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By GINA VIVINETTO, ROBERT FRIEDMAN, BRIAN ORLOFF and PHILIP BOOTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


LIMP BIZKIT, CHOCOLATE STARFISH AND THE HOT DOG FLAVORED WATER (FLIP/INTERSCOPE)

Oh, man. Somebody shoot me.

I like the new Limp Bizkit album.

How did this happen?

Me, the girl whose eyes roll around like pinballs every time I hear that misogynist jerk Fred Durst's name.

But then I slipped on Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. (Don't fret, no one else understands the title either.) My head started bobbing, Durst's lyrics made me laugh, even occasionally raising my eyebrows when he got witty. And, at times, insightful.

On Chocolate Starfish, Limp's third album, Durst repeatedly makes references to pop history and pop culture on tunes like My Generation (Not the Who classic, but Durst treats us to a st-st-stutter, just the same) and Full Nelson, where he quotes from the Coasters' Charlie Brown -- "Why's everybody always picking on me?" (On Hot Dog, Durst cites Nine Inch Nails. Later, he jaws about Christina Aguilera.)

Granted, I never was one for the crunch of gee-tar and manic "rapping" of the genre we now know as rap-rock. Too testosterone-y. Too formulaic. But I gotta say, Limp guitarist Wes Borland -- he of the super-dilated-pupil contact lenses -- is a marvel. That fella makes some pretty noise. And Durst, well, he's got chutzpah. He's funny and sharp, and he likes having a good time and annoying people -- I think that's what rock 'n' roll's all about.

Oh, sure, Durst loves his F-word. He brags on Hot Dog that he uses it 46 times in that tune alone. Obnoxious? You bet, but I tell you, his over-the-top delivery -- a literal litany of effin' in amazingly immature rhymes -- made me laugh out loud. (There's something to be said for grade school humor.)

Durst is cocky, but his bravado is less offensive when delivered with such yucks. Plus, he has a sensitive side. When he's not profane, the guy can be profound. Check out Durst as Mr. Vulnerable on The One, an actual love song, and Hold On, with all its "I'll still adore you" sentiments, co-written with Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots.

Chocolate Starfish's only setbacks are (1) it's too long and (2) it gets repetitive. Snip about five songs and you're in business.

Sure, I still think Fred Durst is the village idiot, a clown, a jester, but I realize that like the Fool in a Shakespeare play, Durst often makes more sense than the rest of the cast. He brags about being a "redneck" from Jacksonville the same way Kid Rock and Eminem boast about being Detroit "trailer trash." And if all three speak to only "angry" timebomb teens who feel "alienated," why then is everyone having such a good time? GRADE B+

- GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

* * *

MANTRA MIX (NARADA WORLD)

When I first picked up the Mantra Mix CD, I thought I would have to recuse myself from reviewing it because my photo was on the cover. Fortunately, it turned out to be the Dalai Lama, so I am free to tell you that this is an excellent compilation whose royalties go to a worthy cause: the Office of the Dalai Lama for aid to Tibetan refugees and the preservation of Tibetan culture.

Most of the usual suspects (Peter Gabriel, Natalie Merchant, et al.) are here, contributing their typically tasteful and earnest efforts. There's also familiar electronica from Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers and Moby.

But the compilation is made special by all the unexpected filigrees: gorgeous slices of pop confection from the London Suede and Travis; trippy magic from Massive Attack and Kula Shaker; Shirley Bassey's brassy vocal on the Propellerheads' History Repeating; Ben Harper's channeling of Otis Redding on One Road to Freedom.

Only a couple of notes ring false. Madonna offers up some pseudo-Buddho mumbo jumbo that only serves to remind us why the Material Girl isn't the first place to turn for guidance in transcending the illusion of self. R.E.M.'s Lotus sounds like a good idea but, thanks to Michael Stipe's annoying vocal, isn't.

The bonus second disc is full of the real thing: guttural, trance-inducing Tibetan prayers, including one from the Dalai Lama himself, as well as complementary ambience from Philip Glass and others.

It adds up to an inspirational mix, but the message never gets in the way of the music. If the purpose of life is to be happy, purchasing a copy of Mantra Mix will enhance your contentment on several levels. GRADE: A-

- ROBERT FRIEDMAN, Times staff writer

PJ HARVEY, STORIES FROM THE CITY, STORIES FROM THE SEA (ISLAND RECORDS)

Polly Jean Harvey has lost her bite.

There, I've said it. As a rock fan I want to love Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, named for its dual inspirations, the British countryside and New York City, but I'll be honest: I was relying on more of Harvey's signature aggressive rock anthems in the vein of her 1993 album Rid of Me.

Instead, I got an album of mid-tempo rockers with a definite Patti Smith influence. But, that's not so terrible. It shows maturation and that perhaps PJ went to therapy or is on Prozac.

However, several songs are downright misleading. One Line begins lethargically over a quiet guitar riff as a maudlin ballad. Harvey sings unconvincingly: "Do you remember the first kiss?/Stars shooting across the sky?" On a misdirected Beautiful Feeling, Harvey loses her way over a dull landscape of minimalist guitar.

But don't fret, for the rest of the disc works well. Several songs ooze PJ energy, and they truly deliver. This Mess We're In, with Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, is laced with driving guitars. Yorke croons while Harvey inhabits the background with her enchanting presence. Chilling, yet beautiful, Harvey gets one point for mood.

Manic guitar combines with Harvey's shrill vocals to make the appropriately named Kamikaze eerie. Likewise, The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore unfolds its tale of depravity and poverty-ridden life. The result is one catchy tune, hummable even. Grade: B+

- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent

RICHARD LEO JOHNSON, LANGUAGE (BLUE NOTE)

Arkansas native Richard Leo Johnson, the guitar find of 1999, is a self-taught late bloomer whose wizardly technique, imaginative arrangements and unusual 12-string tunings -- reminiscent of the late Michael Hedges -- yield any number of wondrous textures and flourishes. Hearing is believing: Check out the jazz, folk, fusion and New Age soundscapes of his new Language CD, an eclectic set of music featuring contributions by woodwind player Paul McCandless and bassist Glen Moore of Oregon, Govt Mule guitarist Warren Haynes and percussionist Cyro Baptista.

Johnson, briefly a Nashville resident, offers an impressionistic portrait of that city with the percussive riffs and colorful themes of Music Roe, in tandem with accordion player Andy Reinhardt. Haynes' acoustic slide guitar makes a tangy companion to Johnson's hard strumming and plucking on the intimate Freestone Peach, as well as on the more expansive Sketches of Miles.

The session leader successfully weaves stage/screen tunes with his own creations on Cheek to Cheek/Dance in Heaven and Happy Talk/Dream a Dream, bolstered by McCandless' work on soprano sax and oboe, respectively. The sounds of Johnson's major influences, including Leo Kottke, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin and Pete Townsend, certainly resonate through his voice. But he's speaking his own language, refined, vaguely exotic and always a pleasure to hear. Grade: B+

- PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent

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