At the beginning of the pandemic, I became mildly obsessed with a video of Limp Bizkit playing a Moscow venue in February 2020. I wasn’t drawn to the performance so much as to the sight of front man Fred Durst, who’d been an emblem of white male millennials’ bottomless teenage angst at the turn of the century–like a nu-metal Santa Claus, he wore a gray-and-white beard radiating from his chin. Nothing else has quite crystallized for me how much time has passed since Limp Bizkit could compete with blockbuster boy bands and sell albums by the millions. As Durst barked lyrics about the indescribable anger specific to youth, he looked like an authority figure out to ruin a teenager’s day–except that he was wearing what appeared to be an oversize blue-jean jumpsuit. From a distance it looked a little like pajamas, which did more than Limp Bizkit’s most infantile outbursts to underline the unintentional goofiness running through their rap-rock.
When it comes time to explain pop-music phenomena to future generations, Limp Bizkit provide one of the more confounding challenges. Among the late-90s nu-metal acts to emerge following the pioneering work of KoRn, Limp Bizkit weren’t the most novel (Deftones), the most charismatic (Incubus), or the most worldly (System of a Down). They haven’t left nearly the imprint on pop culture as Linkin Park, and their guttural grooves may be the only popular product of that era that sounds dumber than Kid Rock. But wasn’t that part of the point? Limp Bizkit’s focus on polishing up lowest-common-denominator aggro rock gave them their own lane, where few others did so well–and that, I suppose, is something. When the Jacksonville group issued their breakthrough (and “best”) album, 1999’s Significant Other, most mainstream “alternative rock” was about as daring as white bread, and their sludgy mix of funk, metal, and hip-hop could at least make parents blush. At their height, Limp Bizkit savvily retooled their grimy sound into something catchy that could commingle with lighter radio rock, and Durst relentlessly exploited pop music’s tolerance of puerile lyrics: never forget that in their first big single (“Nookie”), he rhymes the title with “cookie.” (It works . . . for Limp Bizkit.) Their omnipresence now far behind them, Limp Bizkit have followed an odd path over the past decade, yielding one forgettable album (2011’s Gold Cobra), a brief flirtation with Cash Money Records (which begat a Lil Wayne collaboration, 2013’s “Ready to Go”), and rumors of a forthcoming sixth album, Stampede of the Disco Elephants. Given the inevitable fan attrition over the years, Limp Bizkit’s apparently robust legacy is baffling, as is their prominent spot on the Lollapalooza lineup–and that’s perhaps the nicest thing I can say about a group led by a famous Florida man known for his red baseball cap. v[embedded content]