Rap-metal may be the dominant sound of rock, and at its fitful best a Kid Rock track here, a Limp Bizkit single there it has a pulverizing power. But where does this relentlessly hostile music go from here? Limp Bizkit's third album tries its best to body-tackle that question. As befits a band whose baseball-hatted frontman, Fred Durst, is also a record executive and fledgling film director, the Limp's Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water aims to topple any misconceptions of what a rap-metal band can and should do.
First, though, Durst has a few scores to settle. Rap & roll remains the voice of disgruntled white youth, whose problems are the same as any other generation's but are, for whatever reason, far more pent-up. For that audience, the Limp aim to please, to the point of pandering. Picking up where last year's Significant Other left off, Chocolate Starfish melds rapping, monster-truck riffs, and turntable scratching into claustrophobic vents against parents (''My Generation''), anyone who's ''picking on'' them (''Full Nelson''), and girls who cramp their style (''My Way''). As if they can't imagine their audience grasping complexities, the Limp make none of these messages subtle. In the roaring tirade ''My Way,'' Durst tells his ex in the chorus: ''I will straight up leave this s--- because I've had enough of this/And now I'm pissed!''
''Hot Dog'' is a veritable laundry list of teenage aggravations, from a ''f---ed-up job with f---ed-up pay'' to ''f---ed-up AIDS from f---ed-up sex.'' At song's end, Durst proudly tells us he's used the F-word ''46 times'' a boast that, like the sniggering sexual reference in the album title, is something even high schoolers should find silly. Durst also whales on his critics in ''Livin' It Up,'' in which he brags he's a ''crazy motherf---er'' who's ''not givin' a f---'' about ''livin' in the fast lane.'' Sure, I'm rich and date Playboy models, the 29-year-old Durst seems to be telling his fans, but I'm still one of you.
As tiresome as Durst can be, Limp Bizkit are very good at what they do; the band is exceptionally tight, evidenced by its ability to switch time signatures and moods within songs (kudos to guitarist Wes Borland). Still, their stance and sound already reek of formula, and the album's attempts at mold breaking may be the band's way of acknowledging this fact. The mostly unplugged ''Hold On'' aims to be the ''Dust in the Wind'' of its age, complete with vocal harmonies, but its screw-you sentiments keep it earthbound. ''Getcha Groove On'' and ''Rollin' (Urban Assault Vehicle)'' are all-out hip-hop tracks in the Ruff Ryders mode (Ryders producer Swizz Beatz even helmed the latter). But neither is as sharp as ''N 2 Gether Now,'' Significant Other's Method Man collaboration. Durst's cardboard-like voice is part of the problem: Despite his brawny image, he tends to sing as if someone's trying to choke him.
Unsatisfying as they are, Chocolate Starfish's stylistic detours have more than a suggestion of self-preservation to them. What happens in another year or two when the rap-metal audience grows up? Will fans still want this music, or will bands like Limp Bizkit wind up in the closet next to the Giselle posters? In terms of having a long-range career, it's probably best that the business-savvy Durst follow in the footsteps of previous generations and go from raging against the machine to becoming the machine. C