Review Summary: “Once you got the Theory of how the thing works, everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first.”
Rapped over the tribal drums and distorted crunch of "When They Come for Me," it's not hard to interpret Mike Shinoda's words as being directly pointed at the riotous fans of Hybrid Theory
. It's not hard to see why so many fans were surprised with Linkin Park's ventures into new genres, with Minutes to Midnight
venturing closer to a varied alternative rock sound, and A Thousand Suns
, which no real genre other than simply "alternative" can describe.
In many ways, A Thousand Suns
is the inevitable outcome of Meteora
's expansion on Hybrid Theory
. The influence of electronica on "Breaking the Habit," the emphasis on distortion, the obvious restlessness of the confines of the nu-metal genre, all point to what would eventually come out in this album.
The degree with which Linkin Park enveloped themselves in the dense experimentalism of the album, compared to their previous efforts at least, is perhaps what surprises people the most. They didn't exactly throw aside their nu-metal roots as much as planted them into the ground and grew something bigger and bolder.
"The Requiem" and "The Radiance" begin the album by bleeding into each other, effectively establishing a mood of industrial efficiency, a world driven by machinery with uneasy vocals and Oppenheimer’s famous quote on the atomic bomb. This in turn fades directly into "Burning in the Skies," an almost lovely song that is easily the most poppy thing on the album, featuring gentle electronica beats, and a rare guitar solo. Chirping crickets at the end segue into "Empty Spaces," a swift track with the sound of marching and war which then cuts directly into the aforementioned hip-hop gem "When They Come for Me," which-- I've probably made my point by now.
The band often speak of this project as "an album
," which might seem obvious to the point of stupidity. However, they mean to imply that unlike previous releases, especially Minutes to Midnight
, this is not simply a collection of songs ordered in random sequence, but is as an organically flowing work of art. If you sat back and listened in order, the transitions aren't even noticeable. The record is geared toward listening to music in the traditional way, no skipping around and no setting it on random. They even released a digital version of the album called "A Thousand Suns: The Full Experience" which is nothing more than the entire thing as one giant track so that it can't be put on random.
This only helps A Thousand Suns
as a concept album, albeit an abstract one. Rather than follow a straight narrative, it takes a more indirect approach. Focusing on ideas such as nuclear war, guilt, class struggles, Linkin Park ties these seemingly disparate issues together using this pacing and flow to add a cohesive feel and structure to the piece.
The historical speeches used throughout the album highlight the societal struggles brought up, such as the rousing bridges of "When They Come for Me" and "Wretches and Kings," and the transition track "Wisdom, Justice, and Love" utilizes a moving speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. about the cruelty of humanity against a minimalistic piano tune, and slowly transforming it into a expressionless, almost sinister robotic distortion. As the music drains away, all that is left is that robotic voice, forming an eerie image of humanity gradually losing its passion.
At the other end of the spectrum, rousing personal songs such as "Robot Boy," a strange yet ethereal song of hope and indifference, and "Iridescent," with its unbelievably powerful climax involving all six members of the band joining in harmony, remain as a refreshingly poignant and very well written balance to the angst of their early years.
It all comes down to the fact that while the album sounds exceptionally varied and eclectic, it never feels disjointed or out of whack. This balance is achieved better than any other record I can recollect. Every song serves to even another out, and there really is no other way to listen to it than as a whole. The only problem I can see with the flow would be the pointless track "Fallout," which bridges "Iridescent" and the brilliant lead single "The Catalyst." It's not a bad track in of itself, but it robs this pair of the potential one-two punch.
Another problem could be "The Messenger." Blending the folky acoustic guitar and piano with the extremely passionate vocals from Chester Bennington, this is undoubtedly an album highlight. However, when viewed as a whole, it steals the record’s possible cyclical nature. Without it, restarting the album would allow "The Catalyst" to blend straight into "The Requiem," in which the lyrics from the former are eerily foreshadowed with child-like vocals. While it’s a great song, it’s easy to see why some could do without it.
In all, this is a hard album to label objectively. Everyone, depending on their musical background, their memories of Linkin Park's past, or enjoyment of all the different genres twisted into this project, will have differing opinions on it.
While it's difficult not to view Mike's words in "When They Come for Me" as an accusation of the fans that always want the "old Linkin Park back," I view it as a statement not at the fans, but about the band itself.
That this is who they are now. This is how they sound. This is how they want
to sound. And it's just the way they like it.