “This is a Call,” “the Pretender,” and “Bridge Burning” as opening album bangers.
Also, this track that needs to be played live more frequently. I mean, look at this performance from Wembley Stadium. There is strong fan reaction, with an additional eight minutes of good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. If you’ve ever seen Foo Fighters live, you know that Dave loves rock ‘n’ roll. The band takes their fair share of shit for disregarding deep cuts at concerts, but this one is quite shallow in their overall catalog.
I agree with Shiflett here.
Like it or not, most fans in an arena want the hits. However, “Stacked Actors” is not a major hit, nor is it that deep of a cut. Tack it onto the setlist, boys. Make us proud.
The “Breakout” music video oozes with nineties energy. It was synced up with the release of Jim Carrey’s Me, Myself, & Irene. Snippets of the film are shown throughout the music video. Additionally, Grohl has multiple personalities, a la Carrey’s Charlie Baileygates/Hank Evans character(s) from the film.
I may be crazy, little frayed around the ends
One of these days I’ll phase you out
You can envision the split screen of Dave’s multiple personalities during this verse. One crazy, one cheerful.
Let’s also address Hawkins’ wondrous hi-hat rolls throughout the track, displaying shades of “Everlong.”
Dave’s scream. Grohl does not scream often, but when he does, it’s with purpose. Much like “Monkeywrench,” Dave’s wail is the climax of the song.
“Stacked Actors” is about Grohl’s disdain for Hollywood. Ironically, Dave puts his acting chops on display in the music video. A young, prepubescent looking Grohl channels a Jim Carrey-esque performance alongside prominent comedian Anthony Anderson and Tony Cox.
“Breakout” is often overshadowed, as Foo Fighters offer a plethora of entertaining music videos. This, of course, includes their greatest cinematic work…
3. “Learn to Fly”
Winner of the 2000 Grammy award for Best Short Form Music Video, “Learn to Fly” is one of the more memorable videos of all time. The video pokes fun at the legendary comedy Airplane!, while featuring Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D as the plane’s incompetent mechanics. This is the first collaboration of the long running bromance between the two bands. With the exception of Tenacious D, Grohl, Hawkins, and bassist Nate Mendel play every character in the music video, as if it were out of an Eddie Murphy movie.
Now I’m looking to the sky to save me
Looking for a sign of life
Looking for something to help me burn out bright
“Learn to Fly” is about Dave’s search for inspiration in dark times. Grohl told Kerrang! In 2006, “I’d been living in Los Angeles for about a year and a half, just being a drunk, getting fucked up every night and doing horrible shit, and I’d finally got sick of that. I was like, ‘I’ve gotta go back to Virginia or I’ll fucking die in this place.’”
The Bridge starts the end of “Learn to Fly,” as if the plane is beginning its descend from the sky. Thankfully, our mustachioed pilots safely land this crazy flight.
“Learn to Fly” has certainly infused the band into commercialized, mainstream culture. In 2015, 1,000 Italians joined forces to create the viral “Rockin 1,000” video. Also, let’s not forget the time Dave fronted a ragtag group of Muppets for this iconic cover. The band has earned a lot of frequent flyer miles off “Learn to Fly.”
This song is also directly responsible for my love of the Foo Fighters. It was my first exposure to the band. As an eight-year old living in rural North Dakota, I watched VH1 Top 20 Countdown before riding my Huffy to swimming lessons every morning. “Learn to Fly” was in VH1’s heavy rotation, along with the pool’s soundtrack, which was mainly Rick Dees and the Weekly Top 40s.
The video crack me up, while the song and lyrics inspired me. Little did I know, I would connect with “Learn to Fly” the exact same way twenty years later.
4. “Gimme Stitches”
There is Nothing Left to Lose begins with three radio singles. “Gimme Stitches” is the album’s transition into some deep cuts and fan favorites. Dave says the song is about a dysfunctional relationship, where both sides get off on constantly hurting each other and making the other side crazy.
Take another stab at me
I promise in time I’ll heal
But yesterday went on and on a bit too long
Dave can only take so much pain from this relationship. Give the man some damn stitches already.
The dirty opening riff that sounds like it is straight out of a sketchy biker saloon. Right from the get-go, “Gimme Stitches” gets you bobbing your head, tapping your toes, and shakin’ that ass.
This track begins sounding like the lovechild of an AC/DC-Lynyrd Skynyrd crossover, but steadily gains an alternative touch, as the song progresses. With the band’s vast catalog of cover songs, it’s surprising they haven’t whipped up a “Gimme Three Stitches” mashup. Twenty-fifth anniversary tour, anyone?
“Generator” is most known for Dave’s incorporation of the talk box. Yes, Grohl utilizes the talk box as if it were a Peter Frampton song from 1978. Coincidentally, Frampton and Joe Walsh (a few of Dave’s many rock idols) were the inspiration for the song’s talk box usage.
Steal me now and forever
I’ll steal something good for you
The criminal in me is no one new
Dave is yearning for this woman’s love, despite everything she has put him through. What does Grohl plan to steal for her? More than likely some tender lovin’.
I mean, it’s the talk box right?
“Generator,” along with “Aurora,” get brought up on the Foo Fighters’ subreddit (shoutout) as undervalued songs more often than any other tracks. Can you blame them? “Generator” was released as a single, but did not receive the same buzz as “Learn to Fly” or “Breakout.”
Let’s also not ignore the fact that DAVID GROHL IS USING A TALK BOX. PLAY IT LIVE, BOYS.
Lyrically, there is a lot happening in “Aurora.” Grohl has mentioned the song is nostalgic in relation to his time in Seattle, in addition to questioning the meaning of life, in general. Upon its release, Grohl said, “It’s probably the heaviest thing I’ve ever written.”
Would it be cheating to say the entire song? Lyrically, “Aurora” is beautiful in its totality. However, I do love this line from Verse 1.
I just kind of died for you
You just kind of stared at me
Dave has put his heart and soul into someone, only to receive a mundane response in return. Damn…
The entire song is magical. From the haunting opening riff, to the big alt-rock ending, “Aurora” brings out a bevy of emotions from within. However, the chorus (barely) takes the cake as the song’s best moment. It displays a feeling of temporary escape from whatever personal troubles are bringing you down.
This is an extremely underrated, mellow Foo Fighters track. The band has an excellent catalog of these, including “February Stars,” “Stranger Things Have Happened,” and “Seda.” While those tracks are located further in the archives, “Aurora” seems to be enough of a fan favorite to bust out at a live show.
Do you want to see a gaggle of sweaty, middle-aged men crying, while hoisting up their
cigarette lighters cell phones? “Helllll yeaaaaa.”
7. “Live-In Skin”
“Live-In Skin” was created after the band had finished recording There is Nothing Left to Lose. In the time between the album’s recording and mixing, Dave was screwing around and (surprise, surprise) whipped up a catchy riff.
Grohl then eloquently pondered, “Fuck it! Let’s record this.” Thus, “Live-In Skin” was conceived.
Just the same old glitter story
From the sea floor, metamorphosis
Because any time you can throw “metamorphosis” into a song, you have to do it.
TURN YOUR INSIDES OUT TO THE OUTSIDE
TURN THE OUTSIDE IN TO THE INSIDE
TRADE YOUR OUTSIDE IN FOR THE INSIDE
Inside, outside. Outside, inside. Outside, inside. Snip, snap, snip, snap!
This is definitely a deep cut in the Foo Fighters’ catalog, but it’s a fun track. The song’s backstory embodies the true atmosphere surrounding the making of There is Nothing to Lose. Just three best friends jamming in a basement and creating music.
Though, jam sessions normally don’t end in Grammys and platinum records.
8. “Next Year”
“Next Year” was released as the fifth and final single off of album. The original recording clocked in at around 4½ minutes, while the radio version plays at a minute shorter. Additionally, it was momentarily the theme song for the NBC series Ed (2000-2004).
The music video pokes fun at the hype surrounding the Space Race of the late-sixties and early-seventies. While the U.S. and Russia were launching shuttles to the sky, the Vietnam War and protests were happening on ground level. In the video, the band embarks on numerous iconic space missions, all the while the world below is theoretically burning.
I’m in the sky tonight
There I can keep by your side
Watching the whole world riot and hiding out
I’ll be coming home next year
“Next Year” is yet another Foo Fighters track that discusses the act of flying. Albeit a soldier overseas or a space bound astronaut, the song’s narrator is content with wandering the skies, as he watches the world in turmoil beneath him.
“Next Year” has a beautiful introduction, but hits its groove at Verse 2 and the subsequent chorus. The radio version is more upbeat, but the album’s original recording gives listeners the true emotion of the song. “Next Year,” along with “Wheels,” are two underappreciated, flying-themed tracks that deserve more credit than they do in the pantheon of Foo Fighters hits.
Like “Aurora,” “Next Year” hits you with ‘the feels’ immediately. In fact, the song makes me want to cry. Whenever I hear “Next Year,” I think of moving away, or moving on. Specifically, I remember it playing on my iPod shuffle, as I drove a 1998 Chevy S10 to college for the first time. Nervous and scared of the unknown, yet hints of excitement.
Damn you, Foos…you’ve done it again.
The band claims that “Headwires” is dedicated to the 1981 Rolling Stones’ album Tattoo You. Fan theories interpreting the track include everything from Dave’s youth upbringing in Virginia, to drug use, to a somber tribute for “you know who.”
The sun is on Arlandria
Arlandria is a neighborhood located in Grohl’s hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. It’s also where There is Nothing Left to Lose was recorded. The neighborhood would later boast an entire single off of Wasting Light.
“Headwires” hits its groove at the Bridge, which seems to be the case with many songs in their discography, especially this record. It is the band’s protocol to kick off a song with mellow vibes, then transition into a gritty chorus preceding the bridge, which is generally a beautiful culmination of both.
This is standard Foo.
By all means, there is not a dud on There is Nothing Left to Lose. It is an iconic album for a reason. “Headwires” is a solid track overall, but it’s the weakest on the album, in my opinion. I have nothing to support this take, other than if I had to remove one track from the record, it would be “Headwires.”
As the legendary Jeff Lebowski says, “Yeah, well, that’s just like, your opinion, man.”
10. “Ain’t It the Life”
“Ain’t It the Life” was inspired by recording in a peaceful Virginia suburb, along with heavy amounts of Fleetwood Mac injected into the ear holes.
See the actors run and hide
Fake it all in stride
As we near the end There is Nothing Left to Lose, a reference to the album’s first track is made. Love me a good callback.
The guitar work gives off heavy Eagles vibes, along with the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac. In the featured acoustic performance, Hawkins thinks “Ain’t It the Life” is an Eagles song, while Dave thinks “they suck.” Of course, Dave would later collaborate with Joe Walsh on Sonic Highways.
If the band ever decides to make a country album, “Ain’t It the Life” would be the opening track, followed by the legendary live performance of “Keepin’ it Clean in KC.”
Much of There is Nothing Left to Lose is Dave escaping Los Angeles and reality. Such is the case with the album’s finale, “M.I.A.”
Grohl says, “’M.I.A.‘ is a good example of me, and how so often I’ll just say, “You know what? I’m outta here and I’ll be back whenever, and please don’t call.”
Never mind mannequins drunk in their hollow town
Drinking their spoils down
One last “fuck you” to the Hollywood phonies before we leave!
The Outro. Please follow these instructions accordingly:
1. Enter your car.
2. Plug in your auxiliary cord.
3. Add “M.I.A.” to queue.
4. Drive down an open road.
5. Crank the volume to 11 as if it’s a Spinal Tap concert and wail at the top of your lungs,
“YEAH, YA WON’T FIND ME I’M GOIN’ M.I.A!!!”
Therapy at its finest.
This is the best song on There is Nothing Left to Lose and honestly, the perfect send off to a fantastic album. If there is a common theme to the album, it’s to give yourself a mental break from reality. The band needed an escape plan from Hollywood, so they returned to suburban Virginia, and produced arguably their greatest album to date.
Thankfully, this hiatus was only a temporary “M.I.A.”
Happy twentieth birthday, There is Nothing Left to Lose. “Next Year,” drinks are on me.
Nate is a graphic designer as well as an avid appreciator of live music, pop culture of most kinds, and cats. Devon Rexes to be exact. He lives in Fargo, ND with his pop culture-loving wife Melissa Vosen Callens and 3 Devon Rexes: Huey Lewis, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks. They’re pretty rad. Send your questions, comments, concerns, swag, and music to [email protected]. Follow Nate on Twitter @natecallens and Instagram @fargonate. Cheers!