By David Browne
Updated October 10, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Limp Bizkit: Jim Marshall

Anyone doubting the waning popularity of rap-metal simply had to attend one of this past season’s Summer Sanitarium concerts headlined by Metallica to be proved wrong. At several stops, coheadliners limpbizkit were barraged with boos, and in one case, they fled the stage after less than half an hour. Maybe the crowd was reacting to Fred Durst’s polarizing personality, or perhaps they realized what many already have: that rap-metal is a brutish artifact of another era.

Turns out Durst may have come to that conclusion on his own. As dull-witted as he looks and acts, even he must have sensed that the most prevalent rock either sweetens its hardness (Evanescence) or isn’t even remotely abrasive (Coldplay). Whatever the motivation, Results May Vary presents another, different bizkit — one in which the lead singer is a troubled, sensitive sort backed by a band that downplays its rivet-gun sonics in favor of something more melodic.

Not surprisingly, the results are more than varied. Durst is still prone to pulverizing unnamed enemies to the accompaniment of the same old hammer-headed musical spasms. (In that regard, Wes Borland’s absence — he’s been replaced by ex-Snot guitarist Mike Smith — is barely noticeable.) But when he’s not wailing, Durst presents himself as a delicate soul scarred by childhood and constantly betrayed in love. Other times, he puts aside his former braggadocio in favor of even less appealing self-pity, dubbing himself ”a target for people that are bitter” in ”Lonely World.” Not being the most empathetic singer, Durst isn’t entirely convincing in this new role, and the reverb and echo in which his voice is constantly immersed only serve to obliterate any sense of intimacy. For all his angst, Durst seems to feel the best way to attract a member of the opposite sex is with laddie-mag pickup lines like ”I ain’t lookin’ to screw until the vibe’s right.”

The band’s direction, meanwhile, is as muddy as Durst’s blend of arrogance and humility. With a few slower tempos and fingerpicked guitars, the music finally breathes. But while the bizkit deserve credit for reaching beyond rap-metal’s lockstep confines, the band hasn’t found a suitable place to call its own. The songs without hip-hop accents or full-on rage merely seem dreary and gray or derivative of vintage alt bands. The band covers the Who’s ”Behind Blue Eyes” more faithfully than anyone would have thought, but, bafflingly, reduces it to a drone. Although a few of the airy rockers are more appealing than most of the ugly ”Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water,” the victory is ultimately a small one. Attempting to outgrow a declining genre, limpbizkit take one stage dive forward and two back.