When I was 16, 30 was old.
By old, I mean ancient. Decrepit. Ready for death. I was young, modestly talented and ready for anything. I had seen old people, felt the crushing despair of their lock-step lives, and wanted no part of that, thank you very much.
What I couldn’t put my finger on then was that age, in and of itself, didn’t bother me. It was the merciless snuffing out of potential, the conversion of infinite possible paths into one actual and irreversible one, that terrified me. At 16, I could have been anything by the time I hit 30. At 30, I will only be what I am. Depressing, no?
Now, I’m not there yet – still have another nine months or so to go – so I’m not prematurely eulogizing my wasted youth or anything. But I have been feeling old lately, and boxed in by inescapable reality, and all of a sudden 30 doesn’t seem so far away. In fact, I’m starting to see signs, telling me to slow down and prepare to exit. “Miserable Relentless Adulthood, Take Exit 30.” Here’s hoping there’s a slow vehicle lane.
My musical taste is one area about which I expected to retain my youthful outlook forever. “I’ll never be like my parents,” I’d say, “who wouldn’t know Jane’s Addiction from Jane Siberry.” (They wouldn’t. I don’t even need to conduct that experiment.) I expected I would always be like my 16-year-old self, with my thumb on the pulse of What the Kids Are Into These Days. You know the drill. Don’t trust anyone over 30. If it’s too loud, you’re too old. I’d watched too many people latch on to a few artists from their youth and drift away from even trying new music, for fear of melting their fragile eardrums. “Not me,” I’d say. “Melt away, younger generation. Do your worst.”
And it may be that I’ve grown up in ways I never expected, or it may be that the younger generation’s worst is much, much worse than I ever imagined, but it’s starting to happen. I find myself standing in line behind young kids at the record store, kids who are buying Good Charlotte and New Found Glory CDs because MTV told them to, and I find myself wanting to rip the discs from their hands and replace them with records by Bruce Cockburn or Joni Mitchell or Andy Partridge. You know, old people. What’s wrong with me?
Every once in a while, I get the urge to prove to myself that I’m not a hopeless case. That I’m down with the youth. That, if I wanted to and it wouldn’t be unbelievably creepy, I could still hang with the kids and talk music and come off as that Cool Older Guy, not that Pitiful Old Freak. So I break down and give one of the bands all the kids are into a try, hoping to recapture the fleeting traces of my youth. Thankfully, this is a very occasional impulse. Otherwise, I’d end up with many more albums as atrociously bad as Limp Bizkit’s Results May Vary.
Okay, this wasn’t too much of a risk, all things considered. For one, it was only ten bucks (and a ripoff at half the price). For another, I already own all the other Limp Bizkit albums – chalk it up to my completist nature and the fact that they used to be kind of good once. (Same with their mentors, Korn.) And third, I had heard that this was to be a slower, deeper, more mature effort from these guys. Granted, their last album, Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, sounded like it came from the mind of an autistic second grader, so there was nowhere to go but up, but still.
Sadly, this bizkit is the limpest one yet. I knew, deep down, that it would suck, and that my dreams of becoming 18 again through this music would be shattered. What’s surprising and, yes, hilarious, is the new depths of suckage the boys have plumbed here. Original guitarist Wes Borland has departed this sinking ship, and taken with him all the band’s ideas, such as they were. Without him, sole captain Fred Durst has decided to get deep, to grow feelings, to reach down into his very soul and relate what he’s found there. Turns out, he’s found 15 very bad songs. Thanks, Fred.
The other band members try their very best, sadly. New guitarist Mike Smith, from defunct band Snot, plays competently and adds a few Dave Navarro-like textures to these slow plods. A few of the melodies are sort of pleasant. Snoop Dogg comes in to rap on one utterly out of place track designed for TRL, and he does an okay job. Drummer John Otto and DJ Lethal are all but invisible, which is nice. In fact, there’s only one thing that drags this album from forgettable trifle to putrid pile of ridicule-worthy slop, and that’s Fred Durst.
Most of Results May Vary sounds like someone took the very worst songs from all three Staind albums, strung them together, erased Aaron Lewis’ voice and lyrics, and replaced them with those of a brain-damaged monkey. Without Borland to keep him in some kind of check, Durst is free to trample all over this record, and he does, gleefully. He’s bad enough on the heavier tracks, where he can shamelessly ape the Beastie Boys, as he does on “Gimme the Mic,” and hide behind the song’s momentum. It’s when things slow down that results start to vary, wildly.
More than half of this album is given over to the newly emotional Bizkit sound – acoustic guitars, moaning melodies, and lyrics about childhood and relationship trauma. Thing is, it’s tough to make an emotional record without any, y’know, emotions. The simple truth is that Durst’s life before Limp Bizkit was pretty average, and his life since then has been positively charmed. He has no pain to draw from. He has no exceptional stories to relate. He’s a reality television contestant – a shameless self-promoter who believes we’re interested in all aspects of his boring, self-centered life. It’s little wonder that he’s shown grabbing his crotch in the liner pictures – his lyrics here are perhaps the most masturbatory I’ve ever seen.
Want some examples? There are countless. Here’s one from “Underneath the Gun”: “Stress is tremendous and pressure is endless, no one on this planet like me to be friends with.” How about this howler from “Build a Bridge”: “Build a bridge, make a path, overlook the aftermath, make my tears be your bath.” Here’s a bit about the above-mentioned endless pressure, from “Let Me Down”: “Rumors are tumors of the sick and mainly useless, when you come to me with these things it’s the shit that I can’t deal with.” Or how about this, from “The Only One,” in which Fred lays out his attractive principles: “If the vibe’s good, go to first base… I ain’t looking to screw till the vibe’s right.” Later he explains to his lady love that if they’re not meant to be, he has “no need to knock another home run out.” And they say romance is dead.
Anyway, this goes on for nearly an hour until Durst gets to his cardinal sin – a terrible cover of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” It’s okay to mess with his own songs, but when he runs roughshod all over a lovely tune like this one, it’s unforgivable. The worst part comes halfway through, when Durst discovers that Pete Townshend (whose name he misspelled in the credits, by the way) has somehow forgotten to include the name of Durst’s band in his lyrics. To rectify this, he programs a Speak and Spell to repeat this line: “Discover L-I-M-P. Say it.” Seriously. All over Pete’s song.
And I know I’m getting old when I’m upset that this version of “Behind Blue Eyes” is likely the only one most purchasers of Results May Vary have ever heard. In fact, given that Durst is three years older than I am, I’m starting to believe that my musical taste skews towards my elders. A good case in point is Elvis Costello, who’s pushing 50. He has a new album out too, his 20th, and it’s as far from the inane, shallow rantings of Fred Durst as one could hope to get.
But here’s the thing that scares me about my own maturing taste – I didn’t like When I Was Cruel, Costello’s raving rock record of last year. Too spastic, too repetitive, too long, and too much of a strain on Costello’s aging voice. It doesn’t make me feel any younger to report that I love North, his first solo foray into orchestral balladry. This album wafts in on beautiful strings, drifts along on subtly played piano and lilting vocals, pauses occasionally for flugelhorn solos, and strolls back out again in 41 minutes. No crashing guitars, no thundering drums, no spitting, no bile-drenched lyrics. Rarely has a long-term popular artist acted his age so completely.
Some might say it’s as if Costello has nothing left to prove, but that’s not completely true. In essence, North represents an effort to prove his worth in more challenging arenas than rock. Costello builds on his collaborations with the Brodsky Quartet and Burt Bacharach here, but this is the first time he’s flown solo, arranging and conducting all the orchestrations. Given that, this is a supremely confident record, full of twisting lines and curves, powerful in its surprising complexity.
North works as a concept piece, neatly divided in half. The first set of songs concern the aftermath of a dissolved relationship, the second the intoxicating flush of a new romance. You don’t need to know that his marriage to long-time songwriting partner Cait O’Riordan recently ended, or that he’s fallen for jazz singer Diana Krall since then, to feel how personal these songs are. You can hear it in his voice, in fine form here and none the worse for wear after screaming his way through Cruel and the subsequent tour. North is one of his finest vocal performances, warm and rich and melodic.
While all the songs here are accomplished, Costello heralds the more upbeat second half with one of his best songs, the delightful “Still.” It effortlessly captures the thrill of new love, that sweetly rushing sensation that all but defies gravity: “Now you speak my name and set my pulse to race, sometimes words may tumble out but can’t eclipse the feeling when you press your fingers to my lips.” If, with North, Costello wanted to prove to himself he could write timeless standards, then “Still” is the best evidence of his success.
North is the perfect album for those snowy, wintry nights to come. It is arguably Costello’s most beautiful work, and one that could only be accomplished by one with decades of music under his belt. While it’s true that North will likely not appeal to anyone who likes Results May Vary, and comparing the two makes me feel older than I care to continue discussing, the album itself shows that this angry young man has become a graceful elder gent. If anyone has earned the right to sneer at the minimally talented up-and-comers, it’s Elvis Costello, but he doesn’t. By North‘s end, he sounds contented, even happy, and he’s made an album that can only inspire those emotions in any willing to give it a spin. And to those young whippersnappers still more impressed with Durst and his crew, well, I can only smile and say that you’ll grow out of it. Trust me.
See you in line Tuesday morning.