Review Summary: Points for effort, but too little, too late.
I’ll make no bones about it; I despised everything about Linkin Park when they were popular in the new millennium. While their particular, emotional brand of industrial tinged Rap-metal was endlessly commercially successful, to me it was full of faults. The adolescent self-loathing that seamlessly perforated Meteora and Hybrid Theory was, to me, far too immature and inarticulate to generate any listener’s sympathy or empathy, which was worsened by the grating, nasal quality of Chester Bennington’s scratchy screams and singing passages. Indeed, although their lyrical and emotional quality was very comparable to that of contemporaries Limp Bizkit, they lacked the macho posturing and aggravated howl that made Fred Durst humorously endearing enough to tolerate. Worse still was the way the various qualities of their music fit together: their riffs just weren’t trashy enough, their drums not heavy enough, their tones not dirty enough to give the music the true industrial edge it needed to make the lyrics matter. Instead of an industrial wasteland a la ‘Eraserhead’ in which the listener could wallow in socially-induced isolation, the keyboards and samples of Mr Hahn offered a crisp, clean metropolis of soundscapes, each of them far too pristine to taint with the anger the music wanted to express. More aggravating still was the seemingly endless amounts of MTV and Rolling Stone generated artificial praise that showered them, when clever and literate metal fans knew that the rap metal style they ‘pioneered’ was in fact started by Anthrax and Public Enemy. Anthrax did the work a decade earlier, and Linkin Park won the grammy for it. Infuriating.
And then, miraculously... they seemed to disappear. Their fans waited for a third album, and kept on waiting for four years, most of them growing up with the rest of their nu-metal brethren: either forging into more traditional metallic territory, or following the trail of angst to the current emo-pop-punk-bull*** that dominates the airwaves like a cheap and demanding third world dominatrix. Linkin Park lost the cultural relevance that was delivered to them on a silver platter by the pop art marauders of MTV.
Now, 2007, it’s here, the third Linkin Park CD: Minutes to Midnight. One word: wow. That’s not necessarily a good wow but it IS genuine surprise. This release brings memories of another contemporary metal release: Trivium’s The Crusade. In both albums the artists have abandoned both their prior fanbases and their previous styles in favor of something far more melodic and derivative… and far more commercial. And while that move may have been controversial to Trivium, for Linkin Park it was, unquestionably intelligent.
This is not your daddy’s rap metal record. In fact there’s barely any rap or metal in it. What’s left (or evolved from its previous form) is what amounts to something like the bastard child of Black album Metallica and All That You Can’t Leave Behind era U2. The guitars and bass are now far more colorful in a subdued way, as if Brad Delson has given up the intensity of his colors for a greater range of them. If Meteora and Hybrid Theory were shocking contrast heavy comic books Minutes to Midnight is a storybook in lovely pastels. There are exceptions of course, and some of these tracks are Linkin Park’s heaviest (most impressive is true album opener Given Up, which embraces an almost skatepunk feel. LP still knows their target audience), but most of them are light affairs. The lead instrument here has now clearly become the samples and keys of Joseph Hahn, and in my opinion rightly so: he was always the most dynamic and interesting member of the band and his various sampled loops and keyboard flourishes comprise a majority of the sound here, giving the entire affair a Garbage-like poptronica sheen, as opposed to his previous work which bore more similarities to Rammstien. Fans of late 90’s electropop will find a great deal to love here. The drums are the only instrument that has intensified, obviously emulating the ‘less-is-more’ metal drumming of Lars Ulrich. In fact the drum track to No More Sorrow seems frighteningly similar to Struggle Within. Last, but far from least, MC Mike Shinoda is all but absent here, this is Chester Bennington’s CD through and through, with the sole exception being album standout Bleed It Out.
So does it work?
There are definite moments of (so-far) Career defining brilliance. For once, through the avenue of politics, their ever-present angst finally seems to have some source of direction and it’s much needed. What I’ve Done is a serviceable anthem with an impressive vocal performance. Given Up, Bleed It Out, and No More Sorrow are extremely solid headbangers with interesting hooks and a few unexpected touches. The stomp-clap mechanic that makes Bleed It Out a future party favorite elevates it to the hallowed title of their best song ever recorded. Also impressive is six minute long Hurricane Katrina inspired album closer The Little Things Give You Away (it even has a guitar solo! Oh joyous day!). And interesting, but in a novelty way, is Shinoda’s only true standout performance: Hands Held High.
That’s where the good parts end.
Too much of the album (read: EVERY OTHER TRACK) is a ballad. At least Metallica had the sensibility to limit themselves to one per CD, but LP are clearly making up for lost time… or vying for mainstream acclaim… neither is acceptable. Don’t get me wrong their ballads are not bad... but they aren’t good. Worse is Bennington, who although much improved retains his scratchy, nasal, prepubescent annoying quality during screams, and seems to be unable to realize that his vocal range is too limited for the kind of work he’s trying to do with it. Here’s a hint: Let Shinoda sing. He’s always been the better front man, and more interesting of the two. The album also suffers from what I like to refer to as ‘the Stadium Arcadium Sway’: the tracks are arranged, for the most part, in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. This is an album for the ipod generation, it’s designed to be ripped apart track by track and playlist-ed. That, unfortunately, doesn’t make for a good cohesive listening experience. U2 has this same issue, and perhaps both bands would do well to listen to the immaculate arrangement skills of old classics like Pink Floyd and *GASP!* The Beatles.
So the bottom line is, while refreshing, Minutes to Midnight is a deeply flawed work. What attempts to be a musical experiment ends up as Metallica cum Coldplay, generic heavy metal for people who want nothing to do with heavy metal, and this inherent contradiction keeps the album from ever firing on all cylinders. This is not the CD that Linkin Park loyal deserve, or that their careers needed. It’s heavy metal comfort food, full of interesting flavors with no nutritional value whatsoever. Still those flavors alone make it worth a spin or two.