Review Summary: The toughest challenge for listeners of LIVING THINGS is to forget about what they expect or want from it, and let it impress them for what it really is. LIVING THINGS is just the right thing at the right time, much like Hybrid Theory was 12 years ago.
It’s no secret that Linkin Park is a controversial band. Breaking onto the scene with their commercially explosive and genre-busting debut album Hybrid Theory, they gave nu-metal a sort of revival that sustained the genre for a few more years. When the band came out with a sequel, Meteora, fans got more of the same radio-ready rap rock with epic choruses and angst-laden lyrics. The album was less successful than its predecessor, which was decidedly a hard act to follow. But at this point the band realized that the proverbial cow they had been milking was on its last leg, and decided to let the beast that was nu-metal, die in peace. And so started Linkin Park’s controversial quest to forge a new identity; a new musical direction.
The sound of “old” Linkin Park can be best personified as a fragile and vulnerable teenager, but after Meteora, Linkin Park decided it was best to send that teen to boot camp and off to war to fight for more than just him-self. When he returned, the angry boy had become a young man, a groomed adult who could now understand complexities of life and the world he lived in. Minutes to Midnight, gave fans a look inside the maturing minds of the band members. The music was forcefully different from anything they had done before and while certain songs still felt like previous radio-friendly singles, they dealt with issues like death and war and everything thing that was too immense for the fragile teen from previous works. The album definitely alienated fans who longed for more chainsaw guitars and rap-sung trade-offs, but to the band it opened a new door that saw them stepping into a world of experimentation with sonic vibes.
With 2010’s A Thousand Suns, Linkin Park came full circle with their sonic mix-and matching and made an epic concept album about the dark clouds that shrouded our nuclear futures. While musically and lyrically, this was a brilliant attempt to experiment into electronic territories, it had moved far, far away from the high energy radio-rock the band was known for. When listened in one go, beginning to end, the album hit home, but taken piece by piece, song by song, the album could hardy keep people from skipping tracks. Fans that kept wishing for another Hybrid Theory left disappointed, but people who preferred this new mature music, now took notice of this band trying to find its new direction.
While promoting their 2012 release, LIVING THINGS, front-man Mike Shinoda used a great metaphor about a tool box the band used to make music. He said the band had certain tools for their older sound, but then abandoned them to find newer tools for newer times. For this album, he said, they stopped running away from the past, and made use of all the tools in the toolbox. I believe him.
Living Things has two faces and it is as if the album is looking down on the four Linkin Park albums on a timeline. The first half looks toward the early days of Hybrid Theory and Meteora, and the second half looks toward the newer Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns. It isn’t that the first half sounds like Linkin Park’s past, and the second like their more recent adventures; LIVING THINGS has its own sound. However, it does make sense that the half the album is inspired by the older days and the rest is more modern.
The album kicks off with a trio of radio-ready high energy singles that are spiritual successors of songs like “In the End”, “Numb”, and “What I’ve Done”. “Lost in the Echo” is the album opener, and frankly, no other song could do the job better. It is a wonderful marriage of electronic and electric elements that make for an intense single. “In My Remains” follows its lead in a “Numb” meets Dead by Sunrise (Bennington’s side project) sort of way which does not disappoint. The song also has one of the catchiest choruses you will hear all summer on a rock station. “Burn it Down” was the first single and rightly so. While it may not sound much like the rest of the album (exception: “In My Remains”) it includes all the different elements that are characteristic of LIVING THINGS.
Then we hit “Lies Greed Misery” which you could characterize as a bit crazy and a bit creative. The sound mixes a happy tune with angry lyrics for an interesting twist. People who are into experimental tracks would like this and a couple other tracks off of this album. This song is also where you could say Hybrid Theory really meets A Thousand Suns, but again, it has another atmosphere of LIVING THINGS sound around it. “I’ll be Gone” which a good concept, is the first song that could have been much better. There is very strong presence of the electric guitar on this song, but it sounds unpolished and at some times, too loud. The dynamic contrast of this song could be better and could have taken the song to a whole new level.
This is where the old-inspired section of LIVING THINGS ends, and the more experimental side officially begins. “Castle of Glass” is smooth like honey, and “Victimized” is the exact opposite; raw aggression sans electronics. “Roads Untraveled” and “Skin to Bone” feature a vibe never heard on a Linkin Park record. The former is very Folk, while the latter was characterized by Bennington as “Hippie-Folk with beats smashing into your face”. “Until it Break” is dub-hop-synth with a lot of production work. This song has many atmospheres and it is the most unconventional on the record.
To end things there is “Tinfoil”, which beautifully segues into “Powerless”. While it leaves a meek impression on first listen, Powerless is one of the most effective power ballads of the year. The end is epic and, ironically, powerful. The album ends on a very balanced note.
To sum things up, LIVING THINGS casts a new light on Linkin Park as a band. While it is apparent that the band has a very keen ear for melodies and a broad spectrum of influences, it is their genius production of every track that makes their music stand out as completely unique. As a whole LIVING THINGS is electronic, but this is nothing new since the band has always been known for electronic elements even dating back to the days of Hybrid Theory. It is simply that the electronic production is now an equal partner with the acoustic music and that is what makes LIVING THINGS sound like new, maybe better Linkin Park.
Perhaps the toughest challenge for listeners of this album is to forget about what they expect and want from LIVING THINGS, and let it impress them for what it is. Hybrid Theory will probably always cast a shadow on every other album, but that is because it was just such a tough act to follow. Maybe it is time to remember that album for what is was, and move towards the new direction of rock that Linkin Park seem to have finally found. For Linkin Park, LIVING THINGS is just the right thing at the right time, much like Hybrid Theory was 12 years ago.