Half-Life: Limp Bizkit

Limp Bizkit are far from the most unanimously loved band to ever grace the metal spectrum.  Often derided as abrasive and angst-ridden rap metal for beer-swilling frat boys, it’s perfectly understandable why they’ve never found acclaim among the purists.  However, there was a time when they were inescapable commercial juggernauts with a tendency to make headlines for the wrong reasons, as well as poster boys for the much maligned nu-metal subgenre.  If you grew up in the ’90s then chances are they were an important part of your musical development.  Limp Bizkit never set out to appeal to the sensibilities of your average Slayer fan, and whether you like them or not, they have left their mark in metal’s storied history for their “my way or the highway’’ mentality.  Chances are if you love or even appreciate their music it’s because you grew up with their music, and because of that there is a certain nostalgic fondness attached to them.  Love them or loathe them, when Limp Bizkit is in da house, they sell out arenas worldwide and pack festivals from the back to the front.  In 2017, dare we say people have finally warmed to them? I’d like to think that they’re the lovable rogue metal didn’t want but learned to love over time. However, could we go as far to say they never received the credit they deserved in the first place?

During the ‘90s and early 2000s, Fred Durst and co. were at the forefront of a movement that was good for metal. Nu-metal during its apex was bold, fun and, in some cases, quite innovative.  One of its most appealing characteristics was that it wasn’t bound to any set of rules. Often was the case, artists would boast an eclectic sonic palette and it wasn’t unusual to hear a multiple styles and genres incorporated into a single song or album.  All in all, it was a free-for-all at times.  Take Sugar Ray’s criminally forgotten debut Lemonade & Brownies for example, a riotous mix of metal, punk, hip hop, funk and soul that epitomized the diversity and carefree spirit found in the work of some of the genre’s most enjoyable artists.  Furthermore, some bands proved to be groundbreaking; Deftones, Slipknot and System of a Down have always been quick to distance themselves from the label, but their earliest releases contained elements which we associate primarily with nu-metal.  Despite being unlike anything else the genre was producing at the time, they were still nu-metal, and over time those particular bands have evolved to transcend genre barriers.  

Even at its most simple, nu-metal was pretty interesting, and while the term leaves a sour taste in the mouth’s of a large contingent of metal fans, to others it represents fond memories worth celebrating.  Limp Bizkit have never strayed far from their roots; while they have showed artistic evolution across their career trajectory, no one is every going to pretend that they’re anything more than what they are.  However, what they are is an enigma; equally loved and loathed, yet livin’ it up, not givin’ a fuck… in the fast lane.

If you don’t like Limp Bizkit then you have Korn to blame for their fame.  Go complain to Jonathan Davis, but I bet he’ll tell you to blow on his bagpipes now that him and Fred are buds again.  Anyway, it all started with Fred Durst promising to give the Bakersfield boys a place to crash and free tattoos after one of their show’s back in the day.  Too good an offer to refuse, they accepted and went back to his crib.  But Durst had an ulterior motives beyond  simple hospitality and drawing on rock stars. As it turned out, he had his own band and he brought Korn back so he could plug his demo.  “Fuck it” they probably thought, “Why not? We have a roof over our head’s and Head has a terrible tattoo.” After liking what they heard enough, they passed it on to producer Ross Robinson and the rest is, as they say, history.

Three Dollar Bill Y’all was unleashed in 1997 and was met with considerably positive reviews from critics upon release.  While, the album suffers from the same pitfalls many debuts do – like being unpolished and unoriginal – it’s a ferocious beast of record that executes the formulaic rap metal sound with aplomb.  Many Limp fans consider this to be their best work due to its tenacious qualities, but their subsequent commercial-orientated sound would see them embrace their pop sensibilities and stadium-sized hooks which, in this writer’s humble opinion, plays more to their strengths.  That said, at the same time it contains their cover of George Michael’s “Faith,’’ which is arguably their poppiest moment to date.  It would also serve as a benchmark for subsequent nu-metal bands to ironically cover beloved pop songs and make them their own.  “Faith’’ is a triumphant attempt and even though Michael absolutely despised their take on one of his biggest hits, it did attract Limp an army of fans.

The record opens with aptly titled “Pollution,’’ which is ironic as many metal fans would use that as an adjective to describe the band’s existence. With its catchy riffs, funky licks, turntable scratching, groovy bassline and vocals oscillating between rapping and throaty screams, it sets the precedent for the rest of the record.  “Counterfeit’’ on the other hand, is angsty, catchy and heavier than a fishing net full of whales.  “Freakin’ me out, you wear a mask called counterfeit’’ is an aggressively addictive singalong hook accompanied by an equally addictive and irresistible riff designed with the sole purpose of making crowds jump around.  From the very outset Limp were a band who wrote songs with live shows in mind, and that energy never lets up for a second on their debut.

Overall, Three Dollar Bill Y’all is a time capsule record which hearkens back to a period when an emerging musical movement was garnering momentum, and it just to happened to give it the turbo boost it needed to further into the mainstream stratosphere.  Sure, it’s a flawed record and quite exhausting to listen to after awhile as it sounds samey, but it’s not without its moments of greatness either.  

Sophomore effort Significant Other is a hook-filled masterpiece.  “Nookie’’ was the empowering heartbreak anthem of every red Yankee cap-wearing dude bro teenager in 1999, while “Break Stuff’’ remains one of the better macho bravado fight songs out there (Five Finger Death Punch could learn from it). “Re-Arranged’’ is perhaps best remembered for its music video where the band are sentenced to execution, made as a response to the media who blamed them for inciting violent riots at Woodstock ‘99.  But it’s also exemplary of the moody, contemplative songs which featured more prominently in 2002s Results May Vary to great effect.  When Durst just sings, I think he’s at his best, though the rapping is certainly part of his charismatic schtick.  Speaking of rapping, “N 2 Getha Now’’ features a guest appearance from Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan fame and saw the band embrace their hip hop elements uninterrupted, even going as far to bring in legendary producer DJ Premier.  Bringing in rappers to feature on tracks has since been a regular fixture in their output.  Additionally, it features guest spots from Jonathan Davis, Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland and Staind’s Aaron Lewis.  

Song for song, Significant Other is loaded with tracks which could have been huge hit singles, and it’s the album which saw saw the band hone their sound and go on to conquer the world.  But their follow-up a year later would see them score their biggest hits to date. Released in 2000, Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water sold over 1 million copies during its first week alone.  Not only was the album a huge commercial success, but it would see the band leave their stamp all over pop culture at the time as well; they provided the official theme song for Tom Cruise’s action blockbuster hit Mission: Impossible with “Take a Look Around,’’ while mega hits “Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle)’’ and “My Way,’’ became staples of WWE television.  “My Generation,’’ which was originally titled “Cum On My Shoes’’ according to Wes Borland, which explains the mindset going into the album.  Even for a Limp Bizkit album, Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water is pretty puerile, but it’s irresistibly catchy throughout and chances are, if you’ve listened to it even a few times, you’ll recall every lyric and be able to rap and sing along with it from “Intro’’ to “Outro.’’  

Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored album is a confident body of work and an enjoyable collection of mainstream rap metal numbers.  However, it sounds like band playing to their strengths without experimenting and manufactured to appease a mass audience.  Significant Other is an overtly mainstream record as well, but it benefits from sounding like a band with something to prove still.  Chocolate Starfish just feels too settled, even though it is enjoyable.

After Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, tensions between Borland and Durst boiled over, which ended up with the former leaving the band in 2001 to start afresh for a short period.  Borland’s Eat the Day project never amounted to anything, though the guitarist has since gone on to establish himself as a creative force with projects like Black Light Burns and Queen Kwong.  With Borland temporarily out of the picture, the band would bring in former Snot guitarist Mike Smith (at least until they fired him during recordings) for 2003s Results May Vary – one of their finest hours.

Results May Vary is the black sheep in the Bizkit canon.  Even though singles “Eat You Alive’’ and their cover of “Behind Blue Eyes’’ by The Who still enjoy daily circulation on hard rock music channels, the album itself is somewhat overlooked.  Now, let’s not go pretending that it’s a powerful lamentation of Fred Durst’s soul, but it’s unquestionably his most personal work to date, and in a way it feels sincere… for Durst anyway. However, while the album does contain throwbacks to the traditional Bizkit sound ( (“Gimme a Mic’’ and “Redlight-Greenlight’’), for the most part it’s a grand departure from it.  “Underneath the Gun’’ sees Durst waxing elegiac over some moody alternative rock and it’s a surprisingly weighty exploration of regret.  “”Down Another Day’’ is a rainy day ballad, while “Almost Over’’ straddles fine line between the Bizkit of old and their newfound self-discovery here.  For “Build a Bridge’’ sound more like their proteges Staind, but it works.  “Phenomenon’’ on the other hand is a reminder that the band hadn’t lost their knack for pure unadulterated mosh-ready rap metal, and with its shouty chorus and crushing riffs it packs a hell of a punch.

Shortly after Results May Vary, Borland rejoined the band and they’d release The Unquestionable Truth EP in 2005, their most genuinely angry collection of songs to date.  Gone is the faux frat boy aggression of their previous work, replaced instead with some authentic fury, addressing topics like child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and terrorism, and Durst giving it his best Zack De La Rocha vibes throughout.  It’s also their heaviest work so far, showcasing some truly sinister and metallic riffs from Borland.  For a guitarist who’s regularly shared his distaste for metal music, he’s sure given the genre some of its most enjoyable riffs throughout the years.

After The Unquestionable Truth EP, the band would go on hiatus until 2011.  Their comeback, Gold Cobra, is a trip down memory lane, clearly aimed to cash in on the nostalgia of a fan base who just want to relive their teenage glory days as they.  Still, the good thing about fan service is that it caters to fans – and Gold Cobra doesn’t try to be anything else.  There are still some surprises to be found though, like the guitar solo “Shotgun,’’ or the straight-up trap-thrash of “Bring It Back.’’  Here, Bizkit stick to the formula, but there’s a maturity to it which comes with most bands who have developed as musicians together throughout the years.

Limp Bizkit’s career has been an interesting one to say the least, and with a new album hopefully set for release this year, it’ll be interesting to see the musical direction they take.  Their last trio of singles “Ready to Go,’’ “Lights’’ and “Endless Slaughter’’ sound nothing alike, and the first two were recorded during their brief stint with Cash Money, a mainstream hip hop/R’n’B label.  The band are under no illusions about what they are and understand that if the world never heard another Limp Bizkit album again it wouldn’t stop turning.  However, that also gives them an opportunity to make music for themselves, and if you read interviews that seems to be exactly what they’re doing.  I don’t know about you, but a Limp Bizkit vanity project sounds pretty intriguing to me.  Durst and Borland seem to have found common ground these days and a willingness to find a happy medium creatively.  Whatever the future holds, there will always a place for Bizkit in the Metalsphere.  The world might not be eagerly awaiting Stampede of the Disco Elephants, but when it does arrive the metal community will certainly know about it.

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