[5 July 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
“A person has no need of sincerity, nor even of skill in lying, in order to be loved. Here I mean by love reciprocal torture.”
“I’m really feelin’ bad that we both gonna hafta say good-bye now… (GOOD BYE!!!)”
Like plenty of rappers before him, Fred Durst feels beset on all sides. Sometimes it seems like that was his main takeaway lesson as a neophyte rapper: “Dude, everyone hates rappers. Run with that.” Who exactly hates the guy, I’m not sure. Limp Bizkit haven’t done much lately—Gold Cobra is their first album since 2005—but a mid-career slump doesn’t equal the trials of Job. I’m guessing they have enough money to live. Besides, it’s worth remembering that they’ve garnered pretty good, if sheepish, reviews throughout their career. Nü-metal may be scorned, but at least Bizkit aren’t Hollywood Undead. (SERIOUSLY, have you heard that Hollywood Undead album? Don’t.)
Fortunately, Durst has figured out a way to fight back. He actually has several coping mechanisms. There’s the unbridled aggression (“Douchebaaag! I’mma fuck you up! FUCK you FUCK you FUCK YOU UP!!!”). The regression to an animal-like state (“Polar Bear ain’t a cracker you should fuck with”). Sometimes he walks away (“Walking Away” doesn’t have any memorable lines, sorry). Mostly, though, he lies like a polar bear rug. Look at that quote at the top. He doesn’t feel bad about leaving his lady at all; the gleeful “GOOD BYE!!!” clinches it.
Durst lies when he cries. He also lies when he doesn’t cry, when he shuns tears and emotion and turns himself into a cold shell of a man. “Should I remind you motherfuckers I don’t give a fuck?” Durst asks over the big lurching riff of “Shotgun”. No need, Fredrick! You’ve already told us so, over the monster riffs of “Bring It Back”, “Get a Life”, “Shark Attack”, and “Gold Cobra”. Remember when you were rapping all those words back there? Funny thing about making an album is that you have to MAKE it—write words and music, rehearse, book studio time, basically run a whole gauntlet of rigamarole designed by the music industry to ensure that, if anybody’s ever gonna hear your music, you do in fact “give a fuck”. If you didn’t, you might sit in the living room with the sawed-off on your lap, but you wouldn’t release a song about it.
So by definition, Durst lies about not caring, which means when you listen to most of Gold Cobra you’re dealing with some version of the unreliable narrator so adored by pop sophisticates. This really shouldn’t surprise anyone who loves pop music, because pop singers say one thing and mean another all the time. At the very least, music makes singers overstate their cases, and listeners can see right through that. For some reason, though, people tend to think Fred Durst is incapable of irony, maybe because they sell him short in the intelligence department. At one point he does rhyme “habit”, “grab it”, and “stab it”, so that might have something to do with it.
Just to be clear: Durst’s unreliable narration isn’t some abstract device meant to curry favor with pop sophisticates. This device may or may not provide Durst himself with some aesthetic satisfaction, I don’t really care. But in his songs, Durst’s irony comes across as clear-cut communication with listeners. It’s a writing device that clarifies and specifies our feelings.
You ever have a really bad day at work when it felt like you were, I dunno, fighting off a bunch of douchebags or sharks or something? And all you wanted to do was either obliterate your adversaries or convince them you don’t care about them? But you couldn’t attempt either of those things because they’d see right through you? So instead you drove off and got all teary listening to “Working Class Hero”? (I, um, must’ve read about this somewhere.) Fred Durst also understands the impotent rage of the working class hero. He knows it’s vitally important to convince your enemies that YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT THEM, he knows this desire is futile, and he knows his listeners feel that same futility. All that impotent rage is embodied in his lyrics.
Musically, too, Durst knows what he’s doing. Though his rhymes and rhythm patterns aren’t complicated, you don’t rap as well as he does without honing some technique. He’s got a good ear for a syncopated line. Durst makes rhymes that are easy for his Everydude audience to learn and remember, but they’re also indelible enough that they’re hard to forget.
Bizkit’s music, played here by their original lineup, clarifies and specifies Durst’s rage. As plenty of reviews last decade sheepishly pointed out, Limp Bizkit are actually a Good Band. They’ll nod your head. Guitarist Wes Borland pulls off one huge catchy riff after another, and he and DJ Lethal add sound effects that alter their songs subtly and not-so-subtly. (“Shotgun” ends with an Andes flute playing “There’s a Place in France” over a beat made entirely of shotgun sounds. Badass.) The rhythm section’s bottom end is fatter than your girlfriend.
That reminds me! Limp Bizkit have some unreasonable expectations of women. Specifically, if Limp Bizkit attend a party, they expect that there will be nine women for every one of them, and that these women will undress, enter a swimming pool together, and kiss one another. I think they request this stuff in their tour rider. Frankly, with Odd Future innovating the field of female objectification every day, Bizkit’s imaginations seem a little quaint.
Also quaint, at least in the context of all Durst’s fighting and threatening, is a sung bit of advice that just sort of appears out of nowhere. In the middle of “Get a Life”, right after screaming murderous threats at some haters, Durst sings, “Don’t let the world bring you down.” Twice. That advice could serve as the band’s aperçu, sort of the flipside to Durst’s refusal to care about the haters he’d like to kill.
You and I both know the world is full of haters. Life in the world is inseparable from pain, at least if you care about people, and nobody except a sociopath is capable of not caring about people. Caring equals pain like love equals reciprocal torture. Proust and Durst don’t share much, but they do share this darkly funny truth: the more you try to detach your feelings from a lover or an adversary, the more you realize how little control you have over those feelings. People go to desperate lengths to assert that control. Some people even liken themselves to golden cobras or go swimming with sharks like Frank Whaley (not to be confused with Frank Ocean). With any luck, those people also form a crack band and make an album that sounds better than 90% of the music released this year. Let your guard down and jam some Bizkit. You owe it to yourself. Besides—and I hate to make threats, but it’s true—if you tangle wit’ the lion you gon’ end up in the zoo.