Review Summary: Turn the lights out.
It’s impossible to talk about One More Light
without bringing up The Hunting Party
, seeing as that album inadvertently led to the existence of this one. The Hunting Party
felt like a record Linkin Park wanted to make, one that had passion and energy behind its creation, one that offered a rejuvenation of a harder rock sound. It also felt like a statement of sorts: the lead single ran for six minutes and was bolstered with metal riffs, Mike Shinoda started picking fights with groups like CHVRCHES for contributing to the softening of alternative radio, and clips of braggadocio (“Put the heavy shit there!”) were interspersed amongst songs. Yet it was all for naught, as The Hunting Party
became Linkin Park’s worst-selling album, hardly a surprise for a record that tried its damned hardest to deviate from standard pop tropes.
So here we are, three years later, as Linkin Park try their damned hardest to emulate standard pop tropes. That on its own is not what plagues One More Light
, though it contributes significantly to the album’s downfall. The idea of Linkin Park going electropop may be sacrilege to many, and although the band certainly has their fair share of soft songs in their catalog, few of them could be categorized as straight-out “pop”. One More Light
comes across as a hail mary pass by a band now in their 40s trying desperately to connect with this generation’s adolescent demographic, pandering to the desires of today’s pop listeners in an attempt to remain relevant amongst the youth. It’s easy to forget that teenagers who listened to Hybrid Theory
when it came out are now in their 30s, and One More Light
is not designed for them. One can argue that this is all a product of label interference, commanding the band to construct a pop record in order to rack up huge sales, but either way, the deliberate attempt to move in a mainstream direction comes across as two-faced by a band that wrote an entire album devoted to "heaviness for heaviness’ sake" and criticizing the poppy state of rock radio.
As a pop album, One More Light
is standard for the course. What’s presented is the blandest variety of the genre, one that takes zero risks and succumbs to the most prevalent clichés. On display are processed electronic drum beats, unappealing spliced-up vocals and guitars so low in the mix they’re mostly inaudible amongst the layers of clean, slick overproduction. The songwriting is poor as well, which has nothing to do with genre and more to do with laziness. Such mistakes include choruses that repeat one word over and over again (“Invisible”), nonsensical lyrical choices (“if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right”), incessant na-na-na-na-nas (the aforementioned “Halfway Right”) and ill-advised guest features (“Heavy”). Make no mistake - had these same issues occur on a ‘rock’ album, they would still be criticized.
The main focus of pop music is the hook, and One More Light
does not excel in this area. Bennington’s vocals leave a lot to be desired, offering a noticeably weaker output than his fiery, amped-up performance on The Hunting Party
. The melodies themselves are not at all conducive to memorability; nevertheless, his lifeless voice sinks songs like “Battle Symphony”, where the hook just sounds awkward, and “Halfway Right”, in which the melody does him no favors. The best moments happen to be the most emotional ones: Mike’s verses on “Invisible” and Chester’s on the title track are the two that stand out the most. Opening track “Nobody Can Save Me” rises above the rest of the electronic pop dirge, with effective use of synthesizer, handclaps and dubstep to complement an admittedly well-done performance by Bennington.
Linkin Park’s true intentions will never be revealed. Mike Shinoda may have been on record saying “We didn't really care about genre… We just focused on the words and melodies that felt most special to us… I think you can hear that we weren't aiming for it to fit into a box,” but label manipulation will always remain a theory. One More Light
is an album too safe and vanilla to be considered offensive, yet simultaneously too limp and effortless to be forgivable. Artistic maturation would indicate growth from adolescent angst, but being a group of trendhopping 40-year olds is not the answer either.