Twenty-Five Years Ago, Limp Bizkit Pioneered Nu Metal Post-Irony with Significant Other

Hating Limp Bizkit has long been a cold take, so calling the band’s late-career resurgence unexpected is an understatement. Sure, plenty of nu metal bands have been getting their flowers from the culture recently, but Limp Bizkit? Seeing the nu metal whipping boys headlining festivals in modern times feels like a glitch in the matrix. Even nu metal fans hated them back then, and they knew it! You don’t call your comeback album Still Sucks unless you’re in on the joke. But, a closer examination of Fred Durst and company’s trajectory reveals a career less like Tommy Wiseau (who created his cinematic miscarriage The Room in earnest and cashed in on the unintentional comedy later), and more like Adam Sandler (who very clearly knew, and knows, what he’s making). Limp Bizkit could not have created an album like Significant Other without a genius for bonafide buffoonery.

Let’s start with the songs even the biggest haters can’t help but sing along to. “Nookie” and “Break Stuff” might be the best distillation of what everyone loves to hate about nu metal, but also what put Mr. Chocolate Starfish in the same echelon as Christina Agulera and Britney Spears. Understand this… rumors exist of him hooking up with both of these women, because of a song about shoving a cookie up someone’s “YEEAAHH.” Underneath the dude-bro break-up anthem lies some genuinely weird riffs from Wes Borland. He could have gone with a generic bounce riff (the moshers who attended Woodstock ‘99 certainly wouldn’t have cared), but instead offered little pockets of Faith No More in the fray.

Maybe it was the ultra-raw Ross Robinson production style or the fact a lot of nu metal bands didn’t consist of amazing musicians, but the tight performance of a cut like “Break Stuff” feels separate from that world. John Otto’s immaculate drum sound immediately stands out, and the way he locks in with bassist Sam Rivers feels about as professional as nu metal can get. These musicians don’t sound like they have to play dumbed-down rage bate. They simply understood Durst’s vision for Limp Bizkit. It’s not smart. It’s not clever. It’s unrefined testosterone in a glossy major-label package. Other than the potency of nostalgia, it also takes an awareness of post-irony for would-be haters to come around on this music.

One does not simply write “Rumble the earth with my lowered suspension/ Just watch the ground move, let the sound prove/ That it ain’t fake when the girls get naked” unless it’s for a goof. This is the kind of wordplay to expect from a bedroom rap tape or a local bar band, yet here it is on the first track of a multi-platinum-selling album. But even here, you have Rivers’ inexplicable turn for electro-funk, both in tone and groove. Indeed, Rivers is very much an unspoken hero of Significant Other. Tracks like “Re-Arranged” show how overqualified he is for the nu metal form. It feels like the instrumentation could go full Yellowjackets at any moment. Some may lament the fact the instrumentalists didn’t form a better band without Durst to flex more of their chops, but you can’t deny the flawless execution helps you vibe through abject ignorance.

Speaking of subject matter, this record is at its strongest when Durst jumps back and forth between low-brow jabs and dramatic broetry. The “I’m Broke” mantra is about as basic as the syncopated beat that kicks it off, but do not lie to my face and say you don’t get a chuckle out of lines like “bums are the kind of shit that’s in a diaper.” A man as business savvy as Fred Durst wasn’t aware of that level of stupidity. It’s a time capsule from the era that gave us Freddy Got Fingered. Just like that movie’s director Tom Green, all it took was the advent of meme culture for people to experience an album like this and embrace the trash. Not only is it more fun to be in on the joke, but to have the irony fold back in on itself. The bars stop being “funny bad.” Irony poisoning has made them awesome.

Regardless of the underlying talent in the band, it’s still fairly obvious that Durst is the reason why this band may never achieve real respect. Significant Other attempts to generate hooks often misfire because of his lack of range. Jonathan Davis proves himself as a far superior singer on “Nobody Like You,” and it should go without saying that Method Man raps in circles around Durst when they trade bars on “N 2 Gether Now.” It is nice to hear DJ Lethal a chance to shine on the latter track, but these deeper cuts sometimes prove Limp Bizkit isn’t a full album experience type band.

There isn’t much to glean from “Don’t Go Off Wandering” as Durst tries to rap over a 3-count beat, other than his limitations as a performer. Even if the bridge of “9 Teen 90 Nine” shows potential for a better song, it’s a retread of every Limp Bizkit single before or since. There’s no excuse for lagging like this, considering all “Trust?” needs a displaced downbeat to separate its feel from the rest of the tracks. Yes, the lyrics are dumb, but the instrumentation can (and often is) smart in its simplicity. The song “No Sex” contends for the most reductive song about carnal relations, but that doesn’t stop Borland and Rivers from coming together on some dissonant shades of fusion funk.

It wouldn’t be a Limp Bizkit album without a call to “get the fuck up” in “Show Me What You Got,” sandwiching Durst trying to name every notable city in the United States (he wants EVERYONE to “get the fuck up”). It would’ve been a much better send-off than the dreary ramblings of “A Lesson Learned,” or the pointless beat loop of “outro.” It’s fair to say this album did not have to be an hour long. A handful of songs could have been combined, or omitted entirely for the album to flow better and hit with the best it has to offer.

Limp Bizkit never set out to offer anything deep. The fun arrangement choices come from the fact Durst surrounded himself with REALLY good musicians, not because he was trying to create high art. If it hasn’t been clarified, that should bother no one. It’s okay to be in on the joke. You’re not smart because you poo-poo Durst’s lyrics. The moments where he strikes the balance between the sincere and the brainless have only become more suitable for this age of post-truth brain rot. Wade into the scum water. It’s fun, I promise.


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