Sad Fred Durst and His “Limp Bizkit”

There was a moment at the end of last year (I think), when spitballing new content ideas in the caves, that I offered to write an essay for the Vast Abrupt defending Nickelback.

It was a hilarious discussion that followed — this being a suggestion perfectly cursed for some but way too cursed for others. (Sorry not sorry, Max Castle.)

The general argument — which, I must confess, I stand by — is that, like a number of pop rock albums of that era, Nickelback’s fifth album All the Right Reasons, best known for its much-memed single “Photograph”, is far more complex than most give it credit for.

Having long gotten over the insane overplay the song got at the time of its release, I think there’s a reasonable amount to like and be fascinated by here. The production values are top notch and, frankly, I think “Photograph” is a great pop song about middle-aged nostalgia. What I find most interesting, though, is the way that the quality of the song is only bolstered further by its contrast to the album its a part of.

The album is by no means a masterpiece — let’s not get ahead of ourselves — but I find that its biggest flaws do help to further raise its highs points in interesting ways — a dynamic unexplored by most due to the band’s overwrought reputation for being the epitome of “uncool”.

Consider the lamest songs on this album: the ones that seem to perform a kind of adolescent and overtly masculine sexuality — a trope common to rock music in general but previously never more unconvincing. There are a number of tracks along these lines to choose from. “Animals”, for instance, is not even the worst offender but, coming straight after “Photograph” on the album’s tracklist, its effect on the listener is a notably jarring one.

The track presents us with a distinctly adolescent pseudo-Ballardianism, glorifying that sexual association that All American Boys supposedly have between cars and girls, which is a familiar trope in itself but which, coming out of the mouth of a then-thirty-something man, is a little weirder than usual.

“Photograph”, in comparison, comes across as a brutally honest and heartfelt reflection on how distant the rest of the album’s hyperbolic emotional states really are. It’s a bright shard of truth in amongst an album of uncomfortable lies.

This tension is all over the album. Even the cover itself embodies a kind of escapist attitude that is unconvincingly definitive and the album’s title, All The Right Reasons, similarly reads as both a public display of self-confidence and a private self-deception.

Whilst its easy to see this album’s mess of emotions as a bad thing, easy to ridicule, for me it makes this record genuinely endearing in hindsight. It’s a mess that says a lot, perhaps inadvertently, about the disconnect between publicly glorified teenage memories and the bittersweet reality of the private process of remembering.

The effective contrast of “Photograph” to the rest of the album was, unfortunately, stripped away when it became a single, instead giving birth to an overplayed, oft-parodied monstrosity of the naughties’ post-grunge malaise, presented as an aural wet cloth of nostalgia and nothing more.

It’s hard to know where this lacklustre self-awareness came from in rock at that time. Kurt Cobain died in 1994 at the height of his fame, likewise signalling the popping of the grunge bubble, but Nirvana’s stylistic debris could be seen floating downstream for decades afterwords. This is particularly tragic and ironic considering just how woefully post-grunge rock scenes failed to deal with their own suffocating masculinity, the chorus of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” echoing depressively ad nauseam. Rock music’s biggest successes have failed to attend to the legacy of Cobain’s explicit penchant for feminist self-criticism.

For me, All the Right Reasons is a fascinating piece of shrapnel jettisoned from the cultural car crash, revealing something about the naughties’ psyche most remain too embarrassed to attend to.

I’ve been reminded of this today thanks to a similar if even more cursed take on Twitter which I’d like to share with you all now too: on the emotive dynamics of Limp Bizkit’s “final” album Results May Vary.

This all came about following a tweet about an article in The Fader: an oral history of Korn’s hit single “Freak on a Leash”.

“Millennial are reclaiming nu-metal and there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT”, the tweet claimed.

In my experience, nu metal has long been reclaimed. I’ve heard multiple times about music tech teachers waxing lyrical about the craftsmanship of nu metal production and the ways it manages to marry together such different styles of music without producing aural mud, as it otherwise theoretically should.

It is perhaps these quiet champions of the much-maligned genre who have allowed the millennials who consumed it so relentlessly in the mid-2000s to look back with fondness rather than abject shame. How else to explain the infiltration of nu metal revisionism into an otherwise bullishly trendy popular music press?

Admittedly, my cursed Nickelback take is late in its development. Turned off — like everyone else — by “Photograph”‘s initial inescapability, I came to the album much later, encouraged by a professional musician friend who was notorious for singing the praises of Chad Kroeger, often championing “Photograph” as one of the best pop tracks of its era that has suffered unfairly under its own market ubiquity.

This push towards revisiting the sounds of my early teens triggered a cascading nostalgia for the albums I listened to most in the early 2000s but later denied all existence of in an attempt to appear cool. Far down in the dark corners of my boxed-up CD collection, I couldn’t believe that I actually still liked a few of these albums and singles a lot. The most surprising of these renewed appreciations was Limp Bizkit’s Results May Vary — an album that evokes memories of driving down country roads, on the way to brass band practice, in the passenger seat of a car with my Dad, throughout the winter of 2003. (A year likewise defined by the sounds of Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers but I’ll save that for another cursed and shameless reminiscence.)

Limp Bizkit had come into my life three years prior to then, around that time when nu metal was pop-culturally inescapable, trickling down from teenage bedrooms into school playgrounds and into the charts. I specifically remember hanging out in sheltered corners of the primary school playground, huddling around a Walkman, listening to Papa Roach’s “Last Resort”, always fearful of having this inappropriate music confiscated if discovered, an experience which turned out to be a gateway drug to all sorts of music.

From the passing around of coveted CD singles, “Parental Advisory” stickers glaring at us behind already cracked and dulled plastic cases, family TVs were soon tuned into the Kerrang! TV channel almost exclusively in our neighhourhood.

I have another distinct memory of being round a friend’s house on a Saturday morning, ready to go out and play football in his garden or cycle up to the park, Kerrang! on the box, sent frantic by our three favourite songs all coming on in succession: “Last Resort”, Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” and Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”.

Moshing around the living room, shout-singing at the top of my lungs — “It’s all about the he-said-she-said bullshit!” — I remember my friend’s Mum bursting into the living room and scolding me. “We don’t say words like that in this house.”

We scarpered.

I think it’s worth noting — before we plunge irreversibly into the depths of cursed naughties nu metal — that, as prepubescent and lame as our angst was, Kerrang! was responsible for planting a lot of blessed subcultural seeds too.

Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy“, Tool’s “Schism” and Metallica’s “One” also made frequent appearances on the channel — Aphex Twin no doubt finding its way on there based on its visual aesthetic alone. It’s quite shocking to me now, to be honest, that I could watch these videos, barely a teenager, whilst eating toast in the family living room on a Saturday morning. The video for “One”, in particular, masterfully built around scenes from the 1971 anti-war drama Johnny Got His Gun — with its bleak vision of a fight for democracy inadvertently encompassing the democratisation of death — haunted me for years to come.

When nu metal was “over”, the influence of these videos — aurally and visually — remained strong, but there is no romantically accounting for a non-existent mental maturity.

Instead of pondering the realities of war and the uglier sides of democracy, when Limp Bizkit released their third album in the year 2000, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water, my mind were primed, ready and hungry for its low-brow scatological surrealism and performative urban angst.

I was eleven, so I’m happy to forgive myself of these sins. Of course the tie-in lead single “Take a Look Around“, appearing on the soundtrack for Mission: Impossible II, felt really cool to me then. When “Rollin’” was released and became inescapable, I was just as present for it. Heavily censored versions were centrepieces of tribal masculinity at school discos, naively emulating what we thought our older brothers and sisters got up to on night’s out. It wasn’t all about the impotent release of angst though, the juvenile “humour” of the album’s skits and lyrics opened many up to a world of 90s hip-hop that had previously eluded the collective consciousness of our 99.9% white school.

I got on board with all of this at the time and much more besides. I was a sponge. I heard A Tribe Called Quest for the first time, when someone put “Excursions” on a mix CD, around the same time. My trumpet teacher played me a fucked-up VHS tape of Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing “The Inflated Tear” around this time too. But these were alien experiences. Unquantifiable. Limp Bizkit were relatable to an prospective ideal of honest masculinity I had hoped to grow into rather than out of.

Plus, everyone liked Limp Bizkit. It made us feel grown up, aligning with our marginal ideas of what it means to be a man — but also to be an adult more generally. The biggest Limp Bizkit fan I knew, in fact, was my best friend’s sister, five years my elder. I didn’t have any older siblings myself and so she used to babysit me some nights. I’d just hide upstairs in my room until she played “Rollin'” on the hi-fi in the living room and I came downstairs and talked about Bizkit with her.

I even had a Chocolate Starfish hoodie that I wore obsessively. On holiday, probably in the summer of 2001, I remember being approached at a bar where my parents were having a drink by some much older boys, probably in their early 20s, incredibly intimidating, and they asked me what my favourite Limp Bizkit song was. I remember them being surprised that it wasn’t “Rollin'” or a previously bolshy hit. It was rather their fifth sleeper single from the album: “Boiler”.

“Boiler” echoed the glacial cool of “Take a Look Around”‘s Mission: Impossible vibe and, even though it retained the tried-and-tested formula of understated verses and a bombastic chorus — presaging “the drop” that came to define nu metal’s spiritual successor, EDM, particularly in the lineage that followed Skrillex, a still underexplored ancestral marker in mainstream American dance music — the song vied for introspection over an outwards masculine display.

This was, more or less, the first appearance of a previously unimaginable creature within the Limp Bizkit mythology: sad Fred Durst. Whilst the band were best known for appealing to the cross-cultural ubiquity of Gen X teen angst at the turn of the millennium, they had always shown signs of an experimental and progressive (shocking emphasis on “prog”) underside.

It may no doubt still come as a surprise to some to hear that, alongside a tone-deaf, raucous and rape-y George Michael cover, their debut album Three Dollar Bill, Y’all ended with the 16-minute (?!) nu metal mood piece, “Everything”. These experimental and genre-shattering excursions were no doubt down to the influence of funny-looking lead guitarist Wes Borland whose takes on cybergothic corpse paint gave the band a Slipknot vibe to necessarily contrast Fred Durst’s attempt at an Eminem edge which instead always came across as “middle-aged Vanilla Ice”.

Borland’s relatively nuanced experimentalism rarely came to the fore, however, often only being allowed as some kind of light relief, once every album. (Significant Other‘s “Re-Arranged” is perhaps another example.)

You can feel the tension on these tracks when they do make an appearance. The record label boardroom arguments over musical direction are all too easily imaginable and I remember the disappointment but lack of surprise felt when Borland announced he was quitting the band in 2001 to explore other projects, no doubt feeling increasingly blinkered by Limp Bizkit’s snowballing but formulaic success.

Two years after Borland’s departure, the band released Results May Vary. Without Borland, Durst was seemingly left in charge and the album explicitly alludes to his scatterbrained nature on and off record. The album art and title play on associations with mental illness, and prescription drug use and abuse, whilst also being suggestive of the uncertainty of their musical future more generally, now without a core pillar of their sound.

Working titles for the album apparently included Bipolar and Party Sniffer which perhaps also says it all…

The album’s reception with critics and fans was abysmal. According to the album’s Metacritic page, Q Magazine offered it the most positive review, suggesting — correctly, I think, even if it’s not saying much — that it was a “far more rounded proposition than 2000’s water-treading Chocolate Starfish.” However, AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine writes, more damningly:

Part of [the album’s] weakness stems from two perennial Limp Bizkit problems: for a metal band they sound, well, limp, and in Fred Durst they have the worst frontman in the history of rock. These two things plagued even their hits, but Borland at least gave the band some ideas. Without him, the band is left to flounder, and Durst, who already dominated the band’s personality, not only has to provide the bravado, but he has to give it direction — which is likely why it took so long for this mess to get released. Durst doesn’t come up with any new musical ideas, apart from slight hints of Staind and emo on the ballads, but the album doesn’t suffer from recycled musical ideas, since they were already doing that on Chocolate Starfish. No, it suffers from an utter lack of form and direction, from the riffs to the rhythms, and a surplus of stolen ideas.

Caroline Sullivan’s short, sharp review for The Guardian might be the most brutal of all, quoted here in full:

In the real world, anyone with the issues that apparently plague Fred Durst would spend most of their wages on the therapist’s couch. But Durst, the baseball-capped angst-machine who runs Limp Bizkit, has struck a deal whereby he is allowed to spout off to the nth degree of self-absorption and get paid for it.

There is no satisfactory explanation for the Florida rap-metallists’ 15m album sales other than that, when on form, they have a crude propulsiveness, best exemplified by the UK number one, “Rollin'”.

They are also that bit more insistent than their scores of imitators. Durst demands to be heard, and on Results May Vary, he goes to any lengths to make sure he is. If he’s not blasting out the speakers on the generic “Gimme the Mic”, he is sulking “Nobody knows what it’s like to be hated” on a slo-mo version of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”.

At least Limp Bizkit can’t be accused of festering in the rap-rock ghetto: Durst’s moody aggression adapts to gothic gloom (“Underneath the Gun”), Bon Jovian bubble-rock (“Build a Bridge”) and old-school funk (“Red Light, Green Light”, featuring a supremely sleepy Snoop Dogg).

But Durst’s problems are ever-present — and does anybody still care?

These assessments are all fair — don’t expect me to challenge them — but, much like my belated experience of Nickelback’s All the Right Reasons, I’m left siding most with another nonetheless deeply negative review — 1/10 — awarded by Dot Music: “Eventually, Results May Vary could become a fascinating document — a frightening insight into the vacuous state of 21st century culture.”

My first memory of the album comes when watching — of course — Kerrang! in 2003, as summer petered out and autumn loomed. There was an advert for the album broadcast on the TV, built around lead single “Eat You Alive”. I’d almost forgotten the band existed and was immediately excited by the prospect of new material, completely unaware of the drama that had dogged its production and release.

Revisiting the album a few years ago, this lead single shocked me. The misogyny of the song’s lyrics and its video leaves an awful taste in my mouth, but it’s here that the psychosis of a Borland-less Durst — and, likewise, as The Dot suggests in its review, the vacuous depression of the early 21st century — becomes more apparent than ever before. These are the contrasts of masculinity as found on Nickelback’s album writ larger than anyone thought necessary, or even possible.

The Durst of “Eat You Alive”, as the video’s sniffer-dog search party rightly suggests, needs to be locked up — he is, unequivocally, a fucking awful human being — but he’s not the only Durst on this album.

The sad Durst, long teased by a song like “Boiler”, is allowed to roam here. Although devoid of Borland’s subtly expressive flairs, sad Durst ends up writing what I think are some genuinely beautiful songs.

“Build a Bridge” is a song that is sensitive, introspective and forlorn in a refreshingly honest way. The contrast between the horrorcore violence of a song like “Eat You Alive” and these more melancholic tracks that explicitly ruminate on depression are, frankly, astounding. It’s no doubt too jarring for most tastes — and I must admit that my MP3 player contains a heavily edited version of the original track list which does without most of these embarrassing tracks — but it’s a fascinating spectacle.

It’s the kind of contrast that, oddly enough, reminds me of Kanye West in 2018. His most recent album, ye, is — I think — a really interesting and frank record of a bipolar experience, whilst nonetheless being uniquely Kanye. It’s a bit all over the place and it has a rushed quality that isn’t what Kanye is known for but it has a fragile energy that seems true to the experiences it is trying to describe.

The penultimate song “Ghost Town” is the best example of this for my money. It’s joyful and I’ve blasted it out in my kitchen a lot over the last few months — hollering along whilst doing the washing up, starting three DJ sets with it… It continues the mutant gospel vibe that was central to The Life of Pablo, but rather than talking about his manic excesses, here we have Kanye talking about the violent mundanity of bipolarity, closing with a mantra about self-harm no less.

If ye is a uniquely Kanye record of bipolar experience, perhaps we can think of Results May Vary as the Durst equivalent — and, in that respect, somewhat ahead of its time. It’s a record that accurately (that is, messily) reflects the inner turmoil of being a much-maligned public figure, for better and for worse. The critics are right in that it is an inconsistent mess but in that sense the working title of Bipolar suits it better than the eventual, somewhat self-deprecating choice.

The album’s second single (and let’s not forget its atrocious movie tie-in, Halle Berry-featuring music video to boot), The Who cover “Behind Blue Eyes“, was chosen to represent this depressive side of the album’s bipolarity but there are far better examples besides. “Down Another Day“, like “Build a Bridge”, captures a melancholy without the sort of cack-headed melodrama you might otherwise expect from this band. “Lonely World” seems to explicitly reflect upon the previous years turmoil, expressing clear regret and a lack of confidence. Album closer “Drown” may slide into melodrama but is nonetheless affective, ending on an ultimately depressive note about the future that seems genuine and honest, revealing the pitbull of “Eat You Alive” to be a shell of a man whose bark is far worse than his bite.

Sullivan, in her review in The Guardian, is perhaps right to be dismissive and deride these tracks as prototypically “emo” — Durst certainly doesn’t warrant her time or anyone else’s — but at the same time I think there are sensitive expressions of real trauma here. Durst is, for the first time in his musical career, sincere and conscientious — for a moment, before tearing it all down with Limp Bizkit 101 on the next track.

Then, out of nowhere, amongst the inconsistent back and forth between sincerity and vulgarity, in chimes “Almost Over”, a song about redemption and perseverance and silver linings, which marries a classically meaningless but boisterous chorus with surprisingly introspective lyrics on the nature of becoming a man, bridging two worlds in a tellingly comfortable combo.

By this point, you might be thinking, all of this contextualising doesn’t really redeem Results May Vary from being a horrendously bloated collection of music — and it is that — but given some time I think it reveals the antecedents of a contemporary culture that so many of Limp Bizkit’s reactionary male stereotype of an audience might now blame on political correctness and the intolerant left.

It is truly “a fascinating document — a frightening insight into the vacuous state of 21st century culture” — and if I recommend you pay attention to it again it is only to appreciate the nascent sounds of a path this subculture could have taken but decidedly did not.

Nevertheless: Sad Fred Durst doesn’t deserve to be in prison. Sad Fred Durst is the unfortunate emblem of a long-running cultural malaise, even more emblematic than the blight of Nickelback nostalgia. Durst is an ugly if honest vision of a pre-millennial post-modern man. Appropriately shouted down for his excessive aggression, undermining any possibility someone might hear his blatant cries for help, left to flounder in the shallow puddle of his own ineffective self-expressions.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, just as masculinity isn’t newly fragile, supposedly watered down by a newly feminised culture. It’s become fragile following generations of despairing, broken men, even the most articulate of whom seem to be incapable of being honest with themselves. (I wrote about this same theme as found in the Great American Novel recently, if you’re interested.)

This isn’t to defend Durst or his music as such — although I do really genuinely love the song “Build a Bridge” for some reason — but it is to suggest there is more to learn from him than his reputation has so far allowed of him. If nu metal is to have some sort of comeback, an album like this reveals the necessity of paying attention to the broader sociocultural conditions that are encouraging its return. Durst is a figure who began his self-reflection all too late — yes, perhaps in lieu of a therapist, but I’m nonetheless glad to see a bit of vulnerability find a platform towards the end.

That’s all in the past now. The moment has gone. When Limp Bizkit returned in 2011, no lessons were learned. They were better off dead with Results May Vary left to linger as an album of questioning and alternative paths untaken. Instead, their fifth album “Gold Cobra” acts as if none of the real-life horror, violence and drama of the band’s heyday — the lowest points undoubtedly being the violence of Woodstock ’99 and the death by crushing of an Australian fan, which Durst expressed an abject grief over in the aftermath — mattered at all, rendered meaningless by a meaningless return to a long out-dated sound.

As Nirvana’s “In Bloom” continues to echo down the decades of pop rock history, as a trite challenge left unabsorbed, I’m sure no one would have thought its lyrics would one day apply to the writers of the songs as well. It needn’t continue to be that way. Recognising the fragility of Durst’s later work reveals a side to his fame and persona that remains ignored and to the detriment of a culture at large, not just for his own sake.

If Durst has learnt nothing, why should his fans? “He don’t know what it means”, but I must confess an enduring soft spot for the moment he almost figured it out.


    1. Not missed so much as ignored, haha. I remember seeing it on a CD shelf in a record shop when it came out and ignoring them and never stopping.

  1. i feel i should write a post in relation to this, but i’ll throw some thoughts here while i don’t get to that:

    1) Nu Metal isn’t really best described by Limp Bizkit or even Korn, if you think of it. I’m probably biased towards the 00s bands in general, but I take Deftones and SOAD (maybe POD) to be the real “soul” of the thing, bringing in whatever styles to clash with metal and seeing what comes on the other side. if seen from this perspective, it’s eventual dissolution after nearly a decade was expected and actually a measure of success.

    2) as i expressed elsewhere, i think the core cultural phenomenon of Nu Metal is largely overlapping (and a prelude) to NRx. in Results May Vary (but already in Slipknot’s Iowa and before that in Korn’s Follow the Leader) the identification of a secular religion in charge of mainstream media, the emerging of a sense that technological plasticity of human nature was going to be hugely consequential, the undercurrent of separatism and a deep feeling that breaking stuff was necessary for *something* to happen are all present.

    3) can’t help but think that a lot of the creativity that Nu Metal expressed in its heyday is something largely missing in the now very formulaic rock styles. inventing something weirdly new demands not being afraid of sounding like a jackass.

    1. I think you make a good point on genre. Deftones and SOAD are interesting examples, I think, in that they’ve largely transcended the negativity that the genre has been blighted by. If they’re somehow *not* nu metal, it seems like it’s because they’re somehow seen as above it whilst nonetheless being its heart.

      This point on NRx is really interesting too. Would definitely like to read you say more on this.

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