Review Summary: An extremely well-crafted rock album from a band whose (self-directed) anger is, for once, well placed.A Thousand Suns
isn’t quite the return to the magic of debut album Hybrid Theory
, as it has been billed in some quarters, but neither is it a straight re-enactment of the turgid attempt at a stadium-filler that was 2007’s Minutes to Midnight
Producer (or, more accurately, Executive Producer) Rick Rubin has been retained from the previous album, as has been the general tendency towards melody rather than harsh vocals and distorted guitars, but in many other senses it’s a more true representation of the group’s origins: meshing heavy rock with old school hip hop in the tradition of Rage Against the Machine
and (briefly) Public Enemy
. Indeed, the revolutionary political posturing that Rage perfected almost two decades ago is briefly replicated on a couple of tracks here – explicitly so on pre-release track ‘Wretches and Kings,’ on which a speech sample inspires us to rebel against our role in “the machine.”
For the most part, A Thousand Suns
is nothing more or less than a return to form for the California six-piece. ‘Burning of the Skies’ sees lead singer Chester Bennington wallow in the territory that best suits him, self-pity, as he sings: “I’m swimming in the smoke / Of bridges I have burned / So don’t apologise / I’m losing what I don’t deserve.”
By contrast, rapper Mike Shinoda shows his best side early on too, rapping on ‘When They Come For Me’ that: “I’m not a robot / I’m not a monkey / I will not dance even if the beat is funky.”
There’s no common thread as such, just two sides of the same coin: Chester, the sensitive, persecuted soul and Mike, the abrasive front for the same feelings.
Musically, A Thousand Suns
is more intricately put together than any of the band’s previous releases, even the ultimately superior Hybrid Theory
. ‘When They Come For Me’ sees the band incorporate Eastern influences, with a bassy acoustic drum beat and a fluid, Indian-sounding vocal line underpinning the rapped chorus. ‘Waiting for the End’ is a throwback to the ‘90s, landing somewhere between the reggae stylings of 311
and bubblegum rap group Sugar Ray
, while the enigmatic ‘Wretches and Kings’ boasts an unmistakable dub influence.
Most intriguing of all, however, is perhaps the most straightforward piece on the entire record. ‘Robot Boy’ is the simplest composition on the record, and probably the most affecting, but I’m loath to actually describe it, because ‘Robot Boy’ is about as close to boyband territory as heavy metal will ever get. The tight harmonised vocal melody falls somewhere between East 17
and Enrique Iglesias
(all the Es): the former because it’s so casually laid-back and the latter because it fades out with ‘Journada del Muerto’ (Journey of the Dead), a Spanish-language version of the main melody.
‘Iridescent’ is a straight singing duet that sees Shinoda and Bennington alternately share and trade lines, while the relatively mundane arrangement comes close to emulating the bargain basement-U2
feel of the last record. Delay-soaked guitar and keys loom large before giving way to a distorted lead and gang vocals that are reminiscent of the Killers
’ ‘All these Things that I’ve Done’ – a little hackneyed at this stage, but nevertheless well-executed. Lead single ‘The Catalyst’ recalls Sing the Sorrow
with aggressive gang vocals and creeping electronics, while closer ‘The Messenger’ is an overproduced attempt to emulate an acoustic Tom Gabel
All in all, A Thousand Suns
is a dramatic and welcome turnaround in fortune for a band that were destined for obscurity after getting it so badly, badly wrong on their last record. Granted, they’ve always maintained a steady level of popularity, but in musical terms they had become a non-entity. Whether Rubin held faith in them, or they kept faith in Rubin, or both, the marriage has finally begun to reap dividends and, though imperfect, A Thousand Suns
is an extremely well-crafted rock album from a band whose (self-directed) anger is, for once, well placed.