Review Summary: The sin of pop.
In reviewing One More Light
, I feel like a public defender who is assigned to someone too guilty to assemble his or her own legal team. Alas, since nobody else has the courage to speak up amidst the mutiny that has risen in opposition to Linkin Park’s full throttle pop expedition, I stand alone. I’m not asking you to embrace One More Light
with me, though, so much as understand it. Because with the level of flat out hatred being shown towards the band right now, you’d think they had just murdered an entire litter of puppies and then gone on tour to support Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. This album isn’t the worst thing in the world – in fact it is quite a bit better than the material they’ve been peddling over the course of the last several years.
Let’s get one thing straight first: Linkin Park is – and has always been – a pop band. I know the thirteen year old in all of us is screaming in adamant disbelief at that statement, including the teenager in me, but it’s true. Everything about Hybrid Theory
was designed to trick you into thinking you were listening to metal, but in reality those earworm melodies were the mainstay infrastructure holding it all together. They were tailor made to sell, and we ate that shit up like the naïve, hurt little bastards we were. And that’s okay, because all music has a target audience. That’s where I fail to understand the backlash against a group of now 40-something year old musicians who have created everything from nu-metal/rap-rock to elaborately symphonic, pop-rock concept albums – and everything in between. I’m guessing (and based on the painfully forced sound of Livings Things
, less guessing and more knowingly asserting) that at this point in Bennington’s and Shinoda’s lives, it just no longer makes sense to wail on about betrayal, breakups, and general teen angst. Even though it’s what we all want from them, that’s not really Linkin Park’s problem.
There’s something about hearing a band you grew up with change
that blinds you to the qualities of their new music. It’s human nature to relate to music, and to want to have the same level of connection with all subsequent releases from an artist or album that at one point made you feel
something in a strong way. In the case of Linkin Park, it all started with Minutes to Midnight
, which was borderline career suicide when it was released. ‘Shadow of the Day’ sounded like Bennington ripped out Bono’s vocal chords, and Shinoda was basically an afterthought over the course of the entire record. Even though time has been good to that album (perhaps just because their career since then has been a dumpster fire), I still believe One More Light
poses less of a departure than Minutes to Midnight
did in its time. There’s nothing about A Thousand Suns
or especially Living Things
that suggested Linkin Park was on anything other
than a collision course with a straight-up pop record. To pretend that the band hasn’t been peddling this exact brand of pop ever since they unceremoniously divorced their nu-metal fan base feels conveniently ignorant, especially with tracks like ‘Leave Out All the Rest’, ‘Iridescent’, and ‘Castle of Glass’ staring us in the face. You’re free to enjoy these newer songs less, but the signs that this was on its way have been there for almost a decade. One More Light
merely drops the pretenses of feigning a heavier sound (like the grating ‘Victimized’, or all of The Hunting Party
) and embraces LP’s melodic demeanor without making excuses.
With all of that said, One More Light
is pretty much a ten song collection of all-out pop melodies that, had they been spread across the next three or four albums as token ballads, would probably have been warmly received. The fact that they’re jumbled together within the same roughly forty minute experience is most likely what eats away at fans, who are so beside themselves with the idea of a soft, radio-pop version of Linkin Park that they forgot to actually listen to the record without a negative predisposition. Anyone who approaches One More Light
without being determined to despise it in advance
will find some of the group’s strongest hooks to date, from the irresistible chorus of ‘Good Goodbye’ to the beautifully integrated guest vocals of Kiiara on ‘Heavy.’ The lyrics on ‘Halfway Right’ do justice to those looking for depth behind an obviously shallow mask, and ‘Sharp Edges’ does just enough differently to offer a glimmer of hope that – perhaps – Linkin Park can continue branching out and growing within the pop sphere. I’m not going to defend the album’s lack of appropriate instrumentation, or its basic posturing. However, that sort of comes with the whole pop interface that the band has now accepted as its fate.
As I said before, I’m not asking you to take something important away from this album, to have some sort of cathartic realization, or to respect and admire the musicianship that went into this album’s creation. The goals of pop forego the standards typically sought in most musical genres – the focus is generally on the melodies, hooks, and lyrics…basically how much you enjoy the damn thing
. In a sense, that makes pop just as easy to love or hate – with little wiggle room in between – depending on your taste. All I’m asking is that you give this record a fair and unbiased listen in the same way you would approach an Ariana Grande or Harry Styles record. It may be sad for many listeners to have to stoop to that level of expectation, which is fair, but the time has come to accept that this is what Linkin Park is at this point in their career – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a pop record for what it is. One More Light
sees the band embracing its melodic core , and offering no apologies as they expound upon it.