Hello, and welcome to Feedbacks, where we look at some of the lowest points of some of the biggest artists. Today, we’ve got Linkin Park on the menu.
There’s no way to beat around it: I was a Linkin Park diehard back in 2004 and 2005. Then again, as a 13-17 year old dude who was into rock, how could I not be? Hybrid Theory and Meteora, records less dissimilar to each other than some double albums, were made for my age bracket: loaded with chugga-chugga guitars with occasional electronic sounds for “sophistication”, Mike Shinoda’s raps, and of course, Chester Bennington’s anguished screams. And yet, there was crossover appeal to LP that their nu-metal peers lacked; they might have been tortured, but they still knew the value of a good hook, and how to weave it perfectly into adolescent aggression. It made them one of the most commercially successful bands at the turn of the century.
Unfortunately, it was only guaranteed for so long. Linkin Park’s first album came out in 2000, when nu-metal was at it’s peak, and when follow-up Meteora came out in 2003, nu-metal was noticeably out the door. By 2007, it wasn’t only a label to avoid, but something that had fallen off the map entirely (imagine if someone made an emo record today). It was either adapt and survive, or fall into obscurity.
The decision was to adapt and survive, but no one said survival had to look pretty. In music journalism/blogging, “mature” has become shorthand for “try too hard with lukewarm results”, and in that sense, boy is MtM a mature record. All bands have to grow and change, but it has to be on their time; this is a clear case of a band trying to change too much in one swoop.
Two signatures of Linkin Park’s sound are largely absent from Minutes to Midnight: Brad Delson’s distorted riffs, and Mike Shinoda’s rapping. It’s hard not to see either of these as kneejerk reactions to the nu-metal tag that the band was so desperately trying to avoid. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but the replacement parts for the album get poorly executed. There’s a new focus on soft sounds and ballads; things that require a deft touch, subtly, or nuance to succeed.
Remember who we’re talking about here.
Like I said, the change isn’t bad in itself, but the execution where the band loses points. “What I’ve Done” isn’t a bad song, but with it as a lead single, did “Leave Out All the Rest” need to make the album (the band’s made mention that they demoed 100 or so songs for MtM)? Both are slower piano looped songs with uninspired rhythm guitars on the chorus to justify Brad Delson’s cut, and barely distinguishable from each other. “Shadow of the Day”, a somber ballad that uses those soft electronic sounds, looped drums, an honest guitar solo, and a fantastic vocal from Bennington, is one of the best songs Linkin Park’s ever done, but it makes the last four songs on the album sound redundant (“In Between” gets a mercy point for Shinoda singing lead–he does a nice job).
“Shadow of the Day” is the album’s best song, but not its only quality one. “Given Up”, the heaviest song of the set, is a Shinoda rap short of being a three minute best-of for the band at their most aggressive; the riff’s a little meaner than most of Linkin Park’s material, and the chorus is brutal. Only the breakdown bridge mars an otherwise spotless song, and Bennington’s killer scream at the end damn near saves it. Shinoda finally gets to run loose on “Bleed It Out”, a half-brilliant song front-loaded with rapping that gets killed by repeating “I bleed it out/Digging deeper just to throw it away” for nearly a minute (the song clocks in at 2:46). And, as already mentioned, “What I’ve Done” isn’t terrible if you don’t mind “Crawling” rehashes.
Even when they’re trying to do something new on Minutes to Midnight, LP gets the best results when they try to sound like themselves. “Given Up” and “Bleed It Out” sound like logical progressions from Meteora, and the other singles (“Shadow of the Day” and “What I’ve Done”) aren’t serious surprises, either. Working way less in the band’s favor is trying to do something new, and never does it feel as jilted and awkward as it does on “Hands Held High”. It’s another track where Shinoda raps, but he does so in front of a martial drum beat and it’s the band’s big political “We sure hate George W. Bush” song. To be fair, MtM was released in 2007, the same year as Year Zero and Neon Bible, so I guess LP were just trying to be timely.
And being timely isn’t what sinks “Hands Held High” (or Hurricane Katrina-inspired six and a half minute closer “The Little Things That Give You Away”), it’s just not Linkin Park. I’d be tempted to say it isn’t them playing to their strengths, but it isn’t even playing to their weaknesses; it’s trying to do something (mature anthems about political struggles from a common man’s viewpoint–be U2, in other words) that isn’t in their DNA, and by offing some of their trademarks, there’s no core sound to integrate the new ideas into. For example, when Panic! At The Disco incorporated psychedelic pop on Pretty. Odd., it still sounded like Panic. You don’t get a lot of that on Minutes to Midnight, which is more tedious to slog though.
From most accounts, it’s not a problem that followed the band to A Thousand Suns, which got pretty decent press, but I’d checked out of Linkin Park by then. Hell, I’d check out by Minutes to Midnight, as did a lot of people. And, after finally listening to the album, I can see why. I’ve done Feedback on albums that were overlooked, interesting experiments, misshaped passion projects, or transition phases, but never anything I considered outright bad. In that regard, Minutes to Midnight remains a low point in this series, and likely in Linkin Park’s career (only singles “Given Up” and “Shadow of the Day” are constantly in concert setlists). They tried to be something they weren’t, and in that, were nothing.