It is 20 years ago since Limp Bizkit unleashed Chocolate Starfish and The Hot Dog Flavoured Water onto the world, instantly becoming the soundtrack for millions of misfit teens (like me) as well as frat houses everywhere. Unsurprisingly critics were less won over with the album meeting if not wholly negative reaction certainly a very mixed one. And let’s face it: whether you like it or not, it is a very silly album, but it always been one of my go-to guilty pleasures.
Now, guilty pleasures are curious things. Partly because the term means different things to different people. Plus, everybody’s tastes are different, so one person’s Master of Puppets could be another’s St Anger. The terms also inherently implies a sense of embarrassment around enjoying a certain album/movie/TV show etc. Generally I have no shame about my enjoyment of a variety of schlocky horror films, overblown metal albums or trashy TV shows. There are a couple of exceptions though, and my love of Limp Bizkit is one. (Another is I have seen all 217 episodes of Smallville).
Why? Well, partly because many of my friends of the time mainly listened to more intelligent/expertimental metal like Tool, Converge, Isis and Dillinger Escape Plan (all bands I also love) and thought me ridiculous for liking Limp Bizkit. Partly because they are exactly the sort of fratty metal act I usually stay away from and even when I was 15 I realised this music was colossally dumb. Also, I always had a sense of not wanting to be associated with their predominantly dudebro audience.
The main reason though was lead vocalist Fred Durst, a man who is the living embodiment of whiny white male privilege. He is also possibly the most Florida man to come out of Florida (ok, that title probably belongs to Hulk Hogan). Complete with his jockish look, outrageous sexism, delusions of grandeur, unjustified swagger and the massive insecure chip on his shoulder that the world is putting him down despite all the evidence to the contrary.
However, I would be lying if I said that Durst didn’t hold part of the album’s, and by extension the band’s, guilty appeal in that he is such an outsized, cartoonish version of the archetypal dudebro that you occasionally think this is all some weird postmodern art prank (it isn’t). Also, his lyrics are frequently (unintentionally) hilarious. Whether it is when he is handing out pearls of wisdom on My Generation (“Hey kid, take my advice. You don’t want to step into a big pile of shit”). Or being staggeringly puerile on Hot Dog (“If I say ‘fuck’ two more times, that’s 46 fucks in this fucked up rhyme”). Or just plain weird on Livin’ It Up (“This is dedicated to you, Ben Stiller. You are my favorite mutherfucker.”). The album is scattered with such hysterical gems.
To be fair, some of the music isn’t half bad either. The first four singles from the record (Take a Look Around, My Generation, Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle) & My Way) are all precision-tooled metal floor-fillers and represent the strongest material on the album. Also, one of the band’s chief strength’s is lead guitarist Wes Borland, who provides several tasty riffs throughout the record’s gargantuan 74 minute run time. John Otto’s drumming contribution is equally impressive too. Just listen to the powerful backbeat of My Generation for evidence of that.
Also, for all the casual sexism and worst knuckle dragging tendencies on display, there is an empty-headed goofiness that keeps it on just the right side of obnoxious and makes it hard to be offended in any way. None of this serious. It is loudly and proudly dumb. It say’s “fuck it, why don’t we just have a mosh and have a good time.” And the band is undoubtedly at their strongest when they’re being brazenly dumb. As you can hear the toe-curling results when they try to do something more serious, such as on syrupy metal ballad The One.
Unfortunately Durst didn’t realise this and wanted to be taken as serious artist, braw. So the next (Borland-less) album Results May Vary leaned into the band’s more tender side. To the surprise of no-one, it was awful. For evidence of this, just check out their vomit-inducing cover of Behind Blue Eyes. And that was pretty much where I stopped listening to Limp Bizkit, occasionally checking in over the years to see if they have produced anything of note. (Not really, but 2011 single Gold Cobra captures some of the goofy magic of this album). For all that though, this record and their previous effort (Significant Other), because of their gleeful abandon, catchy riffs and sheer dumb majesty, will forever have a place in this former nu-metal loving teen’s heart.