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Limp Bizkit are the new kings of rock. Why?

The phone call couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. It's a publicist at Interscope-Geffen-A&M Records -- a vice-president at A&M for 14 years before Seagram's eviscerated the label -- ringing on behalf of one his clients, Sinead Lohan. But quickly the conversation turns to a mutual pet peeve: the rise of bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn, groups that trade in hip-hop-inflected metal or metallic hip-hop; sometimes it's hard to tell which, and it's even harder to care. Without prompting, he offers up his own opinion on Limp Bizkit. And surprisingly, it's not what you'd expect a publicist at the label that recently released the band's sophomore album to say. Meaning, it's the truth. "I just don't get it," he says. "I don't know. I need a melody."

Not too many people got it until recently. When Limp Bizkit released its 1997 debut Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$, the band saw fewer stars from critics than a Planet Hollywood opening in Iowa. The album was panned across the board, and rightly so: It took the worst parts of metal and hip-hop and somehow made them worse, scratch-and-riff songs clouded by so much Lollapollution. The only press the group received was when its label, Interscope Records, was caught paying $5,000 to a radio station in Seattle so it would play "Counterfeit," the first single off Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$. Even then, it seemed that journalists wanted the scandal to go away almost as much as the band and its label did, just so they wouldn't have to devote anymore time or energy to Limp Bizkit.

The band's brand-new follow-up to Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$, Significant Other, isn't that different from its predecessor, recycling the same grooves and grunts. Like Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$, the most challenging aspect of Significant Other is deciding whether it's a terrible hard rock album or a horrible hip-hop record. The answer is both, although the band does score a few points for enlisting Method Man and Gang Starr's DJ Premier (on "N2gether") to shore up the hip-hop side of things. Singer Fred Durst's lyrics remain as simple as second-grade math -- "It's just one of those days when you don't wanna wake up / Everything is fucked / Everybody sucks," and brutha, we've been there -- and he delivers them in the same way, whispering through the verses, barking the choruses, rinse and repeat. The only thing that has changed between the first album and the second is that Limp Bizkit is even less interesting this go-around.

Squawk this way: Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst keeps it real...bad.
Squawk this way: Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst keeps it real...bad.

For the past few weeks, however, music critics across the country have been backtracking like they're searching for lost car keys, stumbling over themselves to lavish praise on Limp Bizkit's sophomore album. Deftly avoiding any negative reviews they may have written two years ago, they are now positioning Significant Other as a Nevermind or Never Mind the Bollocks... for the "Adidas rock" generation, the kind of album that transcends a cult following. Suddenly, the group's bandwagon is filled with the same people who tried to shoot out its tires when Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$ was released. The sniping of the past has been casually forgotten, relegated to a mention of Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$ as "largely overlooked" (Rolling Stone) if it is even referenced at all. No one, it seems, is willing or able to recall exactly what they thought of Limp Bizkit's debut. How convenient.

Of course, back then, no one had any idea that Three Dollar Bill, Y'all$ would go on to sell 1.5 million copies, spurred on by an annoying cover of George Michael's "Faith." Or that the band would help turn last fall's Family Values Tour -- which also featured Korn, Rammstein, Ice Cube, and Orgy -- into one of the most successful concert bills of 1998. The saddest thing about all the critics calling Significant Other a breakthrough record is that they may be right; "Nookie," the album's first single, is already a fixture on MTV and alternarock radio -- without Interscope even having to dip into petty cash.

The thing is, Significant Other isn't the discovery critics would like it to be. The revolution has already happened, beginning when Korn released its self-titled debut in 1994. The California quintet quietly sold more than a million copies of that album, as well as the two it has released since then, 1996's Life Is Peachy and last year's Follow the Leader. And any band that sells more than a million copies of its first record, as Limp Bizkit did, isn't waiting to break through; it already has. In the time between Korn and Significant Other, Limp Bizkit and Korn and all the other bands mining the same territory between rock and rap have taken over.

It's unfortunate, but true; you need look no further than Vanilla Ice's 1998 comeback album, Hard to Swallow, to see that. Robbie Van Winkle never met a trend he couldn't exploit, from the dapper rapper image he created for himself on his debut to the blunt-smoking roughneck he borrowed from Cypress Hill on Mind Blowin'. He just happens to be more suited for this one, what with his limited skills and tattooed torso. Van Winkle fits right in with the endless parade of bands that don't seem to know how to tune their guitars.

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