Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Return of Linkin Park Proper

I haven’t written about music before and there are many reasons for that. My musical tastes are not particularly sophisticated or exotic. I misuse or misunderstand the technology. I appreciate good and distinctive vocals but my standards are pretty low and in this era of auto-tunage, most people make a passing grade easy enough. As a writer, I respect good lyrics, but it usually takes fifteen or so listenings for me to register them, so I have very little trouble tuning out verses most people would find insufferably repetitive or insipid. Interesting time signatures are wasted on me because I have enough trouble counting the more regular rhythms (which explains, in large part, my short-lived career as a dancer).

So, having thoroughly established my lack of musical qualifications, I’d like to talk about Linkin Park’s latest album, Living Things. Yeah, see? I can hear you groaning from here. This is why I warned you.

In high school I was a huge fan of Linkin Park. They were far and away my favorite band and I loved Hybrid Theory, Meteora and Reanimation. I skipped their Jay-Z collaboration because I wasn’t (and still am not) really into rap. Minutes to Midnight was initially very disappointing, mostly because my expectations were ridiculous after a four year wait, but I have come to really enjoy the album. Admittedly, I don’t think I would like it nearly as much as I do if I didn’t have A Thousand Suns to compare it to.

I think the bird being vaporized is supposed to signify the end of peace, or hope, 
or some shit, but all I see is the band I loved doing its damnedest to self-destruct.
Many critics described A Thousand Suns as a love it or hate it experience. Hate is a strong word, but in my case, its also a stupendous understatement. The album not only eroded my faith in the band, eating through goodwill four discs deep, it poisoned my mind against the very concept of “concept albums.” Linkin Park had surrendered themselves to superficial, sophomoric and impotent activism set against grating 90s house music. Their first two albums were frequently dismissed as adolescent and over-produced, but they were also a hell of a lot of fun and they created a distinctive sound and style. Listening to their self-indulgent faux-political reinvention was like watching a close friend piss away his promising career as a pulp-fiction writer in favor of “finding himself” as a tragically untalented and staggeringly preachy spoken-word poet.

This story has a hopeful ending though, because Living Things is good. Very damn good in fact.

Now THIS is what a Linkin Park cover should look like. 
Stylish and evocative with the barest hint of violence.

Don’t worry if you are unimpressed by “Burn it Down,” the single that’s getting so much radio play lately. It really grows on you, and it is far from the best song on the CD. I would put it in about 5th or 6th place.  

“Lost in the Echo” is the opening track and I think it is a much better representation of the album. It sounds like LP circa Meteora, with some modern electronic touches. It is complex, reasonably quick and the lyrics aren’t terribly coherent, but they capture that anrgy, dramatic edge that defined the band’s sound. "Skin to Bone" is another favorite. It has a bunch of hackneyed verses (“right to left and left to right, night and day to day and night,”) but you know what? The tune is catchy and a lot of fun.

"Tinfoil" is a brief but atmospheric ambient track; something I’ve missed since Meteora.  It is followed by “Powerless,” a compelling, elegiac song about trying to help your significant other but being unable to do so. It’s kind of a curious choice for the final song on the CD, but it captures an isolated idea, a poignant situation in a brief stylish manner.

“Castle of Glass” is my second favorite track on the album, demonstrating the good lessons Linkin Park has learned since Meteora: simplified lyrics and smooth vocals with a melody that is simultaneously dark and upbeat. Again, the lyrics don't mean a hell of a lot, but they capture this mood of uncertainty, angst and hopefulness that I find incredibly appealing.

My number one track though is a haunting little anthem called “Roads Untraveled.” Stylistically, it’s similar to LP’s early hit, “My December,” but a little clearer and more focused. Yeah, the lyrics and message border on trite, but the sentiment is tempered by the melancholy melody. Honestly, it is one of my favorite Linkin Park songs.

Like most CDs, there are a couple songs that suck. “Lies Greed Misery” is as unpleasant as the title would lead you to believe. Forced rhymes, over-syncopated syllables and plenty of shouting. No thanks. “Victimized” and “Until it Breaks” suffer from similar issues. Still, I’ll take all three of these tracks over anything from A Thousand Suns.

Living Things (which I prefer to think of as a verb phrase rather than a noun phrase) is pretty damn good, and it shows a band evolving while coming back to who they were. Whenever you can pull that trick off, being true to yourself while making progress and moving forward, you’re doing something very right. Good to have you back Linkin Park. I missed you something fierce.

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