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Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Linkin Park's "A Thousand Suns"

As promised, I've finally gotten around to giving "A Thousand Suns" a proper review, and I'll explain why it took me so long to do so.  This album is such a departure from previous Linkin Park releases that I was actually considering not covering it on a blog dedicated to rock music.  That's right, the tracks on this album are so different from those that have become rock-radio standards (Crawling, Numb, In the End, etc.) that I had a hard time classifying it as rock music.  Instead I got an Electronica or perhaps a World Music vibe, but it's certainly nothing like Meteora, Hybrid Theory, or even Minutes to Midnight.

However, I still felt compelled to review the album - Linkin Park has long been one of the biggest acts in rock music, no matter which subgenre you place them within.  A lot of people are going to buy this album, and not reviewing it would be pretty lame considering I just reviewed an Apocalyptica album that relatively few will buy.

On to the review: when the opening sounds of the first track, The Requiem, hit my ears, I knew that this was going to be a very atmospheric album, with a sound produced more electronically than in traditional studio sessions.  I felt badly for Linkin Park's drummer, who seems to have been replaced with a computerized drum machine for this album.  Guitar is almost entirely missing from the mix, both electric and bass.  The final track does make use of an acoustic rhythm, however.  "Requiem" is two minutes long, and features heavily vocoded vocals repeated continuously.  The track transitions seamlessly into The Radiance, which features a powerful recording of Manhattan Project scientist Robert Oppenheimer, and lasts 50 seconds.

It takes the album almost 3 minutes to get to the first real "song."  The first two tracks, and several that come later, are atmospheric "connector" tracks.  Quotes like the Oppenheimer one pop up throughout the album, supposedly to express a message, though I found the overall theme of this album to be rather muddled.  I'll avoid using the f-word for now (filler) because this is a concept album, and the band obviously feels that these short tracks contribute to the story they are trying to tell, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. 

This is an album that requires the listener to turn off "shuffle" to really experience.  The tracks generally lead one into the next, and shuffling through several "connector" tracks in a row would be a total buzzkill. This puzzles me, considering the commercial success of the single-laden Minutes to Midnight, but the band clearly wanted to head in another direction.

Mike Shinoda's rapping plays a much larger part on this record than perhaps any other LP album to date.  His vocals are rhythmic and have actual lyrical value, not once mentioning drugs, hookers, bling, cars, fame, or any other common rap/hiphop trope.  He shows off his versatility, switching back and forth a few times from the style most LP fans are familiar with to a smooth reggae flow on tracks like "Waiting For the End" and "Wretches and Kings." 

Chester Bennington's vocals are impressive as usual, with melodic highs and powerful screams (only on "Blackout," unfortunately) mixed in with some rapping side-by-side with Shinoda.  His attempt to affect a reggae sound on "Wretches and Kings," is, however, regrettable.

The sound is varied enough that there's likely something for everyone here, though there's not much at all for fans of the music that got Linkin Park to where they are today.  I understand wanting to take the music in a new direction, but they're going to disappoint a lot of fans with this.  I think it'll really be a "love-it-or-hate-it" album for most fans.

Standouts for me were the piano-driven "Robot Boy," which takes the hook straight out of T.I's "What You Know," so much so that T.I. should probably sue, and "Blackout," which is by far the heaviest track on the album, though it's still not at all metal.   
Check out the similarity between "Robot Boy" and "What You Know":

Some guy even made a mashup of the two that's actually really good.  Give it a listen here:

Overall, I found the album to be intriguing and, to the band's credit, (or shall I say Shinoda and Bennington's, as they're the only elements of the band really on display here) the sound is one that is hard to classify and quite unique.  As I said, fans of their old stuff will probably be disappointed, while those with a more open mind may be more receptive to the new sound.  I admire the band for breaking new ground and taking their music to new places; it shows that they're not just making music to get on the radio and pump out singles.  The new sound isn't what I typically listen to, but it's well-produced and varied enough to keep the listener interested for the full duration, which is more than I can say for a lot of albums.

Rating: 7.5/10

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