Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Chocolate St*rfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water
Back before Fred Durst revealed himself as the Antikurt, he listed four "perfect records" for a Spin profile: Nevermind, Ten, Aenima, and Nothing's Shocking. Perfect--Nirvana for cred, Pearl Jam for reach, Tool for stupidity posing as underground, Jane's Addiction for ambition posing as transgression. All that's missing is hip hop--which for Bizkit, whatever its roots in Durst's grayboy humanism and blackface sexism, turns out to be about market positioning--and Smashing Pumpkins for ambition indistinguishable from egomania.

You need at least two ambitions in there because the truly new thing about Durst is the candor of his will to power. True, hip hoppers often comport themselves as black capitalists first, artists second. But black capitalism is marginal by definition. Durst's isn't. However symbolic his Interscope vice-presidency may prove, his rise to the top of the center was a striking piece of image-making for a trigger-happy loudmouth who'd just ridden his second album into Hollywood from the Jacksonville he'd sworn never to leave. Mewl about "mooks" all you want, ring Durst up for inciting to rape at Woodstock 99, but recognize that he shares those crimes against progress with America itself. In his ambition he's an innovator.

In his rap-metal he's less so--just a skilled professional whose albums keep getting better by the standards of the pop populism his power trip assumes. The funky crunch and lively aggression of the trifecta that sets up 1999's Significant Other, "Just Like Us" to "Nookie" to "Break Stuff," has plenty of competition and no equal from Korn to Papa Roach. And when guitarist Wes Borland, in his role as Durst's artistic and social conscience, claims that Chocolate St*rfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water adds songwriting to the metal of 1997's Three Dollar Bill Y'All, he shrewdly ignores what it subtracts: sludge from the crypt and crappy MCing. The sound is now clearer than on either predecessor, the rapping likewise. And here come Jane's Addiction and Smashing Pumpkins--this is a slicker, grander record than Significant Other. So while Borland's guitar is up front, it's longer on arpeggiated decorative tension than chorded cathartic release, it's often reduced to keyb imitations, and the pervasive echo evokes more be-yoo-tee than mystery or menace. Metal my cherry starfish. It's only one hour-plus disc, but given the title I find it hard to believe Durst isn't thinking Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The VP clearly expects to break four or five singles off the sucker.

Because this dream isn't delusional, the album definitely qualifies as an improvement--professionally, as broadcast-ready product. But humanists will note with relief that Durst has gotten over the old girlfriend whose supposed sexual misadventures supposedly inspired the misogynist spew that ended up all over the topless hoydens of Woodstock 99. There's no "Nookie," no "No Sex," no "he-said she-said bullshit." The spleen of the punchy lead single "My Generation" is indeed generational, as in "The captain is drunk/Your world is titanic." Two obvious airplay candidates are spirited rap fusions a little trickier than "N 2 Gether Now"--the poppy, Xzibit-assisted "Getcha Groove On," in which Durst hookily IDs himself as "a real motherfucker from around the way," and the Redman-assisted, Swizz Beats-produced "Urban Assault Vehicle" mix of "Rollin'." And then there's Bizkit's first romantic ballad, a doubt-tinged, medium-tempo sure shot called "The One": "I believe that you and me we could be/So happy and free inside a world of misery." For a fifth, bet on "I'll Be OK" or the Scott Weiland-produced "Hold On," breakup laments whose agonized vulnerability is worthy of Justin Timberlake.

And that's it for women here, except for the name-dropping "Livin' It Up"--and, indirectly, "Full Nelson"'s disgraceful plaint about "people who perfectly rape us with talking," which utilizes a high-anxiety whine too prominent on a record that features more, and I quote, "why's everybody always pickin' on me" than a big shot like Fred Durst should need. Who's the vice-president mad at? Who else? Playa-haters, plus idol turned Bizkit basher Trent Reznor, who inspires a tirade called "Hot Dog." Given which gender usually gets raped, this is probably just as well. But it's tedious in a way rock's ambitious and insecure so often are. Maybe we'd all be better off artistically if Durst continued to confront, however pathologically, the pain he shares with the guys who love him. Instead he's playing a playa, a fast-lane success fantasy for "mooks" as surely as Christina Aguilera is for the girls they fear and crave. What a bitch.

Spin, 2000