Linkin Park: Living Things

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Giant, transforming robots may be absent from the box office this year, but that doesn’t mean perennial rap/rockers Linkin Park get to take the year off. Their fifth album, Living Things, builds upon their commitment to release a new album every 18 months. However, is that a decision that leads them to place quantity over quality?

Believe it or not, it has been 12 years since the release of Linkin Park’s inaugural album Hybrid Theory. The early 2000′s saw the rise (and eventually fall) of “nu-metal”, a fusion of rap with heavy-metal popularized by bands like Korn, Adema, P.O.D., and of course, Linkin Park. While other acts and the genre itself have fell to the wayside, Linkin Park still remains. This can be attributed to their tireless work ethic, steady release schedule, and evolving sound. They can also thank Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy, in which they provided a theme song for each iteration,  for providing a steady string of Billboard hits. Unfortunately, that has given the the stigma of “sell-outs” among traditionalists, an accusation not completely without merit.

Linkin Park’s music has certainly lost much of its angst-ridden fervor since they teamed with super-producer Rick Rubin for 2007′s Minutes to Midnight. That release definitely saw them lean toward a more commercial sound that left a bitter taste on the palette of many fans, some of whom would likely be disappointed to know that Rick Rubin has returned yet again to produce Living Things. Personally, I feel like Rubin’s presence has been more of a bane than a beacon.  Minutes to Midnight and its follow-up A Thousand Suns felt uneven at best, pandering at worse. Understandably, I approached Things with equal parts curiosity and trepidation. I was surprised by what I found.

For better or worse, Linkin Park’s music has definitely evolved. Some view this with disdain, but few acts can be expected to retain their trademark sound after more than a decade of releases. This is Linkin Park now, and everyone needs to get used to it. With Living Things, they have finally struck a balance between the old and the new. Sure, a couple of tracks bring back the popularized sound that has become expected of them. The lead single “Burn It Down” is chief offender with “In My Remains” as its bland accomplice. Thankfully, these tracks are more or less aberrations on this unexpectedly layered and interesting album.

Linkin Park loyalists will be rewarded with entries like the short, but stinging “Victimized“, which sees Chester Bennington’s trademark scream return with a vigor that hasn’t been heard in quite a number of years. The tandem of Mike Shinoda’s rhymes and Chester’s vocals hasn’t been this effective in probably, well, ever. Case in point is the track “Lies Greed Misery“, wherein the duo finally feel like they’re complimenting one another instead of simply waiting for the other to shut up. The track seems to directly address their criticism as Shinoda laments “I’ma be that nail in your coffin / Sayin’ that I softened / I was duckin’ down to reload”. Indeed.

Perhaps the biggest revelations on this album are Joe Hahn and Mike Shinoda, the latter of whom seems to have stepped into the spotlight again after being place on the back burner since Minutes to Midnight. His rhymes and delivery has matured greatly over the years, surely cultivated by working with the likes of Rubin and Jay-Z. Though more interesting is his better developed singing voice. He carries tracks like “Skin to Bone“,”Castle of Glass” and “Roads Untraveled“, which are also the standouts on the album. They feature such a refreshing divergence from anything we’ve heard from Linkin Park that it would be nearly impossible for a casual listener to identify the band.  I’m certain that these are the kinds of songs that the old nu-metal faithfuls loathe, but they are also an interesting glimpse in the direction that LP will travel in the future.

Hahn’s influence can certainly be felt more as the album is largely an electronic offering. It’s difficult to miss Brad Delson’s searing guitar because what Hahn has created is so textured and exquisitely mixed many tracks are fully enjoyable for their instrumentals alone. For instance “Tinfoil” loses much of its cinematic ambiance once the vocals kick in, reducing to a rather bland outro. I do feel that Hahn is, and always has been, the most under-appreciated member of the group. His deft arrangement elevates this album. I wince to think what it may be without he and Shinoda’s influence.

All in all, Living Things is a welcome offering that travels so far off the beaten road it’s difficult to judge it against much of their catalog. It certainly feels like their most sincere album since Hybrid Theory, but that is not to say it’s as good. 1/3 of the album still features the rather stale, commercial composition that plagued A Thousand Suns. The rest feels much more invigorating due to the emotional and mechanical maturity that permeates the music. If you questioned whether or not the constant slate of releases from the group was harming their product, Things definitely feels like a quality effort. For those that still yearn for LP’s return to early-2000′s glory, I doubt there is much here to satisfy you. However, if you you have embraced Linkin Park’s new direction, you’ll be treated to what is their definitive album of the last 5 years.

tags: Chester Bennington, Linkin Park, Living Things, Mike Shinoda, rick rubin

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