Let’s start with some context. Linkin Park has been my favorite band since the beginning of high school. Aside from a Rush concert I was entirely too young to appreciate, Linkin Park’s Meteora tour is the only concert I’ve ever been to in my life. The latter was the result of being given two tickets for Christmas, which absolutely blew away every other gift I got that year. I don’t even remember what else I got that year. How can you blame me? I had two tickets to see Linkin Park at the Allstate Arena, with Story of the Year, P.O.D., and Hoobastank opening for them. (Yes: this was a real concert. Look it up. I was there, and I’m still not entirely sure I believe it happened.)
I have to admit, despite my overwhelming affection for them, I always imagined Linkin Park wasn’t a band that would be especially great live. Their style of music just didn’t seem like it would “translate” well. When someone introduces a reaction that way, you can pretty much take it for granted that their next sentence will be about how very, very, very, very, incredibly, very wrong they were. Guess what? I was very, very, very, very, incredibly, very wrong.
I actually came away from the experience fairly convinced that Linkin Park was better live. It might’ve had something to do with the fact that every single person in the crowd was singing along to every song like it was a Greatest Hits album, which is pretty remarkable when you consider the fact that this band only had two (two) non-remix albums out at the time.
But they were two great albums. Hybrid Theory (2000) and Meteora (2003) are still two of my favorite albums of all time. Despite seeming to release studio albums at a much slower pace than most bands, Linkin Park remained my favorite band by a pretty wide margin on the strength of those two albums for years.
In 2007, they finally released their next studio album, Minutes to Midnight. Unlike many fans, I didn’t completely hate the album, but I was certainly not impressed. They righted the ship three years later for the concept album A Thousand Suns. Though it received mixed reviews and polarized fans just as much as Minutes to Midnight, I was solidly in the “pro” camp. The album did things, stylistically and thematically, Linkin Park had never done before. I actually think it’s pretty clearly on the same level as Hybrid Theory and Meteora.
Still… A Thousand Suns was a concept album. Living Things is Linkin Park’s first conventional studio album since Minutes to Midnight. I have to admit, I was extremely nervous. Was Linkin Park still capable of bringing their “A” game for a conventional studio album?
Is it as good as Hybrid Theory or Meteora? No. Is it as good as A Thousand Suns? Well, I’m one of the few people who thinks A Thousand Suns is as good as Hybrid Theory and Meteora, so there’s your answer there. But it’s on a similar level to those three albums in ways that Minutes to Midnight clearly wasn’t. It isn’t as thematically bold as A Thousand Suns, and it isn’t quite on the same iconic level as Hybrid Theory or Meteora, but it’s a step back in the direction of those albums.
I don’t know what they did differently in producing the content for this album compared to Minutes to Midnight, but whatever it was, they should keep doing it. There really aren’t any weak tracks on this album, and there are quite a few strong ones. The complexity of each song reveals the sort of passion and perfectionism that Linkin Park has always prided themselves on, and the diversity of tone and style throughout is much more in line with what we’ve come to expect from them.
By and large, my favorite tracks are the introductory tracks, “Lost in the Echo” and “In My Remains.” In all likelihood it’s because these two sound the most like the overall sound of A Thousand Suns (at least I own my biases), and the overall energy of the songs is a blend of mellow and intense that I think works quite well for Linkin Park. The repetition toward the end of “In My Remains” of the line, “Like an army falling one by one by one” is one of my favorite moments of the album.
“Burn It Down” is the radio single you’ve probably heard by now, which uses a similar overall sound to the previous two tracks but strikes a more directly upbeat tone. It was used during advertisements for and leading into and out of commercial breaks during this year’s NBA Playoffs, and it’s not difficult to understand why when you considering the competitive spirit embodied in both the lyrics and musical aspects of the song.
The bridge to “Lies, Greed, Misery” initially makes it sound like it’s going to be similar to the first three tracks but quickly transitions into a heavy rap from Mike Shinoda and throatier singing from Chester which later in the song devolves into yelling. I can’t criticize this from any objective standpoint because it’s been a part of Linkin Park’s repertoire since Hybrid Theory, but I have to say I’m not as enamored with it as some fans are.
We next transition into two much more mellow tracks I enjoy quite a bit more (though I definitely prefer the blend we saw in the first three tracks). “I’ll Be Gone” is a Chester-centric track , followed by “Castle of Glass,” which features extremely strong instrumentals and vocals.
“Victimized” is the only track that opens with a non-musical audio sample with an instrumental behind it (a device I enjoyed quite a bit in A Thousand Suns.) I have to admit I’m really not a fan of Chester’s yelling here (again, that’s much more my personal bias than actual analysis), but Mike’s rapping has an awesome energy in this extremely brief track which leads right into “Roads Untraveled,” a completely different track both thematically and musically. The track features a much slower pace than most of the album, sweeping vocals, and the entreaty to, “Weep not for roads untraveled, weep not for sights unseen. May your love never end, and if you need a friend, there’s a seat here alongside me,” and there are two powerful guitar bridges (something otherwise absent for the most part) featuring wordless singing. It’s one of the more unique tracks on the album.
“Skin to Bone,” is the inevitable “everyone else is probably going to like this one better than I do” song on this album, and I have to admit I really don’t have much to say about it. I’m fairly ambivalent to Mike’s parts in “Until It Breaks,” but I enjoy Chester’s quite a bit. Most Linkin Park albums feature a completely instrumental track, and this time around it’s “Tinfoil.” I really would’ve liked to see the band play around a bit more with their refined sound here, as this track isn’t really that much to write home about. It does lead into “Powerless,” the album’s final track, pretty well if nothing else. The mellow tone of “Powerless” reminds me of “My December” (Hybrid Theory bonus track) quite a bit. I love the heavy piano in this song, and the return of the sweeping vocals ala “Roads Untraveled.” Overall, the track ends the album on a high note.
As I listened to each track, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. Whether or not I loved a given track to death, this was Linkin Park. This was the passionate group of artists that lived and breathed their art, that refined their sound with each new album, but also took risks and tried new things. The lyrics give us the familiar blend of emotion and intellect which has always been the core of this group’s hybrid identity. I can happily recommend that you pick this one up today when the retailer of your choice opens their doors.