We need to talk about Limp Bizkit [part one – Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$]

Were we always this obsessed with nostalgia? I mean, in the 80’s did people look at old-school Victoriana and say ‘That is the fashion for me!’. Not that I’m having a pop at steam-punk, it just seems that this current era is defining itself purely in relation to the past. No clearer can this be seen in the glut of critical-nostalgic YouTube videos where individuals wax lyrical (or not) about the films and games from their youth. I admit that I’m rather partial to them, it’s the geek in me. Actually it’s not the geek in me, to say that implies shame. I am who I am, ‘geek-y’ passion smothered in layers of beard.

Which neatly brings me on to Limp Bizkit. This band, man. This band mean a lot. That said, few artists in history have received such flak as the LB and (if I’m honest) it is for the most part deserved. Hindsight paints a vivid picture. But this isn’t what I want to talk about today, I’ll cover the fall at a later date. At the beginning they were intriguing; one of the flag bearers of nu-metal and a knack for emotional songs with bizarre guitar lines and pop hooks. I am 13. I live on a farm 20 minutes from the nearest town. I have no friends. Well that’s a Salmond lie; I had a damn good friend who had both an older brother AND copies of Kerrang magazine. We had missed Grunge proper but were living in the navel-gazing nihilistic aftermath. It was a bland, bland time. Still, weekends were ours and we spent them listening to whatever found it’s way into the CD player. That’s my happy nostalgia. Alongside listening to Faith No More and endless repeats of Californication stood Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$ by the Buzkit [sic]. A debut album full of Funk and Jazz and Rock and Metal and Hip Hop and Rap. Intoxication before we knew what that word meant. A fat pig of a band, succulent and satisfying. It was like goose fat after living on gruel.

We frankly didn’t know any better, we were young and anything to hit us at that point probably would have stuck to the everlasting glue of a younger soul in similar fashion. As time progressed and knowledge expanded it has been increasingly hard to defend this youthful obsession but I feel (as this blog hopes to start anew) that a more reasoned critique must be levelled at this band. If only to put whatever new material they produce into context. Let us begin.

*shudder*

Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$. Look at that title. Look at that cover. It defies you to like it. It is hateful arrogance distilled into sleeve art. It is disgust and vanity. That was the point. To quote Wikipedia:

‘Continuing the band’s policy of using names that would repulse potential listeners, the band named the album by using part of the phrase “queer as a three dollar bill” and adding the word “Y’all” for Florida flavor [sic.], naming the album Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$.’

How are they not your new favourite band! To me, it is bluster. A bluster, admittedly, that brings up questions of style over substance and the endless competition between the two, but a bluster all the same. Still, let the record show that Wes Borland (guitarist, artist, idol) is both. Wes is love. There is all of the love for Wes. Stylistically substantial. Read any impartial comment piece on LB and Wes will come out gleaming of roses and dreams; he is simply immense. I fell for him and his hybrid, progressive playing the first time I heard ‘Sour’ and let it needle it’s way under my skin. I didn’t quite know how to handle the muted arrangement. This was a metal band with soul and groove; a metal band that played with space and sound; a band I could identify with. It sounds like martial jazz until the guitars finally expand at the chorus like the oncoming storm. Mmm. ‘Stalemate’ builds on similar ground but with more jazz. Seriously. Those drums, man. Listen to the cymbal distribution, it’s all over the place; on beat and off; reeling in reply to the stoic monotony of bass and guitar. The atmosphere heady with smoke. Good vibes prevailing. And then it changes. The airy jam descends into a refined industrial cacophony. The instruments pulling at each other. Circling. Waiting. Daring each other to break formation. It’s powerful stuff, man; and pretty clever. What is music? Music is tension and release. How can you subvert this? By building tension and defying expectations. ‘Stalemate’ builds tension then skips the resolution entirely to build and develop a new idea. It subverts. Now, this composition can seem pretty simple; two disparate ideas smashed together in the name of ‘art’; but it’s surprisingly tricky to pull off. Your mind actively compensates for the difference and writes off the start as pointless. You build to nothing so you might as well not build at all. ‘Stalemate’ succeeds because we eventually get our much needed resolution at the climax. Jazz comes back enhanced; strengthened. Our ears understand.

                             Our eyes? Not so much.

What with all the bad blood between Limp Bizkit and the world since, I hold on to ‘Stalemate’ as proof that they know/knew what they’re doing. It’s a similar story across the whole album with nuanced arrangement following downplayed rage. The obligatory Limp Bizkit hip-hop track (‘Indigo Flow’) is distilled into grey-toned funk (for once, played live by the band), John Otto evolving his beat from subtlety to willful abandon. Even DJ Lethal (dear DJ, we don’t mention you because you are surplus to requirements) turns it down, shaping the empty spaces with atmospherics before letting loose. It’s insouciant malevolence burning away at my anger like a weird spiritual bath. Crazy stuff. Powerful stuff. I could mention the (85% successful) free-form jazz jam at the climax (‘Everything’) or the condensed gut punch at the start (‘Pollution’) but there’s so much depth I fear I would have to dissect the album on a song by song basis. I’d find that dull. Dull to write and dull to read. Not cool. So I’ll leave you with closing statements.

Having re-listened extensively to the Bizkit over the course of writing this it is clear that the sound exhibited on this album is my favourite by far. There is just so much space in the mix. So much treble. So fleet of bass. That jazz kit holding it all together like a solid thing. Even Fred Durst’s lyrics have something to comment on instead of informing us how big his member is (‘All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, far from suicidal’). It’s as grand as my nostalgic mind led me to believe.

Yet still we age. We grow. We are given the opportunities to enhance or diminish our past successes at every opportunity. This Bizkit is no more. It became something else entirely.

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