Nu-metal archetypes Limp Bizkit surprise-released their new album, Still Sucks, on Hallowe’en. As a nu-metal kid in the late 90s and early 2000s — who admittedly hasn’t kept up with anything Limp Bizkit-related since their 2003 album Results May Vary, when the genre basically seemed to die — listening to Still Sucks via YouTube was a peculiar time-warp.
Musically the new album feels incredibly formulaic. The band were always at their baroque best when they were throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. For better or worse, that often came from totally embracing being an emotional man-child. But it seems like Durst has thrown off that persona in his middle age. Though his voice hasn’t changed at all — at least his nasal Cypress Hill impersonation (he seems to struggle with the more melodic flourishes) — the lyrics actively engage in a process of historicizing their own sound and embracing has-been status.
Album opener “Out of Style” couldn’t be more blatant on this point. Durst’s (?) affected spoken drawl at the top of the track announces “We cannot change the past / But we can start today to make a better tomorrow.” The album’s chorus declares “It’s time to rock this motherfucker ’cause I’m always out of style” — a knowing nod to nu-metal’s perpetual status as musical obscenity, folding together different genres in a way that was very much of that time but also very much out of time.
Conceptually, I find this development interesting. It’s hard to rate too much of the album musically, but it does feel like an interesting progression for one of Noughties pop music’s strangest fixtures — the lyrics are self-aware, self-reflective and often explicitly address the reality of being a band not from this moment still doing what they want to do — and yet, on the other hand, this is Limp Bizkit in a fixed state. The album bottles their essence, condenses every song down to 3 minutes or less and makes sure everyone captures everything you’d love about a Limp Bizkit track — not only sonically but it terms of its structure and pacing.
Guitarist Wes is arguably at his most creative in years here, with some seriously twisted and atonal riffs making up the backbone of many of the tracks, but the rest of the band seems to be making a paint-by-numbers Limp Bizkit album. It all sounds as it should and as a nostalgia-drenched brain would expect, but it’s somehow still a little soulless, on the whole. It even does that thing that I really loved about Results May Vary (my favourite Bizkit album), with Durst turning on a dime and killing the flow of a few high-energy songs with an emo acoustic-heavy number. But the punch barely even registers on any of my listens through.
I’ve written about nu-metal’s strangeness before, in a post I’d like to turn into a book one day. What still fascinates me about nu-metal to this day isn’t necessarily the music — which remains Marmite but which I must confess having a soft-spot for — but the cultural moment it often tried to express.
Take the video for Papa Roach’s big hit “Last Resort” as an example. The video concept is interesting. It’s a furious track, Deftones-flecked, that ultimately has an emo skeleton. It’s like Rites of Spring went hair metal. You have a metal band on a weird sort of Michael Jackson stage set-up, surrounded by kids having the time of their lives. But as the camera focuses in on various groups or individuals within the throng, we’re presented with a series of portraits of a lost generation.
I think this is what was so attractive to me about this moment, when these images were always on the TV — not as a late Gen-Xer who could identify with any of the angst (I was 9 when “Last Resort” came out) — but as a young millennial.
Recently, I’ve been writing a few chapters on Albrecht Dürer for a forthcoming book project. I’ve mentioned this in a few posts recently… I think he’s a fascinating artist because of his position caught between generations — or rather, epochs. On the one hand, he’s the first person to paint the self, or at least become truly obsessed with the self as a subject matter in his work. But at the same time, he also made a great deal of melancholic work that seemed to mourn the end of a more social period, when society was held together by institutions and belonging and not the burgeoning ideologies of Protestant liberalism. In this regard, Dürer straddles the transition between Catholicism and Protestantism, fine art and the new age of the printing press, the social subject of feudalism and the new individual of accumulative capitalism.
There’s something about Dürer that still speaks to us because we often find very strange things are produced at the threshold between eras — not just “decades” or “movements” but epochs of self-understanding. Others include the 1840s/1850s, around the time photography was invented, the modern novel came into its own and the industrial revolution went into overdrive, or the fin de siècle era at the dawn of the 20th century and into modernism. Though the rest of the 20th century was tumultuous, I’m not sure we had another reckoning like this until the dawn of the 21st century — that era between the end of history and 9/11.
Nu-metal fits into that strange moment perfectly, and much of the schizoid output, caught between emotional self-reflection and aggressive abandon, encapsulates a sub-pop culture at sea with itself, melting all previous undergrounds — grunge and hip-hop most obviously — into a pop fury that never seemed to really land on anything actionable except its own destruction.
This is what makes Still Sucks such a strange release in 2021. Online, there have been all of these articles recently trying to kick up some animosity between millennials and zoomers — often regarding the latter having little patience for the former’s inherited slacker tendencies and the former just struggling to come to terms with not being as they once assumed: a sort of universal subject born of the end of history that would be the archetype for all subsequent generations. Gen X probably felt the same way. But who even talks about Gen X anymore? Which raises the question, who are Limp Bizkit coming back for? My (my juh-juh) generation?
Limp Bizkit feel like elder statesmen of the rift. We’re living through what is perhaps most politically tumultuous and seemingly transitory time I can recall in my lifetime, and so it is fitting that Limp Bizkit would make a comeback, but maybe it is also telling that their comeback is so staid? They’re hardly leading the way. Instead, they seem to be embracing a new lack of responsibility. Responsibility was never their strong point anyway, but now they’ve captured the vibe of early retirement and an end to life’s conflicts. Theirs is the second adolescence of male menopause.
The album’s main emo number, “Don’t Change”, is intriguingly titled in this regard. Though it sounds like a ballad written to an enduring love, it also seems to reflect on the band’s own status, acknowledging that they are past the end of their own history. We are who we are, no use adapting, let’s forget the fraught arguments and conflict of music making and just do what we do best and let the world keep turning without us chasing it. It’s an almost heartening sentiment… But I’m still left wondering: why now?
I still listen to Results May Vary pretty frequently, I must admit. There’s something about Durst’s self-awareness on that record, and the melancholy of realizing and fully appreciating past mistakes only with the benefit of hindsight — something he still tries to hide behind unadulterated adolescence (a common theme at that time, as discussed previously) — that weirdly speaks to me more on the cusp of my Thirties than it ever did when I was a kid rocking to it in the car with my Dad on the way to brass band practice… And that’s fascinating to me in itself — Dad was not one to tolerate my shitty musical obsession, but I think he heard something in it too — a certain refusal that wasn’t Gen X arrogance but a tension that many post-war generations have felt throughout their lives. I’m not sure my dad would feel the same way now, however, almost twenty years later…
To me, Results May Vary was the last Limp Bizkit album. Whatever came afterwards just lost heart. It captured that sweet spot where they peaked and settled on a sound and a dynamic that worked but probably didn’t know it or want to accept it. To me, it is the quintessential Limp Bizkit album, for better or worse, because they have clearly found their sound but are still struggling against it. Still Sucks is an album by a “mature” immature band, that knows itself and is quite happy just sticking to its guns. That’s fine, I guess, but dad vibes is right.