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3 Chords Into 1

[whitespace] Limp Bizkit
Photograph by F. Scott Schaefer

Insignificant Others: Limp Bizkit enjoys its brief moment in the pop spotlight.

Limp Bizkit uses hip-hop to lower punk to a common denominator

By Gina Arnold

THE THING about truisms is that they are usually true. Such is certainly the case with the phrases "nothing succeeds like success" and "America loves a winner"--two facts that you'll see reflected in the reviews of Significant Other (Interscope), the second album by come-from-nowhere kids Limp Bizkit.

Beyond a certain cartoonish visual style and a sweaty, high-energy live show, this Florida-based band has little to recommend it to people over the age of 13. But because Limp Bizkit's first album, Three-Dollar Bill Y'all$, sold 1.5-million copies with minimal press or radio airplay, critics are panting to praise the group. Alas, there's nothing much artful to praise it for, so Limp Bizkit is being saddled with social significance.

"It's the music Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris would have listened to," trumpeted one national publication, thus giving Limp Bizkit a kind of false importance it hardly deserves--not to mention sticking Columbine shooters Klebold and Harris with the equally undeserved status of cultural arbiters for a nation.

In fact, Limp Bizkit plays dumb, obvious, tuneless rock overlaid with easily assimilated touches of rap. When I first heard the band, I thought immediately of bland white suburbs, L-shaped shopping malls, industrial parks, tract homes and fake-looking castles--and all the other unbeauteous American environments where nature has been irreparably marred.

This kind of music is the product of places so unstimulating that mere rhythmic noise passes for intellectual thought. To anyone with slightly higher standards, however, Limp Bizkit's music is as monotonous as driving along 100 miles of linear accelerator.

Like many such bands from similar locales, Limp Bizkit produces songs full of naughty words and sentiments, a tactic always appealing to fans of hard rock and currently making the rounds of low-high pop culture.

If anything, Limp Bizkit isn't shocking enough. I mean, if I'm going to listen to loud, hard teenage rock, I'd like it to involve some humor and edge: Iggy Pop grinding glass into his chest, Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bird or even just Metallica's over-the-top pyrotechnics. Limp Bizkit never approaches anything worth writing home about.

THIS ISN'T to say that Limp Bizkit is shockingly bad. It's just that there have always been bands like this around appealing to the lowest common denominator, bands whose blue-collar, all-teenage, all-male audience finds catharsis in the bludgeoning dumb rock. (Not for nothing did Limp Bizkit allow the first 200 women into its concerts for free until very recently.)

What's new is the band's elevation to the status of art rock, a circumstance due entirely to the "Emperor's New Clothes" effect that causes frightened critics to embrace populist bands, just in case they turn out to be important. Limp Bizkit is lucky to be benefiting from this knee-jerk reaction right now, because it's not like it's Elvis or the Sex Pistols, whose deeper meanings eluded the mainstream media.

Limp Bizkit's ascension is due to plain old professionalism, just as in big business. The band got famous partly by touring and partly thanks to being championed by Korn, another critically hated act that toured itself up the ladder of success, and whose members were clients at the tattoo parlor where Limp frontman Fred Durst plied his art.

There is, however, an unpleasant aura of cringing obsequiousness about Limp Bizkit. The number of shout-outs (thank-yous) on the record jacket almost defies belief--and they are all wrapped into a long essay on how lucky the band feels to have made it.

The implication--that the band members know they are thoroughly unoriginal and uninspired--is inescapable. And also correct, because people have been mixing rap and hard rock since Run-D.M.C.'s "Walk This Way" in 1984, if not earlier.

The music on Significant Other also sounds quite a lot like '80s hardcore acts: the Rollins Band and Helmet, for instance, minus the tunes. The band has reduced the three chords of punk to one chord, all in the name of hip-hop.

Limp Bizkit also used to perform on a set that consisted of a giant filthy toilet, and the band's new video collection is to be called Poop. But instead of reveling in the low humor and/or ghoulishness of current scatological phenoms like Eminem, Adam Sandler and South Park, Limp Bizkit's songs are super-sincere, straightforward angry rants with lyrics like "Everything is fucked/Everybody sucks."

BUT AS FOR claiming the band reflects the moral emptiness of today's youth culture--to hell with that! Every generation says that about the one beneath it, but to apply such a tenet to the Limp Bizkits of the world is giving them way more than their due.

With no larger meaning or home truth or even a melody to sustain it for the ages, a record like Significant Other is utterly dependent on the current cultural climate for its power. The album will be bought by kids for the brief period of time that the kids think the band is hip--and for no longer, period.

The theme of Significant Other, such as it is, is sexual betrayal--allegedly that of singer Fred Durst by his ex-girlfriend. Durst's not much of a thinker, though. He's spent an entire album and a half bragging about his own sexual foibles but can't quite stretch to the conclusion that turnabout is fair play.

The confusion, lengthiness and yet mental simplicity of the lyrics in songs like "Nookie" and "No Sex" (in which Durst speciously concludes, "Should have left my pants on this time/but instead you had to let me dive right in") are really what is keeping Limp Bizkit from achieving any radio or mass appeal. All the best pop music involves some kind of short, sweet truths.

Not Limp Bizkit, whose gaze is turned hopelessly inward. Musically, the band peps up its plodding guitar chords with guest appearances by Wu Tang Clan's Method Man; the record also has a number of exceedingly tedious guest speaker cameos, unoriginally delivered via answering machine. (Can you say De La Soul, Beastie Boys, etc.?) The best thing about Limp Bizkit is its visual style, seen here in the cover art.

In the end, Limp Bizkit reminds me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They too were popular because of their esprit de something or other: the personalities of Anthony and Flea were always much more important than their actual songs (although Flea's chops were much grander and more difficult than anything Limp Bizkit's come up with). The Chili Peps eventually scored some hits with ballads. To date, Limp Bizkit's had a minor hit with a novelty cover of a song by George Michael that it didn't even have the wits to elevate to the level of irony.

But none of the songs on Significant Other display even that much airplay potential. Limp Bizkit is riding high now on touring--at least touring with other, equally cartoonish, acts--but that won't last forever. If Limp Bizkit can't produce a ballad with a melody, it is doomed to obscurity--and sooner than it thinks.

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From the July 22-28, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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