What was the talk of this year’s Lollapalooza festival? Was it the fact that it was the first big rock concert in Chicago since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted? Was it whether the proof of vaccination/negative test requirement for entry would be effective in preventing the show from turning into a super spreader event? (So far, it looks like it has been successful in that regard.)
Gone was the trademark red Yankees cap. In its place was a thick hat of gray hair that made people wonder whether or not it was a wig. Throw in the long grey handlebar mustache and sunglasses and he looked like he was wearing a disguise — as if he were in witness protection or something.
The consensus: He kind of pulled it off. The other consensus: Limp Bizkit were reasonably well received by attendees and live stream viewers, most of whom probably hadn’t heard of them since “Nookie.” As such, in the days following the show, the band’s back catalog saw a nice spike in sales and steaming numbers. Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, indeed.
Of course, there was a reason why he seemed so unrecognizable. Once reliable hitmakers and a ubiquitous presence on MTV, Limp Bizkit has been long forgotten about and reduced to a punchline — a much maligned footnote from a bygone era when nu metal was so popular, even established superstars like Metallica tried it.
This is the album that started Limp Bizkit’s decline.
Limp Bizkit’s Lollapalooza set came at a time when their most infamous performance at a music festival was back in the news. Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, which premiered on HBO in late July, detailed the fateful combination of corporate greed, poor planning and toxic masculinity that caused a show originally dedicated to peace and love to turn into Lord of the Flies. While there was plenty of blame to go around, Limp Bizkit got the lion’s share for the chaos, looting and violence, with some pointing, specifically, to the group’s performance of “Break Stuff” as the moment when things started to go bad.
But Woodstock wasn’t the end for the band. If anything, the riot only gave Limp Bizkit more street cred. Fair or not, they were now seen as a legitimately dangerous band, a modern day Guns N’ Roses that knew how to stoke and channel the rage and anger of its fans and get them to act on it.
Ironic, considering Limp Bizkit were really kind of a joke. Like many of their nu metal brethren in the late 90s/early 00s, the band was made up of a bunch of tatted up, overgrown frat boys who wanted to sound like Rage Against the Machine (only without the annoying political commentary) and live like Mötley Crüe. As Moby pointed out in Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, nu metal ignored the progressive, innovative and positive aspects of hip hop and metal and “embraced the troglodyte element.”
With their blend of unfocused rage, over-the-top aggression and unexplained victimhood, Limp Bizkit were perfect for teenagers and young adults who were mad at the world and wanted to lash out but didn’t know why (hence, Woodstock). Heck, “Break Stuff” is about exactly just that (“You don’t really know why/ But you want to justify/ Rippin’ someone’s head off”). However, there was something also undeniably (and possibly satirically) stupid about them. I mean, they have a hook that goes: “So you can take that cookie/ And stick it up your (yeah).” How serious can they be?
As such, they became a lightning rod for criticism, hatred and ridicule. Durst has said that his band has been widely misunderstood and has long lamented that his biggest fans were the types of people that he hated growing up. Nevertheless, they happily cashed in on those fans and plenty of others en route to becoming one of the most successful bands of the late 90s/early 00s. In a three year period from 1997 to 2000, the band released three hit albums: 1997’s double platinum Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$, 1999’s 7x platinum Significant Other, and 2000’s 6x platinum Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. The band’s singles didn’t chart well, at least not on the Billboard 100, but its videos were in heavy rotation on MTV and fixtures on Total Request Live — arguably a bigger barometer of success at that time.
But by the time 2001 rolled around, all was not well in Bizkit land. Guitarist Wes Borland (he of the weird costumes) was the rare member of the band who was actually fairly respected — so much so that nowadays, he qualifies as being underrated. His distinctive guitar playing, often alternating between clean, heavily downtuned passages and crunching, distorted power chords, spawned legions of imitators and gave Durst’s angry, aggressive lyrics their bite. However, the band’s formulaic and repetitive songs eventually got to him, and Borland got bored and quit in 2001.
“Bells start going off, like, ‘This is what it feels like to sell out,’” Borland told MTV News. “I’m enjoying all the perks of [Limp Bizkit], but I feel my heart is going black, because this is not what I’m called to do.” He added: “I think they’ll be better now that I’m gone.”
That turned out not to be the case, as Borland’s absence looms large. At first, the band tried to reinvent itself, with DJ Lethal even telling MTV: “Some bands out there (I’m not going to say who) totally milked it — hip hop, rock, keyboards scratching. It’s done, time to move on.” The band even decided to change its name from Limp Bizkit to “limpbizkit” because, actually, I have no idea why. At least they didn’t come around during the hipster indie explosion in the 2010s. Otherwise, they would have used a bunch of random capitalized letters like “liMPbiZkiT.”
But then they got a big reality check: What to do about their now-vacant guitarist position? At first, Limp Bizkit- sorry, limpbizkit- opened it up to all of their fans, holding open auditions at various Guitar Centers, but that flopped (perhaps because of the waivers all applicants were required to sign giving up the rights to anything they came up with during jam sessions with the band).
Next, the band brought in several experienced guitarists, including Brian “Head” Welch of fellow nu metal superstars Korn and Page Hamilton of Helmet. They reportedly jammed with Eddie Van Halen at one point, and Durst was quoted as saying that he thought it was hilarious that the best guitarist in the world would join the worst band. But that ended very, very badly (we’re allegedly talking military vehicles and guns pointed at Durst’s red Yankees hat). At one point, Durst even played guitar (I’ll leave it to you to decide whether he was up to snuff). According to MTV, the album, then-tentatively titled Less is More, was produced by Rick Rubin, although the Neptunes and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen also did some work. The band performed one of the songs from these sessions, “Crack Addict,” at Wrestlemania XIX (as with MTV, WWE was another ideal partner).
Then, in the spring of 2003, the band hired guitarist Mike Smith from Snot, and according to an MTV documentary, recorded four songs with him and seemingly finished their album. But then, they abruptly changed course and scrapped the album in favor of writing and recording new songs together in their new lineup. They also agreed to a massive stadium tour with Metallica to begin in the summer of 2003, which meant they only had a brief amount of time to write and record a new album’s worth of material and also rehearse with their new guitar player. The pressure was such that Durst didn’t finish recording his vocals until less than 24 hours before their deadline.
In the end, Results May Vary is a combination of the new songs they wrote and recorded with Smith and the earlier stuff they had seemingly shelved. While there was plenty of the band’s trademark nu metal on this record, there also other genres represented here, including blues, funk and alternative. Durst even sings quite a bit on this record, and while his voice isn’t terrible, he has very limited range. They were clearly trying to sound more mature by including melancholy, predominantly acoustic ballads like “Underneath the Gun,” “Down Another Day,” “Drown,” or “Build a Bridge” (featuring Welch on guitar), but Durst’s limitations as a singer make these songs sound repetitive and boring. Meanwhile, their much-maligned cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” which served as the album’s second single, features an interlude in the middle where they use a Speak-and-Spell to say out “l-i-m-p — discover.” Why? I have no idea. Maybe they wanted something for fans to chant out during concerts? Or they wanted to make sure people knew they were listening to the Limp Bizkit version and not the original. As if we needed a piece of 80s tech to tell us that Durst wasn’t Roger Daltrey.
Despite the stated intention of wanting to sound more like a band, the album ends up sounding a lot like a Fred Durst solo album. Even Borland thought so. The cover art is simply a closeup of Durst’s face, and many of the lyrics are autobiographical. On “Almost Over,” he talks about the struggles he faced as a child and continues to face as a grown man. “Learned how to rap as a little boy/ Took a lot of crap as a little boy/ … People piss on my game as an older man/ Ain’t nothin’ gonna change as an older man.” On “Lonely World,” he reveals some more about himself. “I remember high school, man, I hated high school/ It was like prison with bullies always puttin’ me down/ Just a little skater-boy they could pick on/ I learned to forgive ’em, now I got the balls they can lick on.” Even the decision to record “Behind Blue Eyes” was similarly self-indulgent. After all, Fred’s eyes are blue and his many critics and haters can’t possibly know what it’s like to be the bad man, the sad man, right? Even the CD single cover photo was a closeup of Durst’s baby blues.
Durst also focuses a lot on women, which is no surprise. However, many of his songs are about heartbreak and the sadness and anger that come with it. Turns out, he had plenty of inspiration at the time. Depending on whom you believe, either Britney Spears and Fred Durst had a brief (and ultimately fruitless) professional relationship at around the time the band was recording Results May Vary, or they engaged in a torrid and forbidden love affair. Durst, obviously, falls into the latter category, and in the MTV documentary, comes off like an insecure and jealous clinger who reacts like a jilted, lovesick puppy after Spears publicly denies their relationship.
Perhaps in that vein, there are several songs on the album about ex-girlfriends and break ups, and the band even recorded a b-side, “Just Drop Dead,” which was heavily rumored to be about a certain pop princess. Here’s one of the nicer lines in the song: “Yeah, you might be fine, but you crossed the fuckin’ line.” Lead single “Eat You Alive” is not, ostensibly, about Britney, but the lyrics, which relate to obsession and unrequited love, could easily apply. “Hey you, Mrs. Too-Good-To-Look-My-Way and that’s cool/ You want nothin’ at all to do with me/ But I want you, ain’t nothing wrong with wantin’ you/ ‘Cause I’m a man and I can think what the hell I want, you got that straight?/ No doubt that/ I’d love to/ Sniff on them panties now.”
Durst’s lyrics are misogynistic, angry, whiny and self-indulgent, even by his standards. In the past, however, he was able to rely on the band’s trademark monster hooks to make his songs more palatable to the general public. Say what you will about Significant Other or Chocolate Starfish, but those albums had some really catchy singles. Results May Vary has none and ends up sounding a lot like Metallica’s St. Anger — lots of complex riffs and bitter, ultimately forgettable melodies. Maybe that was an accurate snapshot of where they were at the time: angry, bitter and seemingly ready to snap from all the pressure they were under. Or they missed Borland and his compositional skills even more than they thought they would.
While the album managed to hit #3 on the Billboard 200, and would eventually be certified platinum by the RIAA, it marked the end of the band’s commercial power. Results May Vary ended up being the band’s worst selling record up to that point. Never popular with critics, the album got some pretty savage reviews, even by their low standards. The album is currently the second-lowest rated on Metacritic, only ahead of (ironically enough) Kevin Federline’s Playing With Fire.
Worse, by the time the album came out, there was a clear backlash in place against the band. Limp Bizkit were frequently booed by fans during the Metallica tour, and at the Chicago stop, the reception was so hostile, Durst walked off the stage after only 20 minutes.
With their popularity dwindling, Bizkit decided to go back to what had worked in the past. In 2004, they fired Smith (Durst even gave him a nice kick in the ass on the way out, saying: “We are very content with Mike being gone”) and welcomed Borland back into the band.
Luckily for Borland, at that point, the band no longer had to worry about being too popular. In fact, subsequent albums have barely sold and the band went on hiatus until 2009, when they reunited for a European tour (they always had a cult following there, for whatever reason), skipping over the U.S., where they were still widely despised. They’ve been touring ever since (including the U.S., where they’re now a nostalgia act), although they cancelled their summer tour this year due to COVID concerns. They also seem to have their own Chinese Democracy problem, spending the better part of a decade working on a follow up to 2011’s Gold Cobra. Borland says the album is mostly finished from an instrumental point of view, but Durst is still working on the lyrics.
If he needs some inspiration, he can always revisit his past. After all, Britney is back in the news…