28 June, 2011

Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra

Gold Cobra, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Holding Pattern

Okay, I knew that one day I’d have to face up to this, and I think it’s time to face facts. No more hiding that I too once did it all for the nookie (yeah!). No more hiding that I too once owned Jnco Jeans, a baseball cap that was turned backwards, and exercised my faculties with vulgarities while hearing detuned guitars in the background.

I was a teenage mook.

I used to listen to Limp Bizkit. A lot. In fact, it was probably unhealthy how much I loved Significant Other, their 1999 album that featured such "classics" as “Nookie,” “Re-Arranged,” “N2Gether Now,” and “Break Stuff.” All of these songs received such heavy rotation on my boom box that I ran through my copy of the album on compact disc (remember those?).

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the CD store: I didn’t want to buy Significant Other again. In fact, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to picking up anything that sounded like Limp Bizkit in the future. I don’t remember what feeling I had when I realized this, but it wasn’t anger towards the band that encouraged me to move on from them. It was simply growing up that pushed me to a new age, one where I didn’t laugh out loud at album titles like Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.

It’s been a long time since I heard Significant Other with fresh ears and an angry, hormonal heart, and the waves of changes in myself and popular music (among several universal factors I can’t list in this space) are nothing new to the millions of bloggers out there. What might surprise you is that there is a new Limp Bizkit album, and they’ve learned exactly nothing in these times. Why am I reviewing a new Limp Bizkit album? Part of me is curious to see if the band could actually matter in these confusing times. After all, the band sounded best with a Democratic president in office, and they could have some pop dynamics appear in their radio singles before 2003. I also felt that after the successful landing that the Foo Fighters pulled off with Wasted Light there could be potential for this to be somewhat good.

If wishes were horses…

“Shotgun” was my first introduction to this album, an admittedly catchy song with terrible lyrics, a looped beat of shotgun blasts as percussion, and…a guitar solo? Wow, amazing what being out of the spotlight will do to a band, they almost sound reinvigorated. The clash of John Otto’s drums, the charging percussion of DJ Lethal’s turntables, and the crunch of ghoulish guitarist Wes Borland’s six-strings prepared me for something that was going to be amazing.

Then Fred Durst comes in with the same voice he’s always had, rapping about weed and shotguns and how everybody in his neighborhood has both. As he speaks (I wouldn’t call it singing), an amplified, hyperbolic shotgun blast rings out from Lethal’s turntables. Apparently this is the music that causes Durst’s weed to grow.


It doesn’t get any better from here. “Bring It Back” immediately throws me into 1999, except I don’t have as much disposable cash on hand because if I did I’d totally buy that new Sleater-Kinney instead. “Gold Cobra” seems like a Lonely Island retread of a Limp Bizkit, but then the realization kicks in that the songs really are that stupid. Things don’t really get better when Durst tells us that he’s going to “flush you turds down the drain” while he hangs out in Hollywood. “Shark Attack” and “Get a Life” really put one into the mindset of Durst, reinvigorating the argument that his psychosis isn’t very healthy. In the latter, the red-capped wonder tells us that we don’t want to see him carrying a knife. I’ve yet to hear the man carry a tune, I’m not sure if he knows how to pick up a knife.

The only thing that’s worse is when Limp Bizkit tries to ape club music and trends of the past decade. “Douche Bag” seems to have taken the last dozen years and surmised them with a chorus where our hero says “Im’ma f*** you up” on repeat. “Autotunage” is a horrific move towards modernism, a drunk approximation of club music that was bettered by Lady Gaga three years ago. I never thought I’d say that, but compared to this Mother Monster is subtle. Wait, Corey Taylor from Slipknot makes an appearance in “90.2.10” (say the three numbers in a row, it makes sense like that, I guess?) while Durst raps about Playboy bunnies in miniskirts? If you need me, I’m praying for the MF-ing psychotic that the band promises will emerge in “Killer In You” to arrive.

But what about the music? That’s just as depressing as the lyrical attack on all women and “haters.” The hollow Korn-stomp hasn’t aged well, and its hyper-compressed guitars means that Gold Cobra sounds dated before the listener even gets to the middle third of the album. Wes Borland may be a talented guitarist in Big Dumb Face, but here he’s used enough harmonics to fill out a Phillip Glass record without knowing exactly who that is. John Otto’s drumming consists of three beats, all a variation of the same one he plays on every track before screaming “CYMBALS!” in each chorus. If it’s supposed to give the music edge, all it does is dull the sound before numbing the audience with repeated self-indulgence.

There’s some hope to be found in this music, which means it’s not all bad. “Walking Away” approaches something close to subtlety, and even Durst’s limited range seems to embody the sense of growing horizons for the narrator. “Loser” paints another negative portrait of the protagonist, but then moves back to the anger at his significant other. Every step forward that the band seems to take on this album is only done to erase the musical and lyrical growths that appeared on their worst-selling album, 2005’s conceptually interesting The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1). There, the band was able to translate their working class anger into a functioning protest against the larger societal ills of American social hierarchy. It wasn’t any better than freshman poetry, but it reflected a need for something larger for their music and was a decent substitute for that Bad Brains cover band that couldn’t play at the VFW over the weekend. Well, apparently that need has been eradicated by The Real World: Hawaii because Gold Cobra can’t even aspire to the emotional level of that cultural point. It’s what we always knew about bands like Limp Bizkit, which is that the lyrics and music are interchangeable parts that can be re-arranged for any song that they release.

Let’s face facts: everybody grows up at some point in their lives. It’s the reason why most of us don’t listen to all of the music that we heard when we were growing up. While the teenagers of the late 90’s might still listen to Eminem, Britney Spears, Outkast, Sheryl Crow, Matchbox Twenty (yes, they turned into a decent mainstream rock band, and there’s nothing wrong with that) and the White Stripes, I’m hard pressed to think of times that I recently listened to the Backstreet Boys, Master P, or Tonic. And though another’s specific cultural points are different, the fact remains that the majority of us move on from whatever state we had as teenagers. It just happens, there’s no rhyme or reason that is universal, apart from exposure to new ideas and sounds. And if there’s anything Fred Durst has been exposed to over the past decade, it has been the cultural onslaught of Noughties music that has splintered the mainstream he once conquered with his Tourette’s and slam-dancing.

But here’s the crazy part in all of this. In spite of being one of the most commercially successful rap-rock bands to have existed, Limp Bizkit chooses to not listen to rap-rock. In an interview with Billboard.com, Durst noted the importance of owning up to the band’s style.

"The epiphany was, we've got to own who we are and stay true to what we are. We're a rap-rock band. We're Limp Bizkit. We might individually like different things, and none of us listen to rap-rock, but when we get together in a band room, that's what we make. There's no reason to search and find a newer Limp Bizkit or an evolved style or fit the radio format. I don't think we have to prove anything. We just have to own it."

While I applaud Durst for admitting that his band has its own artistic barometer, it’s skirting around what actually happened to him over the past ten years. Limp Bizkit doesn’t need to remain in a holding pattern like perennial stalwarts AC/DC or the Eagles because the Bizkit like neither band in terms of sound, dynamics, or quality. The fact remains that Durst is entirely capable of eschewing the shtick of Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog-Flavored Water for a heartfelt examination of the human spirit. There may not be millions of former Limp Bizkit fans that are clamoring for Durst to release the equivalent of Kid A (Christ, somebody needs to make a mashup of that immediately), but there is the potential for the band to find a new form of expression that bridges their old and new material. Witness the trailer for the pre-Social Network-Jesse Eisenberg film The Education of Charlie Banks below.

There are excellent moments through this film, beautifully understated and presented with an almost-documentarian eye for truth. It’s almost impossible to imagine that the same guy who once screamed that Britney Spears made him “so f***ing mad” at a 2003 Summer Sanitarium tour stop in Orlando, Florida before butchering the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” would be able to make a thoughtful picture that approached teenage life with empathy devoid from his music. It’s also hard to understand that the same man that stoked the fires of Woodstock ’99 before yelling at Thora Birch by claiming he’d eat her alive in front of Bill Paxton could make a Disney movie that emasculated Ice Cube even more than the hirsute rapper had done with Are We There Yet? But there you have it, in front of your eyes: artistic growth and movement towards a more holistic perspective towards humanity.

It’s somewhat fitting that Gold Cobra is being released a day before Transformers: Dark of the Moon appears in theaters. Both Fred Durst and Michael Bay are critically attuned to things that make teenage boys tick and kick start the adrenal glands in their audience, and both eschew critical discourse of their art (yes, it’s art. Even if I don’t like it, I won’t go so far to remove the creative side of both of these enterprises) when creating visceral, somewhat hateful pieces of popular culture. But there’s also a critical difference present here (besides the fact that one makes music while the other makes movies): Bay has apparently listened to his detractors and changed his approach to filmmaking with 3-D technology, even embracing the challenge of shooting with this technique and scaling back certain excesses of his style. Durst refuses to make an artistic leap forward with his music, preferring to treat his music as it’s always been treated: An entrepreneurial calculation of what kids like as opposed to an artistic statement. Yeah, Michael Bay’s not going to win any Academy Awards any time soon, but at least he’s trying something new. Durst mistakenly believes that we want more of the same from his band, which is why he reformed the group after licking his wounds for six years. But the unquestionable truth (part 2) is that the interesting deviations from formula that we’ve seen from their previous album have been removed for a weak attempt to relive those glory days of 1999-2000. I may have liked Significant Other and Three Dollar Bill, Y’all at that time, but bands like Linkin Park and Deftones have shown that we don’t need to stay pre-millennial forever. If the man wants a comeback, he’s going to have to accept that most of his audience now get their kicks from other sources, and Limp Bizkit’s music no longer packs the shiny punch it once could. All I can say to him is The Bends, and then slowly walk away…

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