Photo: Linkin Park’s latest release, A Thousand Suns’s artwork. (linkinpark.com)
By Benjamin Katz
Holding A Thousand Suns in your hands reminds you what it is to be anxious. The latest release by Linkin Park has had fans spending their last 3 years breathlessly awaiting the follow-up to 2007’s Minutes to Midnight.
Littered with controversy over the band’s new direction, true fans have been overwrought while guessing what sound the vocalist pair, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda, will lead them to next – a return to the early 00s Nu-Metal or a continuation of M2M’s previous trend?
A Thousand Suns was officially released on 8 September, with the first single, The Catalyst, making it to public ears in August to face some mixed reviews. The album was co-produced by Shinoda (vocals, keyboard, rhythm guitar) and Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, Sheryl Crow) who worked together on Linkin Park’s 07 release – but this album clearly draws from the sound M2M produced as well as from classic Hybrid Theory rock.
The first true note off A Thousand Suns is only facetiously expelled 22-damn-seconds into the track, forcing that heart in your chest to squirm in a prolonged panic.
The band downright abuses you. You’re sitting with your headphones on, your heart pounding, your nerves going crazy, yet for the first two tracks – while you’re taking in a strangely new sound that just may have hit the perfect balance between new and old – there’s still no sign of Shinoda or Bennington.
Your heart flutters as you see Track 2 on your iTunes end as a clip from J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, regrets, “Now I am become death, the Destroyer of Worlds…”
And then the melody of Burning in the Skies starts; you hear Shinoda, and you realise that he and Rubin may have just presented the perfect introduction to a perfectly anticipated album.
Unfortunately, a minute later, with the entrance of Bennington, the perfect stops.
The new album gratifyingly makes full use of new sounds and instruments: there’s more synth, electro keyboards and electro beats then ever before, and some of those classic Mr Hahn techniques make a few guest appearances. Even Brad Delson (lead guitar) has some Jack-Black-face-melting riffs.
The band hasn’t just dipped their toes into the political scene either, as they did with M2M’s What I’ve Done. The whole album – with clips from Oppenheimer, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mario Savio (an American activist) – has a consistent political edge. It sounds good.
But sadly enough, Chester ruins it.
On Blackout and Wretches and Kings, Bennington sings with what you can only assume is a Jamaican accent, which is really just a bit silly; and when Iridescent builds, his voice strains and cracks.
The Messenger is barely even worth talking about – the last song on the album, and oh wow, did the producers/band/Bennington/those-guys-who-work-the-machines-that-package-the-cds, all ball it up. Up until now the album did great work in keeping to a specific concept-sound (not The xx concept good, but good enough to pass off commercially); The Messenger though, manages to massacre it. An acoustic guitar and a straining Bennington? It’s self-indulgent and unpleasant to listen to. Leave those songs for Green Day, Chester, and stick to your old vocals – you sounded 100 times better mate.
To be fair, the lead singers don’t mess up everywhere. Their work on Robot Boy, When They Come for Me and The Catalyst are where they shine: three songs where they compliment each other and the album beautifully.
While Linkin Park has killed off a bit of the anticipation that was reverberating around the music industry a few weeks ago, as soon as the A Thousand Suns tour this year concludes that excitement will start re-bubbling as they get back to work.
If you can ignore the strange accents, manage to fool yourself into thinking Chester can sing, and stop listening before The Messenger plays, then the album’s definitely worth a couple listens, if not an actual money-purchase.
The album plays like a book: you’ll pick it up, experience it once from beginning to end (a definite recommendation) – maybe even twice; you’ll discuss it at your weekly book club; use it to kill a few mosquitoes; place it back on your cupboard; and finally let it sit and gather dust.
Linkin Park has produced a good CD from front to penultimate, but it’s far from being any form of memorable. There’s just no Crawling, no Somewhere I Belong, that you’re going to be singing under your breath while walking to work.