Album: A THOUSAND SUNS
Artist: Linkin Park
Label: Warner Bros.
Track Listing: 1) The Requiem 2) The Radiance 3) Burning in the Skies 4) Empty Spaces 5) When They Come For Me 6) Robot Boy 7) Jornada del Muerto 8) Waiting For The End 9) Blackout 10) Wretches and Kings 11) Wisdom, Justice, and Love 12) Iridescent 13) Fallout 14) The Catalyst 15) The Messenger
Linkin Park is a band struggling to find an identity. The once mammoth nu-metallers have since collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z, alienating the fanbase before making yet another drastic change in musical direction with Minutes to Midnight (2007). The latter album saw the band attempt a more commercial American rock sound, ditching a lot of the rap and hip-hop sampling and even throwing the occasional guitar solo into the mix; albeit to a rather uninspiring outcome. That album turned out to be the kind of record that, given time, will adapt and grow on the listener. However for many fans it was too much of a musical change and was not worth a second spin.
So here we are three years later with A Thousand Suns. For all the critics out there that consistently (and in many cases unfairly) tread every Linkin Park release into the dirt, this album has to be something special if anyone outside their loyal fanbase is going to take the band seriously.
Nothing short of ambitious, Chesterand co. have crafted together a concept album. The theme deals with nuclear warfare and the human race’s fears that come with war and the fate of the world. The build up leading to the first full ‘song’ is nothing short of atmospheric. The Requiem and The Radiance combine synth pads, ghostly vocals and an excerpt of an interview of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The anticipation for Burning in the Skies couldn’t be greater and when it finally bursts into track 3, well, it doesn’t deliver. It turns out to be a slow and mellow number that is as depressing as it is dull, which is a shame. The album needed nothing less than an emotionally charged opener. Sure, slow and purposeful openers work, but not in this case.
Empty Spaces is mere ambience that lasts under twenty seconds and may as well be joined to its follow-up When They Come For Me. Considerably heavier, it’s a platform for Shinoda to blast out some of his rapping before Bennington adds some clichéd ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ to round things up. It’s clear that with little in the way of a catchy melody, it’s all down to the lyrics to apply a lasting effect on the listener here. I say that because it’s no standalone song, a basic riff with some tribal drumming and some mildly-pissed off rapping fails to conjure up much of a secure song structure despite the track clocking in at over five minutes. With lyrics that include passages such as ‘I will not dance even if the beat’s funky – Opposite of lazy / far from a punk – Ya’ll ought to stop talking start trying to catch up motherfucker’ it’s difficult to become emotionally connected to this.
Robot Boy thankfully begins to give the album some credibility. A dreamy number that succeeds in molding an emotional stream that flows through the ears, it is a mesh of positive and bleak feelings that presents a positive future that applies not just to the song’s message but to the record itself. Another short ambience builder follows with Jornada del Muerto before the record’s second single release Waiting For The End. The single forms into a predictable LP radio tune, a first for the album so far. It’s nothing remarkable, and is predictable in its execution making it a rather dull listen.
Blackout is a much more rewarding experience. Bennington’s screams and the catchy chorus work well in this chest-thumping anthem that injects some life into the proceedings. Wretched and Kings opens with an interview portion of Mario Savio before bursting into a heavy weight song that sounds like theLinkinPark of old. Shinoda raps the verse andBennington sings the chorus, the old formula that was so successful does a decent job here. The Mario Savio interview continues towards the end and rallies the song into a battle cry, energy is created but it never reaches the climax that’s so desperately needed.
Wisdom, Justice, and Love is essentially an excerpt of a Martin Luther King speech with some piano chords layered in the background. However the track comes to its premature conclusion with the gradual robotisation of King’s voice and cycles round the title of the song, emphasising a dark and confirmed prophesy. It’s a nice touch that again could have benefited from being expanded with the song over in well under two minutes. It flows into Iridescent that at first sounds remarkably like Coldplay’s Yellow. The song could easily have been written by Coldplay, a statement that represents the many musical perspectives thatLinkinPark have dipped into and played with. The guitar build up and choral section is a fitting end to a relaxing number that includes some un-sampled percussion from drummer Rob Bourdon, who’s presence on the album up to this point has been rather uncertain amongst the excessive use of drum loops.
Fallout is the last of the short fillers. The lyrics are the main attraction once again here, but due to the heavy use of vocoder they are hard to make out. Upon glancing at the lyrics inside the sleeve notes they turn out to deal with self-blame and the loss of things that are undeserved. Bleak and downbeat, maybe it’s best we didn’t hear them in the first place then.
The Catalyst proves to be one of the record’s obvious high points.Bennington’s vocals are powerful and believable and the build up is justified with a proper climax. It is the album’s first single and it is a well constructed song for a change. It’s a shame there aren’t more numbers like this elsewhere on this album that has managed to churn out a series of unfulfilled ideas leading to a rather disappointing feeling as though something is always missing. Whether it’s a song that fails to reach the climax it’s looking for or an undeveloped filler, the record has that essence of poor execution.
The album closer The Messenger is a suitable conclusion to what has been a mixed bag of a record. It’s kept brief and simple.Bennington’s heartfelt vocals and an acoustic guitar are gradually joined by piano and synth in this slow ballad finale.
So there it is, the latest LinkinParkalbum. By far the furthest the band have ventured from their original sound, A Thousand Suns is an interesting listen should you give it the attention it needs. It must be seen as a solid body of work and as one piece of music rather than a collection of songs; it is after all a concept album. Unfortunately it lacks consistency and at times is too bleak and mellow for its own good.
Whether it is an improvement upon its predecessor Minutes to Midnight is debatable, it’s a completely different affair. Then again, looking at it,LinkinPark have been one of the most intriguing bands to emerge from the 90s metal scene. Ever changing their musical direction has however alienated many fans, and unfortunately in their exploration they have failed to fully grasp their newfound territories. Yet still they go forward in a music scene where other bands from their time have crumbled into nothingness, so it’s a respectable effort from a band clinging onto survival.
A Thousand Suns in the end felt like a journey and the more times you embark on it the more you are likely to get from it. It is yet another original musical venture in the band’s back catalogue and who knows what they’ll attempt next.
1) Robot Boy
2) The Catalyst
Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 13/11/2010