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Recording Reviews: 10/20/00

Friday, October 20, 2000

By Ed Masley and Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

'Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water'

1 1/2 stars

I never would have thought that anyone could make me wish he'd never learned the f-word.

As a fan and frequent user of the word, I count among my many foul-mouthed heroes Quentin Tarantino, Al Pacino, Adam Sandler and John Lennon, f-word users all.

But halfway through an opening rant called "Hot Dog" on the new Limp Bizkit album, by which point Fred Durst could safely boast, "If I say [f-word] two more times, that's 46 [f-words] in this [effed-up] rhyme," I'm already thinkin' "What the [expletive]?"

I mean, we all have limits, right?

If Durst were even half as clever as he thinks he is, he might have pulled it off.

I couldn't say for sure. Bob Dylan never tried it.

What I do know is it sounds like something any high school dropout-in-the-making could have ad-libbed in the lunch line -- only dumber.

And more juvenile.

But while it would be tempting to portray the song as little more than an excuse for Durst to use the f-word nearly 50 times without a hook to back it up, there is, it seems, an underlying point to all the cussing.

Apparently, Durst has got a major ax to grind against the far more talented Trent Reznor, whose lyrics he refers to here in a chorus that reads, to wit, "You want to [bleep] me like an animal/ You like to burn me on the inside/ You like to think I'm a perfect drug/ Just know that nothing you do will bring you closer to me."

It's like ... whatever, dude.

Again, if it were clever, I could maybe buy it.

But it's not.

It doesn't even rock with the authority behind the better cuts on Bizkit's last release.

It is offensive, though, which makes it perfect for the soon-to-be-imprisoned high-school market these guys love to pander to.

The second cut, "My Generation," borrows lyrics (and a stutter) from The Who and Guns N' Roses but in such a way as to allow the singer ample room to use the f-word maybe 20 times or so while squeezing out the s-word like a bush-league hypochondriac pretending his Tourette's is acting up. The problem, it would seem, is that you don't give a [this] or a [that] about the poor guy's g-g-generation -- and you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

It's all about anger with Durst. And being tough. And feeling sorry for himself. It's always someone else's fault when things go wrong. And that's why Durst is gonna have to break stuff. As he threatens in his trademark whine on "Full Nelson," "You'll get knocked the [expletive] out 'cause your mouth's writing checks that your [bum] can't cash."

I have to say, my [bum] has never cashed a money order, let alone a check, but Durst is free to look me up if he honestly thinks a person wouldn't tell him to his face that he's an idiot with precious little in the way of talent or imagination.

And the music? With the way they've mixed the vocals here, there's no real way to separate the music from the cult of dumb-kid personality surrounding Durst.

It's not that "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water" is without its share of guilty pleasures. A few of the songs are kind of catchy. A few of the beats are kind of cool. The intro's cute. The outro's funny. And, of course, it's plenty heavy in a way that only dates it to the nearest hour. There's even a moment or two just interesting enough to make me wonder if the band is maybe capable of something more than peddling dirty words and attitude to angry little schoolboys in disgrace.

It wouldn't matter anyway at this point. Durst has clearly found his calling as the undisputed king of a-hole rock. The dude has gotta know we've heard it all before -- at recess. But he's not about to abdicate the throne with so much money left to squeeze from all his loyal subjects in the mosh pit.

In the meantime, I'll take Reznor's brand of dysfunctional teen pop any day.

-- Ed Masley


'American III: Solitary Man'

4 stars

Producer Rick Rubin is a genius if for no other reason than what he's done for Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash is a genius for no other reason than that he's Johnny Cash.

It's no surprise, then, that genius would be all over their third collaboration, "American III: Solitary Man."

Rubin says these are songs we always wanted to hear Johnny Cash sing, and he's right to an extent.

But whoever imagined him singing U2's "One"? It's the jewel at the center of this collection, and one of the most breathtaking things you're ever likely to hear. Cash, with his big baritone slightly weakened due to his faltering health, brings a whole new meaning and poignancy to Bono's words. When he sings, "It's too late tonight/ to drag the past out into the light," he sounds like a man who's running out of time.

Like everything on the record, Rubin sets it sparely and exquisitely, with a ringing acoustic guitar, piano and church organ. Never have acoustic guitars sounded better than they do here, played by Cash, Norman Blake, Mike Campbell (of the Heartbreakers), Randy Scruggs and Marty Stuart.

Neil Diamond's great "Solitary Man" has been covered by far and wide, but it never rang more than true or menacing than in the hands of Cash. Another master stroke is "The Mercy Seat," written by another man in black, goth-rocker Nick Cave. A graphic tale of a so-called innocent man on the electric chair, Cash makes it another of his harrowing murder ballads.

Not everything here is quite that black. Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" opens the record like a simple, declarative statement. "Nobody," another loner tale, and the childlike "Country Trash" are both delivered with a smile. Fellow outlaw Merle Haggard shows up to trade verses and guitar lines on Cash's "I'm Leavin' Now." And wife June Carter Cash and Sheryl Crow bring a feminine beauty to "Field of Diamonds."

Cash closes it by recutting one of his classics, "Wayfaring Stranger." Once again, Rubin works wonders on the atmosphere, taking it into a Southern gothic realm with the fiddle work of Laura Cash and Crow on accordion.

Cash writes in the liner notes that the Master -- God, not Rubin -- "has given me life and joy where others saw oblivion. He has given new purposes to live for. New services to render and old wounds to heal. Life and love go on. Let the music play."


-- Scott Mervis

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