Having reached the summit, Linkin Park found themselves disinterested in the surrounding scenery. Being one of the biggest bands in the world is both a blessing and a curse. An unparalleled sense of freedom is afforded; a band can experiment, become lazy, or simply run out of ideas - falling back upon a rich history of hits and healthy financial reserves. These open-ended possibilities come at a cost, the more a band changes, the more their fans expect them to stay the same. Everything they try will invariably be compared, unfavourably, to the glory days of old.
Linkin Park have floundered in the years since Meteora’s 2003 release. Their big comeback album Minutes To Midnight offered straight-laced rock and unimaginative angst by numbers. Were it not for a splattering of inescapable hooks, it could have been the work of any uninspired post-hardcore outfit. 2010’s A Thousands Suns was bold. A striking change of direction, that saw the band embrace frail electronics and spacious mood pieces. Sadly, more often not the lyrical content was dire, and the band relied on second hand, half understood ideas from genres they barely grasped. Both albums frustrated.
Living Things promises some sense of resolution. The last five years haven’t been wasted. The backward stumbles and the gallant strides into new territory come together here. Whether, Living Things is a concession to a fan base who have half-enjoyed two hit and miss albums, or the sound Linkin Park have been scratching at the edges of for some time, remains to be seen. What is clear is that this sound works. Guitars beef up schizophrenic synthetic sounds and snatched samples, as Chester and Mike switch between snarling dissolution and wrenching laments.
It’s not all plain sailing. Mike Chioda cannot rap. He can provide a slice of self-affirming bombast to an already momentous track, but he has no flow, and honestly, very little to say. “Until It Breaks” is rendered useless by cringing lines (“You Can Play The Bank, I’ll Play The Bank Take Down/And No Mistakes Now, Coming To Get Ya/I’m A Banksy You’re a Brainwashed, Get The Picture – It’s Like That”). It wouldn’t be so bad; if Chester didn’t waste a series of serviceable hooks attempting to salvage these atrociously misjudged efforts.
Mike’s rapping may hold back Living Things but it can’t sink a soaring angst ridden LP. With a global financial crisis brewing political distrust, Linkin Park’s bleak cries feel urgent and utterly appropriate. Broken promises and see through lies are cursed on “Lost In Echo” as riots are quickly incited on “Lies Greed Misery” and “Burn It Down”. Still masters of the teen market, each blast of twitchy disillusionment speaks as directly to a suffocated boyfriend as a disenfranchised citizen.
Horrible lyrics, ham-fisted sloganeering, and contrived juvenile outbursts still crop up with eye rolling regularity, but between a new found subtlety (“Castle Of Glass”, “Roads Untraveled”), and a rediscovered swagger, there’s little reason for complaint. Whether Living Things represents the brave new sound Linkin Park have been searching for or not is immaterial. The band has finally regained their balance, as they toe the slender path between expectation and personal ambition.
Buy If: You liked aspects of Minutes To Midnight and A Thousands Sons and are willing to give Linkin Park one more chance.
Skip If: You’ve had your fill of angsty rock and sub par rapping.
Best Track: Lost In Echo
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