[Update: Read guitarist Wes Borland’s response to our review.]
You know what to expect. Angry and aggressive, defiantly sleazy, Limp Bizkit long ago crowned themselves kings of spastic rap-rocking shit talkers. At the onset in 1997 the explosive dynamics of sound pulled us in, while the juvenile vitriol of the red-capped frontman drew most of us right the hell back out; vocalist Fred Durst, reviled and adored as rap-rock’s snotty mascot, stepped into his polarizing caricature role with giddy enthusiasm, and a musical supervillain was born.
Not much has changed. Instrumentally, Gold Cobra is far and away the band’s best release, their tightest and toughest playing since Three Dollar Bill, Y’all. John Otto’s percussion threatens to demand repeat listens on its own, with dynamic rhythmic assaults that get even the most reluctant of heads rocking. Bassist Sam Rivers flaunts flourishes of jazz grooves and funk struts throughout, pushing the stylistic envelope beneath the distractions of the vocals and weaving a stringed tether for Wes Borland’s guitar acrobatics.
Borland, the band’s not-so-secret weapon and polarity balance beam, has returned to the mix (“We decided we were more disgusted and bored with the state of heavy popular music than we were with each other”), adding a potency of atmosphere and sonic architecture that incentivizes a test listen. But despite his downright awesome work on the stringed axe, there’s no overstating the detrimental impact of our cartoonishly obscene and defiantly douche-soaked narrator Fred Durst, whose vocal stain reliably reduces the band’s collective sound to that of the Garbage Pail Kids hauling a bucket of meth into the studio. He’s that same sneering face on the screen, still claiming not to give a fuck what people think, still pushing the limits of trash, because there’s simply no other direction to take the Durst train.
And let’s be clear: Limp Bizkit is the Fred Durst show. Borland can’t save it, and he certainly can’t grab the wheel, no matter how many crunch-metal acts of string wizardry he can pull from his formidable hat. Durst’s presence is simply too heavy, his voice too high in the mix to push it to the peripheral for the sake of salvaging the quality behind him.
Gravedigging in the rap-rock cemetery after a pulsing-nightmare intro, Bring It Back finds Durst trying to emulate today’s rhyme executioners and spit quick flow with the same snot-nosed defiance we remember. Title track Gold Cobra brings us back in full-throttle form to the chunk-riff ’90s bro-jam era, though a rock chorus and background shouts of “shut the fuck up!” circle the drain before a braggadocious “oh yeaaaaah” breakdown. We’re back in 1999.
On the fiipside of nostalgia’s double-edged sword, the long-dreaded Break Stuff sequel comes with Shark Attack, Fred’s whine/cry frat skunk spinning tales of oppression by the scary detractors out there who would dare question his motives. “Swimming with sharks aint easy / they just want to kill and eat me / I aint gonna let that happen / watch me plan my shark attack and / make them wish they never knew me / turn their green-white ass to sushi“. Powerful stuff, if you’re ten and were molested by Dr. Seuss.
This is music for hateful idiots, the puff-chested shit talking self-aggrandizing nonsense we knew it would be before they set foot in the studio. But Durst’s narcissism hits new levels of what the fuck, pandering on overdrive to the demented nonthinkers with turbulent pasts, displaced anger and intensely limited cerebral capacity – or just the people who idealize such types and celebrate purposeless ego-stroking conflict magnets that hook a vacuum hose to the soul of musical artistry and flip the switch with a sneer and a middle finger. This makes it perfectly reasonable that the aggro-inflation of Get a Life – featuring the spaz-massive chorus “You don’t want to be my enemy, I promise you” – leaves one convinced that Charlie Sheen is going to fucking love this song.
Get a Life‘s stoner-psychedelic outro with a skunk funk serves as a reminder of the potential the band has without its frontman. Like Counterfeit off their debut, Shotgun is primed to fulfill those old-school yearnings for a taste of what it was that got you into this band in the first place. But the “pleasure” part of guilty pleasure doesn’t last through the first verse. “Everybody jumps from the sound of a shotgun / In my neighborhood, everybody got one“. Can’t wait to see the suburbia kids bumping this shit in the cul-de-sac before mom comes home from work.
Echo-laden guitars build the introduction to Walking Away, and there’s genuine potential to the track. But Durst’s lack of range is too clear, flat on the vocal at the onset and, reliably, embarrassingly weak in the lyric “I can’t escape the tragedy / It always brings me down / If I could eliminate those things that make me frown” – it’s not a surprise when the “burn it to the ground” rhyme is laid out. But Borland’s guitar evokes an inspired Billy Howerdel, a soulful and proficient talent beneath the bro-schtick bullshit that represents the Bizkit brand. Is it any wonder why he paints his face and wears disguises?
Fred’s no dummy. He knows what he’s doing, to the extent that he knows the value of pandering to the damaged demographic that’s drawn to his syphilitic spazzy bravado. The stank underbelly of Kardashian Culture hangs heavy in the air like dead fish and sulfur, a stagnant trash-glam lifestyle where Jesse James and Kat Von D roll deep in flashing lights and Lohan trolls for powder behind the velvet rope – and Bizkit’s red-capped vocalist knows exactly what triggers bring the dirt out of the woodwork.
And so we come to Autotunage, a song guaranteed to wipe the final remnants of the voice-altering effect fad from the pulverized, collagen-puckered sphincter of modern pop culture. This dubs Durst our guilty pleasure garbage man, dishing final rites to a fad that’s been (mercifully) slipping from view. Sound familiar? Because that’s what most of us hoped would happen to this fake-anger rap-rock fad.
Gold Cobra is not an album for you, dear Rock fan. You’re not expected to “get” it. It was crafted and fine-tuned for the chick who always scrapped in high school that everybody knew was going to end up a stripper or drilled on film for money, and moreso for the thug-bro currently taking the venereal plunge with her in the back of his ride. You know him well: the sideways-cap wearing, shit-talking tough guy cartoon who’s made a style and subculture out of ignoring the hardwired biological drive to adapt to modernity and improve oneself, doubling down in dysfunction instead – because it doesn’t require the discomfort of effort and true substance. This is music for the sneering scumbags who find kinship in the dregs of cultural rot and feel no inner pull to rise beyond the reflexive cave-man instinct to fuck, pillage and attack.
What else is Fred going to do? The constant reinvention of self didn’t help Vanilla Ice at all, and nobody’s about to start taking Durst seriously as a musician. You can’t fight the brand once the caricature has been tattooed on the minds of the target demographic, so you can either abandon it entirely and take up a normal job (once the royalties spigot slows to a trickle), or entrench yourself in the depths of depravity. Write songs about the oppression you face from the “haters” who reject idolizing the damage and destruction you use that international megaphone to champion, with anthemic choruses screaming “Douchebag, I’ma fuck you up / fuck you, fuck you, fuck you up”.
Closer Killer in You sports a truly sick Borland solo & core riff that gets the body moving, but as the album’s hourglass runs out to chants of “kill that motherfucker,” we’re reminded that this is tailor-made for violent, insecure thugs who poison the gene pool and shit in the punch bowl of life.
There is an entire industry built to shove the Limp Bizkits of the world up our asses, promising us that the taste of shit is the exciting new flavor once again. Ignore a cancer and it will grow and metastasize, finding fuel and support where you never imagined possible. Identify it, call it for what it is and pull the curtain from the facade, and perhaps the whole can begin to grow stronger, better.
Make your choice.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.