Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

The Linkin Park story


AMONG all the 21st century rock bands, Linkin Park and Coldplay are arguably the most successful and popular. Both released their debut recordings in 2000, and both have so far released five studio albums of brand-new material. And while both have a huge number of followers — and a completely different sound — I personally prefer Linkin Park, probably because of their distinct sound, overall consistency and willingness to experiment.

The objective of this blog, of course, is not to get into deep comparisons between the two giants, but to track the journey of Linkin Park over the past 12 years. The band has recently released the 12-track album ‘Living Things’, and it would be appropriate at this stage to see how they’ve grown as a group, ever since they released the hugely successful debut ‘Hybrid Theory’, blending hard rock, metal, grunge and hip-hop to create their own brand of ‘nu metal’.

First, a few lines about ‘Living Things’. To begin with, it is a short, 37-minute album with four excellent numbers — ‘Burn It Down’, ‘Lost In The Echo’, ‘Castle Of Glass’ and the ballad ‘Roads Untraveled’. Actually, make that five excellent numbers, if one were to include ‘In My Remains’, though my complaint is though it’s a superb song, it’s too much in keeping with the Linkin Park formula.

In terms of sound and track assortment, ‘Living Things’ is very similar to ‘Hybrid Theory’ and its follow-up ‘Meteora’, barring the additional use of electronica flavours. The vocal coordination between Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington follows similar structures as we’d seen on the first two albums.

As such, ‘Living Things’ caters more to the hardcore fans, who got into the band after listening to their first two albums. In other words, the group seems to have played it safe this time, instead of experimenting the way they did on ‘Minutes To Midnight’ and ‘A Thousand Suns’. On most tracks, they have stuck to the old formula.

From the above paragraphs, it’s pretty obvious that when Linkin Park released ‘Hybrid Theory’ in 2000, they had a distinct ‘nu metal’ sound. The album was a phenomenal hit, with songs like ‘In The End’, ‘One Step Closer’, ‘Crawling’, ‘Points of Authority’ and ‘Papercut’. The band successfully repeated the formula in ‘Meteora’, which featured the hits ‘Numb’, ‘Faint’, ‘Somewhere I Belong’ and ‘Breaking The Habit’.

Between these two albums, they also added to their fan base by releasing a live CD + DVD (‘Live In Texas’), a remix album ‘Reanimation’ and a collaboration with rapper ‘Jay-Z’ on the mash-up album ‘Collision Course’. But the ultimate aim, it seems, was to grow musically, and move into another space.

Thus, for the third album, Linkin Park decided to experiment. ‘Minutes To Midnight’ got into the concept album mode, brought in a great deal of variety and had outstanding numbers like ‘Shadow Of The Day’, ‘What I’ve Done’, ‘Hands Held High’ and ‘The Little Things Give You Away’.

Many hardcore fans abhorred the new sound, but that didn’t deter the band from releasing the out-and-out concept album ‘A Thousand Suns’, which had such masterpieces as ‘The Catalyst’, ‘Burning In The Skies’ and ‘Iridescent’. The 2010 release received extreme reactions — while many of the earlier fans felt Linkin Park had completely lost it, there was also a large section which thought this was the best music they’d ever produced.

Quite clearly, Linkin Park seemed to be in a dilemma while deciding the future direction of their sound. The innovations hadn’t worked as well as they thought, or maybe their fans hadn’t matured the way they expected. The simplest thing was to get back to their own roots, and yet sound contemporary. So on ‘Living Things’, they added a few more electronica elements and used currently-popular flavours, but essentially stuck to their core songwriting style.

Going by initial reactions and reviews one has read on the Web, ‘Living Things’ has received a fantastic response. While that’s great for the band, the overall trend also proves that a majority of their fans are not in favour of their experimenting too much.

For instance, let’s see Amazon’s customer reviews, which are a fairly accurate source to gauge public reaction to a music release. In the table below, compiled on July 6, we look at the overall response to each of the five albums, and also the percentage of people who gave it a five-star rating (meaning they totally loved the album) and those who gave it one star (who hated it). The results are self-explanatory:

No

Album

Total reviews

5-star

1-star

5-star (%)

1-star (%

Avg rating

Rank

1

Hybrid Theory

1,797

1,231

180

68.5

10

4.3

1

2

Meteora

1,499

820

200

54.7

13.3

4

2

3

Minutes to Midnight

734

231

157

31.5

21.4

3.2

4

4

A Thousand Suns

590

220

171

37.2

43.8

3.2

5

5

Living Things

112

57

15

50.9

13.4

3.8

3

A close look reveals that the highest rating of 4.3 goes to the path-breaking debut album ‘Hybrid Theory’, followed by 4 for ‘Meteora’ and 3.9 for ‘Living Things’. Though the lowest of 3.2 is technically shared by the experimental ‘Minutes To Midnight’ and ‘A Thousand Suns’, we have given the last position to the latter because of the other parameters involved.

Going by individual customer ratings, some 68.5 per cent of reviewers totally loved ‘Hybrid Theory’ (five-star reviews), as compared to 31.5 per cent for ‘Minutes To Midnight’. But when it comes to detesting an album, ‘A Thousand Suns’ is way ahead – the 43.8 per cent figure is double that of ‘Minutes To Midnight’ (21.4 per cent) and over four times more than ‘Hybrid Theory’ (10 per cent).

At the moment, ‘Living Things’ is at No 3 on the Amazon index. But then, it’s still new in the market: only 112 people have posted their reviews, as of July 6. It’ll be interesting to see the tally a month or two later.

Any which way, the Amazon ratings prove that Linkin Park’s more experimental ventures received less mass approval compared to their typical albums. True as that may be, it’s also a sad indicator of tastes in general, as it often deters most bands from trying out new things, and encourages themselves to repeat themselves to stay true to their biggest admirers. Of course, there are bands which don’t bother about that factor, keep experimenting gloriously, and yet continue to maintain their fan base — a classical example being Radiohead.

That brings me to an obvious question: which is my favourite Linkin Park album? Positively, it’s ‘A Thousand Suns’, with ‘Hybrid Theory’ coming second, and the others being a close third. And yes, I love ‘Living Things’ too, even though a large part of it is like old wine in a new bottle.

Musically and creatively, however, ‘A Thousand Suns’ was a landmark by itself, though it’s a pity a majority of fans didn’t think so. But then, if the band had kept on doing the same thing album after album, they’d have fallen in the same rut as Coldplay. Oops… I thought I’d mentioned there would be no comparisons between the two. Sorry about that, but Linkin Park totally rocks.

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Comments on: "The Linkin Park story" (1)

  1. well written article! 95% agree with you with some differing in the name of personal opinion.
    Yeah Linkin Park (still no matter who says what) rocks \m/ 🙂

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