Review Summary: "Please don't give up on me"
At this point of time, there isn’t really much to say about Linkin Park. The band commercially peaked during their nu metal days and remained so until the end of their Minutes to Midnight
run. Since then, the band has been on a downward spiral into irrelevance.
Fast forward to recent times, with Chester and Mike’s rhetoric concerning the support and thought process of The Hunting Party
, listeners were simply bewildered upon listening to lead single “Heavy.” Now, it’s not like the band has not dabbled in electronic flavored pop music; the crux of Living Things
was essentially this but with clumsy integrations of the band’s rock sound. However, when Shinoda said that scrapped material during the Living Things
tour were deemed too “poppy” and he didn’t “even believe in this music,” fans and listeners certainly had a right to be angry at the abrupt change in style and sound. This freak out is probably the most unique in the band’s career in that the overall reception of the material released prior to the album’s official drop was overwhelmingly negative. Sure there was detractors for the stretch of albums from Minutes to Midnight
up to even The Hunting Party
, but one would not have to search hard for non-hardcore fans who enjoy these albums. With One More Light
, it seems only hardcore fans and Linkin Park apologists enjoy (or at least claim to) the new material.
The thing is, this complete 180 in sound and style would have some amount of redemption (like every other album after Meteora
) if it isn’t for the fact that the end result is this flagrantly half baked and pandering. Yes, Linkin Park has always been a commercial entity and had a primarily pop edge at the core of their songwriting. One may even argue that One More Light
would be the most logical progression in the band’s sound because of how often the band has hinted at their soft spot for pop songwriting. In the end, however, any defense anyone can muster up for One More Light
or any theory on the band having pure motives going in to the album with a genuine desire to create pop tunes can be easily negated with the context surrounding The Hunting Party
and its aptly titled Carnivores tour.
Now, Mike was not lying when he said that the entire album sounds similar to “Heavy,” but what is confounding about this statement was his assurance that the album “in terms of the style [is] one of the most diverse stylistically, there's more genres mashed into this album than anything we've ever put out… Stylistically we wanted to blend all of the sound and genres together in a way you can’t tell them apart.” This attempt at seamlessly blending genres is a total joke if their idea of combining Nickelback and Chainsmokers on “Talking to Myself” was their idea of this.
Ultimately, the album is just a tired formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus that is neither memorable or well executed by any means. Just a by-the-numbers Linkin Park album where Mike does some rapping, Chester sings and is occasionally accompanied by Mike, and then throwing Mike a bone by letting him take lead on a track or two. Imagine Minutes to Midnight
but the instrumentals are purely pop based in both sound and songwriting topped with weak self-production. That is all this album is. Nothing groundbreaking, no unique blends of genres the band has been known to fuse on Hybrid Theory
or A Thousand Suns
. Just a regular pop album strictly meant to make sales.
Something positive that I must concede to the record is how obvious the presentation is of live instruments on every song are. The drums obviously sound like Rob behind the kit with minor filtering for a slight programmed sound. The end product is a unique middle that recalls the band’s rock roots but still fit into the context of a pop song. The guitars themselves act as a very effective means of setting the atmosphere for songs like the title track and “Invisible” with a beautiful clean tone to back it up. The combination of acoustic guitar and subtle distorted guitar on closing track “Sharp Edges” is nicely integrated into the hideous Phillip Phillips meets OneRepublic tune of the song. Probably most commendable about this album is that this is probably the only record in the band’s discography where Phoenix’s bass is consistently audible in every track he plays on in the album.
Admittedly, the songwriting on the opener, “Nobody Can Save Me,” is very well done. Although the song opens with cringe-inducing manipulated vocals made popular by the likes of The Chainsmokers, it has a solid vocal melody and the build up to the exploding second half of the verse is well crafted and quite exciting. The song soldiers on with well placed distorted octave and power chords with some sprinkles of Living Things
-esque synths and brief dubstep wobbles. The only qualm of the song can only be placed on Chester’s one note delivery, but the fantastic vocal melody more than makes up for it.
The title track on the other hand is a very subtle song and places a great deal of emphasis on Chester’s vocals and the atmosphere. The melodramatic sharp breath intakes in between lyrics do cheapen the song somewhat (although the lyrics themselves are mediocre), but for what the song is worth, this will remain one of the better calm songs that the band has written. Extra props to Brad for the slick guitar tone which attributes a great deal to the song’s isolated atmosphere.
“Invisible” is probably the best Mike moment on the entire album. His voice suits the song beautifully, even if the song itself is mediocre. The melody itself is nice enough but it reuses the same cheesy military-esque snare rolls abused on “Battle Symphony” and Mike sounds utterly lifeless on a chorus meant to soar with a frankly nice message about paying more attention to his children and becoming a more present father in their adolescence.
As far as compliments go, that is probably all that can be said.
During the recording of the album, the band, unusually for them, wrote and recorded vocal tracks and lyrics first before writing the music. This obviously hinders the music and melody of every song as they end up being too reliant on weak hooks and generic pop instrumentation. Chester has also gone on record to say that the album does not focus so much on the angst of their previous albums but more like catharsis and properly venting the problems presented on the songs. Even if the lyrics are meant to convey this thought process (and maybe they do, but they’re no better written than what the listener will find on any other album by the band), but “catharsis” is a totally inappropriate word to describe the sound and development on every song on the album except for perhaps “Heavy.” The ending of “Blackout” from A Thousand Suns
is cathartic. The ending of “A Line in the Sand” from The Hunting Party
is cathartic. The ending of “End of Harvest” by Neurosis is cathartic. Droning one note vocal melodies on top of non-evolving pop structures and instrumentals is not
To add insult to injury, the band’s blatant attempt at retaining relevancy after the commercial failure of The Hunting Party
further weakens the sincerity of the new sound. This leaves a bad taste in the mouth with every listen of not just the album, but any song. As brilliantly done as the opening track is, that manipulated vocal sample that kicks it off is already enough for the listener to turn off the song/album. The flagrant trap type Drake flow Mike bites on “Good Goodbye” is the equivalent to aural waterboarding. Probably even worse is how utterly unmemorable every song on the album is. Even when a song is halfway through and the listener rewinds to the previous verse, it will only be forgotten once the next chorus pops up and that will soon become forgotten as the bridge comes in. Every song repeats a cycle of overused formulas of verse-chorus-etc. songwriting that becomes increasingly unbearable as the album progresses and with every repeated listen the audience may dare to endure. Also the fact that the album ends with Chester repeatedly saying that now cliched to the point of abuse and slightly altered Friedrich Nietzsche quote “what doesn’t kill us makes us more strong” (which was already used as a recurring lyric on their Steve Aoki collab song “A Light that Never Comes”) is one of the worst album endings in recent memory.
The true saving grace of the album in the big picture lies in how short it is. In fact this is the band’s shortest album in both tracklisting and run time. Like Meteora
, the songs simply start up and stop with no unnecessary repetition in chorus or verses besides the occasions of the bridge reusing lyrics of a previous verse. Unfortunately, even this is mired by the complete lack of energy and passion which ends up making the album sound twice as long than it really is.
Chester says on the title track just how much he cares about one more light going out. Vague to the point of being meaningless but said with just the right amount of conviction to trick the most simple minded listeners into thinking how utterly deep the lyrics are. However, because of how vague they are, let’s assume this is an analogy for the band’s career.
“Who cares if one more light goes out?” Says millions of Linkin Park fans who believe it would have been better that the band had burned out in their nu metal phase than to fade away into irrelevancy and releasing offensively hollow pop music. Chester’s response has been a notorious “well I do” and tells them all to move on. A fan has no right to force a band into making music only he or she wants to hear; it hinders creativity and is an insult to the passion the artist possesses in creating art the way they envision it. A fan has no entitlement over an artist or their work; they only merely consume it and appreciate the hard work (or lack thereof) put into it. But there is a point where the artist needs to look themselves in the mirror and ask if what they are doing is for the benefit of themselves, the fans, or the record company.
Chester has already gone on record in Jared Leto’s Artifact
documentary and stated how limiting record companies can be on bands’ creative process with obvious nods to Linkin Park struggling with this same problem. Meteora
itself was the nu metal equivalent of One More Light
: the band did not want to record it, but the record company forced them to strike while the nu metal iron was hot. Ironically, fans who have called Linkin Park sellouts since Minutes to Midnight
seem to conveniently ignore this fact. The band has come full circle again but this time with a smaller fan base and heavier scrutiny for jumping on the contemporary pop(ular) sound.
Now let's take into account that the title track was actually inspired and dedicated to a close friend who had recently died from cancer. How much does this context really change the perception that the band had “sold out” to a popular sound? Honestly, not much. The fact that the lyrics on the chorus are strangely accusatory detract from the deeper meaning hidden underneath the verses and further weaken the song’s meaning. This same thing goes for every other song on the album. Any semblance of personal meaning the songs have are lost in translation and all the listener is left to do is hold their head in their hands and figure out the meaning of anything themselves.
Linkin Park, take a break. Go on hiatus. It is understandable that it would be career suicide to speak out against the record label for leading you into this pop direction. Hell, this sense of limiting was already present on The Hunting Party
. “Guilty All the Same” was released as a single and completely edits out Rakim’s verse that clears up the otherwise vague lyrics about the corruption of record companies. The other single “Until It’s Gone” sticks out with a sore thumb in the entire album with how poppy it is. Breaking up should obviously be a last resort because there is still a fire at your core that wants to keep making music. But keep making music at the expense of further sacrificing more relevancy and more of your fan base? Take a break and figure out where your heart truly lies in the music business.