There Is Nothing Left To Lose (1999)
Though it’s easy to look back on The Colour and the Shape as the moment where Foo Fighters truly “began,” there’s something to be said for There Is Nothing Left to Lose as a genesis point for Foo Fighters as we now know them. After a few years of personal strife, Grohl found his new band stripped down to a core trio: bassist Nate Mendel, who’d been around since the beginning, and drummer Taylor Hawkins, who had joined in time to tour behind The Colour and the Shape, but would be recording with the band for the first time. The addition of Hawkins is particularly important; he and Dave have always seemed particularly close, and he has provided a steady presence in Grohl’s old seat behind the kit, thus serving as a constant foil to Grohl’s permanent new role as frontman.
When looking back on the making of There Is Nothing Left to Lose, Grohl cites the camaraderie as the defining characteristic of those days. After living in L.A. for a while, a period he describes as being fairly listless, he bought a house in Virginia and proceeded to record the new album in his basement. He, Mendel, and Hawkins were all very close, and it was apparently a relaxing recording process in comparison to the struggles of The Colour and the Shape (and the struggles to come with One By One). They’d often end a day of hard work with a barbecue.
It’s a laid-back, idyllic portrait of making an album, and that feeling seeps into the fabric of There Is Nothing Left to Lose. Though the rest of the world didn’t get to hear it until November of 1999, the album is obviously a summer album through and through, directly linked to the time the band spent at Grohl’s house. Easily the warmest of the Foo Fighters’ releases, There Is Nothing Left to Lose was actually quite a shift in tone and style from its predecessors (in general, there’s more variation amongst those first four Foo Fighters albums than you might remember). It’s glossier and softer, an album Grohl described as being devoted more primarily to melody. Grohl hardly screams on the whole thing, instead refining his singing ability and crafting the most gorgeous melodies of his career. “Live-In Skin,” “Breakout,” and “Generator” pushed the power-pop elements of the Foo Fighters to the fore. “Aurora” and “Headwires” revolved around vaguely spacey late-’90s guitar to different ends, the former remaining a beloved, meditative mid-tempo respite in the midst of live sets dominated by the band’s louder and more dramatic side, the latter a lost gem that pulses along calmly until boiling over into emotive choruses. The band hadn’t gone entirely soft, though. Opener “Stacked Actors” mixes a sinewy groove amongst amongst the chorus’ more typical Foo Fighters distorted charge. And while they certainly bear signs of the mellower side There Is Nothing Left to Lose was exploring, “Breakout” and the incredible closer “M.I.A.” could both hold their own alongside many of the band’s more rock-oriented music.
There Is Nothing Left to Lose wasn’t just the beginning of the band as a more permanent unit. It won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2001, marking the band’s first Grammy. It also had the single “Learn to Fly,” the first song of the Foo Fighters’ to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. For those of us who grew up in the ’00s knowing the Foo Fighters as rock radio and Grammys mainstays — as, really, a rock artist that was sort of the obvious option to keep popping up in that world — this is the beginning of Foo Fighters as pop institution. Oddly, the album that did it has become more of an anomaly in their catalog. Foo Fighters never sounded this casually and assuredly infectious and pretty again, which is a shame. Aside from the strength of Wasting Light, much of the Foo Fighters’ mature work has felt a little lost. There Is Nothing Left to Lose, though it has a collection of the songs it’d be hard for the band to ever match, points towards a different side of the band as strong as the one we’re more familiar with, one they might do well to explore more.