Review Summary: One step closer to the perfect hybrid theory.
Once one of the nu metal scene’s biggest bands, Linkin Park have oft been criticised for moving too far from the genre’s original parameters. However, it’s an interesting exercise to assess where Linkin Park’s baggy-trousered contemporaries are right now. Korn are attempting to remain relevant by hopping on to the dubstep bandwagon; Limp Bizkit have become a tiresome-self parody; both Disturbed and Slipknot are on seemingly indefinite hiatuses, with System of a Down not getting up to much either. Linkin Park, meanwhile, is still one of the biggest rock bands on the planet after twelve years in the saddle.
The secret to their longevity is their refusal to be pinned down to one genre. While their first two albums were undoubtedly Siamese twins of downtuned riffs and hip-hop rhythms, 2007’s ‘Minutes to Midnight’ tried (unsuccessfully) to reinvent the band as a rival to Muse or U2 in levels of crossover pop-rock success. When that didn’t work, they fled into a universe of vague song structures and chilly synthesizers on the criminally underrated ‘A Thousand Suns’, an apocalyptic concept album that felt surprisingly comfortable for the band in a way that ‘Midnight’ never did.
Now it’s 2012, and with Linkin Park reborn as electro-rock giants, ‘Living Things’ is here to emphasise just how much this band have evolved. Incorporating both the sugar-rush energy of their first two records and the widescreen scope of albums 3 and 4, there’s an argument to make that ‘Living Things’ is the definitive Linkin Park album. Largely synth-driven in the same way that “Suns” was, ‘Living Things’ nonetheless succeeds where its predecessor failed in using unquestionably the band’s greatest strength- Chester Bennington’s brilliant voice.
Where on ‘A Thousand Suns’ he felt strangely sidelined and distant, ‘Living Things’ employs Bennington’s mighty pipes to make otherwise average songs like ‘I’ll Be Gone’ and closing power ballad ‘Powerless’ into stadium anthems. Co-vocalist Mike Shinoda is also on top form in the record’s obligatory hip-hip sections, most notably high-flying opener “Lost in the Echo” and the labyrinthine “Until it Breaks”. As always, it’s when the two singers come together that Linkin Park shine the brightest, and the songs on which both vocalists are used are the best.
This record also features some of the band’s strongest material to date. “Castle of Glass” is spine-chillingly good- an upbeat electro number with a curious folk vibe that is as majestic as any song the band have written before. And though “In My Remains” and “Burn it Down” are the kind of big radio rock songs this band could write in their sleep, there are also some welcome curveballs. “Skin to Bone” takes vaudeville flavourings and injects them with computerised bombast. “Roads Untraveled” starts like a stereotypical Linkin Park ballad before shooting for the stars with a beautiful wordless chorus. Though some experiments don’t work as well as others (the punk-esque “Victimized” feels like an unfinished demo), it’s always nice to see a band prepared to take risks.
There is, however, a niggling feeling that the band is playing it somewhat safe with this record. It lacks both the sheer ambition and natural cohesion of “A Thousand Suns”, and though many of the songs are better, they don’t flow as neatly as on the previous set. The overproduction that has dogged previous Linkin Park records sadly returns once more, and robs the more up-tempo tracks of bite. It’s also disappointing that the album’s guitar parts remain rather uninspired and that Dave Farrell’s bass guitar is mostly completely inaudible.
It’s easy to see how Linkin Park has remained at the top of the mountain where their brothers in arms have fallen from grace. Adapting to an ever-changing musical landscape while nonetheless retaining the idea of hybridising genres that defined their debut, they have (finally) well and truly cemented their status as modern rock greats. Where they will take their evolution next will be an interesting question for the future, but for now they have at last truly found their place in the musical landscape.