And it seems ugly, but it can get worse,
‘Cause even the blueprint is a gift and a curse
‘Cause once you have the theory of how the thing works
Everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first
– Mike Shinoda on “When They Come For Me”
At this point, you already know if Linkin Park is going to be your cup of tea or not. The nu metal quintet from Agoura Hills, and most of our nostalgic high school memories, was born and raised in the spotlight. These guys did a massive concert at the X-Games not long after their latest album dropped for crying out loud. I don’t hate Living Things as much as my first listen, because I used to really hate it, but that’s because I loved A Thousand Suns so much. Legendary producer Rick Rubin, known for his minimalism, settled into LP’s life with 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, which became a middle finger to their overproduced turntable/sample-heavy past. But it seems that the harder they worked to break from their mold, their fanbase forces them back into the bleachers.
Hybrid Theory is a classic as far as I’m concerned and Meteora less so by bringing so little to the table. (“I wanna heeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaalllll, I wanna feeeeeeeeeeeeelllllll” is easily one of the worst moments in LP history.) Minutes to Midnight was fine, but it wasn’t until A Thousand Suns that the band realized how far their talent could send them. Suns bit off a bit more than it could chew in sheer size alone, opening with a dramatic instrumental and samples about the Bhagavad Gita and Martin Luther King, Jr., but it was this appetite to be so different that made the album special. Traditional themes of angst and rebellion that seemed so blase on previous discs gained their first hooks of nuance in Suns as we soared on a vivid, cinematic soundscape. Shinoda kept most of the rapping on the sideline, instead cranking up the harmonies.
Living Things is the recoil; the sad puppy that knows he peed in your slippers. The album ditches all of Suns’ grandstanding for a more confined experience. Here, we find a lot of boxed up ambition in songs that chase tropes that LP had tackled in better form previously. I don’t know what Victimized is, it’s a joke or something. Chester’s gallop over Lies Greed Misery is vaguely reminiscent of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes. Burn It Down is an interesting single timed like a toy army march to Shinoda’s still-goofy lyrics (“I built you up, but you let me down / so when you fall, I’ll take my turn / and fan the flames / as your blazes burn”). The whole album’s not a loss: Castle of Glass is a fine song to set a Call of Duty commercial to, Until It Breaks gets interesting when Shinoda ditches the sleazy Cage demo sound up front, and Powerless is the obvious downbeat movie tie-in that you still play over and over.
I wish Linkin Park would just start making weird music. I’m not talking mature elevator music, but something that demonstrates they’ve got a lot more potential than Transformers films and radio singles. Do twenty minute songs, put your freak flag up and run with it. I’m so sick of hearing how much control they pretend to have, but nevertheless fall victim to top-down pressure, a trait they’ve tried to shed since One Step Closer.