We’ve all Facestalked that sort of ex. The ones who pop up on your timeline after 10 years of communication blackout looking reformed, respectable, their breaking stuff days behind them. Maybe they might slide respectfully into your DMs swearing that they don’t roll like they used to. That they’re not so childish anymore; they’ve grown.
They do it because it works. Over the last few weeks, Fred Durst of ’00 nu-metal titans Limp Bizkit has re-emerged sporting a mature new look. Out are the backward baseball caps over gleaming scalp, combat shorts and savaged metal t-shirts; in are tousled grey locks, a handlebar moustache, hunting shades and the all-weather jacket shirt and slacks of the keen caravaner.
The unveiling received much comment online: Durst looked, according to Twitter, like “a detective that let a case get the best of him”, “the owner of the haunted record store Scooby and the gang investigate and find out it was him all along”, “a porn star having his last day on set…reflecting on a long career”, “a youth pastor who’s ‘really into Bitcoin’ now” and “about to ask if you’ve ever heard of Neutral Milk Hotel”.
Personally I think he looks more like a retiree from Alabama planning an unsuccessful bomb plot against the Capitol using roadkill-infused home brew as the explosive component. Or maybe Julian Assange trying to blend in at a monster truck derby. But he certainly no longer looks like the sort of guy who’d ask you to pull their finger every 20 minutes while making up increasingly foul nicknames for your anus.
Sure enough, Durst’s new look has proved a roaring success: Limp Bizkit’s Lollapalooza set last weekend drew almost two million on-demand streams while their physical sales doubled. But anyone tuning in in the hope that Durst’s fresh image might be the result of a drastic musical reinvention – to a Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy folk troubadour or pumping disco outlier, say – would have been bitterly disappointed. The one new track from their first album since 2011, ‘Dad Vibes’, had a touch of Beck about it but also a whole heap of stale Bizkit: “Hot Dad riding in on a rhino,” Durst raps, showing none of the age and wisdom he now wears like a badge of experience.
Y’see, they never really change. The real rock chameleons – your Bowies, Becks, PJ Harveys, Kate Bushes and St. Vincents – show their changing colours early. Swift, dramatic evolution is built into their artistic mindset; the entire point of music for them is to explore, expand, experiment and surprise everyone – including themselves – with their art. They’re the restless pioneers of possibility with more imagination than one kabuki morph suit could ever possibly hold.
Other acts mature and develop over time, generally chasing the money (there really should be some sort of app filter for indie guitar bands wishing to go disco these days) or following their fanbase out of their teenage pop phase, through their inappropriate public nudity years and into a long and lucrative adulthood of righteous divorce balladry. But those bands that, after a decade or so of ploughing the same sonic furrow with the same mullet – or even a long hiatus – suddenly re-emerge in wraparound shades and sci-fi trousers, it’s usually a sign of something else entirely.
With their inspiration exhausted, fanbase dwindled and nothing more to offer the world creatively, they have only a visual shock to reboot their career, garner publicity and make them feel in any way fresh and reborn. It’s Chad Kroeger’s Backstreet Boys haircut, Robbie ‘Sinatra’ Williams, Kiss without the make-up. And now Fred Durst aiming for The Dude from The Big Lebowski and hitting a withered Hulk Hogan being cast as the pre-face-paint Joker.
As with their original puerile jock schtick, the new look does a lot to undermine the recent rehabilitation of turn-of-the-millennium nu metal.
Slipknot have grown into one of the most influential and respected rock acts of the 21st Century. Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park is a beacon of artistic integrity in the face of crushing tragedy. Staind have done their bit by keeping largely to themselves for 10 years. Now here come Limp Bizkit to remind everyone what a joke it all was, with a new image that only serves to highlight how little they’ve learnt as time has ravaged them.
Durst might think he’s growing old gracefully, coming to terms with his true self, doing a Phillip Schofield. And heaven knows 2021 doesn’t need a 50-year-old ex-major label Vice President bouncing around like a high school stoner failing to make the basketball team. But, as yet, there’s no equivalent maturity to his music – no lessons learned or experience earned. Just parenthood doggerel: “New kid back on the block with a riff / Dad got the sag in the back with a drip”.
Don’t be fooled by the façade: Durst’s dad schtick has exactly the same vibes as his kids’ stuff.