When MTV and BET air the new Eminem video “Guilty Conscience,” they run into the small problem of the song’s conclusion, where bad-angel Slim Shady convinces good-angel Dr. Dre that of course you shoot your bitch when you catch her boning another man. The networks have to fade out early, with Dre still trumpeting his new been-there-done-that maturity, before he says “oh fuck it” and squeezes the trigger himself. In the
annals of telemusic censorship, this ranks with Moby agreeing to sing “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” as “That’s When I Realize That It’s Over.”
I’d defend Eminem’s original version on artistic grounds. The back-and-forths in the record are grounded in real life—Dre’s punching of Dee Barnes, Em’s battle with his ex-wife—and tweak the tabloid culture both men feed off, without claiming to be above it. They’re funny, without sacrificing a moral awareness that ex tends to others. And they admit that a lot of the time, hey, evil wins.
But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for sin. So why do I utterly detest Limp Bizkit?
Mentored by Korn, they emerged on the Family Values tour as paragons of that good thing: heavy rock unafraid of rap. “Faith,” the George Michael cover that broke their first album, Three Dollar Bill, Yall$, was too corny to earn props, but the other tracks were raw steak for black eyes. “Nookie,” their new single, is a complete original, not unlike “Guilty Con science” topically. “I did it all for the nookie,” leader Fred Durst bellows, explaining why he stayed with his girlie even after she’d fucked his homeez. But no more. He’s got his band’s clipped, industrialized Sabbath riffs now. “So you can take that cookie and stick it up your, yeah!!” Those who know this song enough to hate it will sing some mangled version of it down the line and have fun despite themselves. Combine a novelty item that’s rough rather than cute and a cult that’s mass but thinks it’s under ground and you’ve got 634,874, the number of copies Significant Other sold domestically its first week out. By comparison, the last Korn CD passed out 248,000 initially.
Heavy rock is back, some will say, and others will point to Korn, Tool, Deftones, Pantera, etc., and argue it never left, that its shadow evolution through hardcore, grunge, industrial, and hip-hop just became more obvious after alternative gave up the ghost. Next to their peers, Limp Bizkit are musically piddling: little of Korn’s experimentation with the textures Reznor perfected on Downward Spiral, or Deftones’ similar extension of Billy Corgan grandiosity. Or the quasi-cerebral Rush/Jethro Tull games Tool play, which leave Durst panting over their greatness (“I can’t even be in a category with that band,” he once said) like Garth Brooks does for James Taylor. What Bizkit are good at is what guitarist Wes Borland calls the “nervous breakdown of the song,” where everything builds up and explodes. Distilled hormones.
But Durst’s presence is key. He was raised on Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” (two songs on Three Dollar Bill quote it), where Mike Muir goes from a rattled-guy monologue into a temper tantrum, and back again. Only difference is, Durst raps his dude parts. After all, he keeps up with the times: tattooist, sponsored skateboarder, apparent friend to women (in an early Bizkit tour, the first 200 ladies to show up got in free), and an aspiring mogul just named senior vice president with A&R duties at Interscope. Commanding audiences with the upright, I’m-a-simple-man solidity of his Jacksonville homeboy, Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zandt (he says he dated Ronnie’s daughter Melanie), he puts out a realness more immediate than any of the artier or wilder “pimprock” frontmen.
Limp Bizkit are big because they play a metal-rap hybrid with direct emotion. They’re also big because they play by the rules: stick it up your yeah, indeed. As befits the stars they’ve become, their new album features more-polished melodies, lots of keyboard, even strings on a track, and the imported presence of Method Man and Scott Weiland. Is this progress? From a conventional perspective. It got them “Nookie” and that nice “It’s all about the he says she said bullshit” chorus on “Break Stuff.” It may cost them in the raw-pain department, unless fans care about Durst’s new anxieties about freeloaders (“Take your ass and get a job like you should jerk”).
Typical. Limp Bizkit are odious because the emotions they do express, their charismatic convulsions, are inspired by fears of the corrupting (Significant) Other. Especially the sexual woman. I wish it were more complicated. It’s not. If “Nookie” recoils from the sack, “No Sex,” the new album’s most striking song, is text book: “dirty sex”; “those filthy things we do”; “you let me dive right in”; “you couldn’t respect yourself ‘cuz I didn’t respect myself. I couldn’t infect myself.” Oh yeah: a Limp Bizkit is said to be a group of guys whacking off on a cookie; the one who comes last eats it.
I wonder if Durst, who claimed on MTV that he’s now saving himself for his soul mate, is a secret Christian rocker; before shutting up on the subject, he told an interviewer in 1997 that he prayed three times a day, and Three Dollar Bill is littered with God references. (You got to have faith! Which, come to think of it, is another song about resisting sex.) Either way, he’s the worst of both worlds: a man who sins without pleasure. And it taints him, and his music, worse than anything he dreads. Evil we need, but not this kind. The irony is, should “No Sex” ever become a single, and it’s pretty enough, MTV won’t have to censor a single word.