Review Summary: Hybird Theory is more than good enough to survive the realization that your parents really did know whats best for you.5 of 8 thought this review was well written
One of the trickiest parts of revisiting a band that was a favorite in childhood is separating remnants of the opinion you held of the band then and how you truly feel about them now, so let me preface this review with a warning. Linkin Park was my favorite band in late elementary/early middle school; this should come as no surprise. Suburb grown, radio tuned exclusively to the local alternative station, and a deep well of angst that spews from the heart of every 13 year old in America made me the prime candidate for Linkin Park fandom. So why am I listing to them now? I had long since written off the band as peddlers of the same lunkhead catharsis that every nu-metal band trafficked so thickly in, but suddenly a desire to seek out this bands output resurfaced and now I’m writing a review of their debut album in order to purge myself of these demons. The combined allure of nostalgia and trying to determine the cultural position of this album (All albums that sell over 10 million copes in North America alone have serious cultural worth at the least.) But then something funny happened, I kept listening to the album, my score went from a 3.0, to a 3.5, to a 4.0… What was happening?
Way back in 2000 nu-metal was an inescapable pool of puke. Bands like Papa Roach, Bush, Korn, Staind, and, of course, Limp Bizkit were rulers of the downward spiral rock radio has found itself ever since post-grunge became a thing. So while its not difficult to understand why Warner Brothers picked “One Step Closer” as the first single, it is frustrating. It’s the only song on the album that could have been given to any of LP’s competitors and little would have been lost in translation but it does manage to show off Linkin Park’s greatest musical asset. Chester Bennington. Nobody could have sold that bridge like Chester’s platinum pipes. Chester Bennington will eternally give Serj Tankian a run for his money as the best singer to ever operate in nu-metal. When he viciously leans into the pre-chorus of “With You” or the bridge of “Papercut” it seems to validate all those bulls*it problems I had in 6th grade as serious concerns. As for the other band members, Mike Shinoda is easily one of the more talented nu-metal MC’s, Mr. Hahn’s scratching adds and detracts from songs in equal measure but earns his keep when he layers atmospheric effects over the surrounding thrash. The guitarist, bassist, and drummer (Brad Delson, Dave Farrell, and Rob Bourdon respectively) are all but useless on this record, churning out boring riff after bass line after drum part. Bourdon jumps quite a bit in skill on Meteora (he practiced for 8 hours a day leading up the recording) but on this he plays with the skill and subtlety of a 3-year drum student. Meanwhile, Dave Farrell doesn’t seem to have a single interesting bass line in that massive bald skull of his (Or wait, he has one, its comes during the bridge in Papercut, don’t blink, you’ll miss it).
Oh and of course, the unsung hero of Linkin Park, Protools! Every inch of this record has been digitally scrubbed clean of any and all faults with the magical program. Sometimes this has some interesting effects, witness Chester Bennington sing from the empty void of space after being sucked out the airlock during the verses of “Crawling”, but it also gives the record an unfortunate mechanical sheen, as if the entire album was created using angst algorithms. Speaking of which, this album isn’t quite as angst-y as I thought it was. I was surprised to find the album’s lyrical themes quite universal. “There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface” is about depression, but also applicable to a lot of other situations, any and all feelings of self-questioning carry that unmistakable feeling. That’s because Linkin Park trade in emotions. They compose lyrics that clearly directly to self-loathing and losing touch with reality (Which is when that production makes sense, how better than to make an album about losing touch with reality than to make it sound like it was produced by robots). Clearly those are some broad themes for a nu-metal band to explore, Linkin Park's fanbase isn't all middle schoolers you know.
So what justifies the 4.0? The hooks. Oh my god, the hooks. The lyrical interplay between the two vocalists (Mike/Chester, Conscious/Subconscious) allows Mike to layer his hooks over Chester’s already potent hooks (See Crawling and Pushing Me Away for the best examples of this, but it happens on every song). The songs here are some of the catchiest damn things I’ve ever heard, don’t believe me? I bet you can still think of a ton of the lyrics to “In The End”. Sure, that song was a massive hit but so was “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” by Fuel and I couldn’t think of a word to those verses if you put a gun to my head. These songs can bounce around in ones head for days on end like any great pop music.
Yes pop music…
The emphasis is on hooks and appeal. Strip those away and what are you left with? The guitar lines? My ass. That’s the trick to enjoying this album, abandon ideas of this as metal and jump headfirst into an excellent pop album.
Like all pop music there is a clear formula in place here no question. On Hybrid Theory though, LP were kings of it. They nailed the mark on each and every song. The formula did get exhausting (See my Meteora review) but on here everything works perfectly.
As a straight through that’s exhausting no question. But. Linkin Park were masters of that formula, kings, titans, judge, jury, and executioner. Man these guys could create a sweeping hook or lyric to just get lost in. Plus the pacing is god damn perfect, no 3 songs in a row are bad, and some 3-song sections are jaw dropping ("With You", "Points of Authority", "Crawling") and an instrumental to transition into the phenomenal closer ("Pushing Me Away"). Its not all perfect, One Step Closer and Runaway almost make me reconsider my opinion on the lack of angst (“Finish your dinner Chester.” “I’m gunna run away and never say goodBYYYE, and open up my MIIIND, or wonder WHYYYY!”) But hell, even they're absurdly catchy.
I’m wiling to wager a huge amount of hate heaped on this album is due to its popularity. Admit it, you’ve known someone awful who worshiped this album to death, or maybe a version of you loved it. A version of you left long behind for the sake of more intellectual pursuits. But that version of you that died when you started chasing girls? I bet he liked it. I bet he found comfort in its assurance that there are others feeling as rejected and lonely as he was. Well guess what, Hybird Theory is still waiting, and its massive hooks and guitar blast still wait for you to return to its cold, angry embrace.