A Thousand Suns (Linkin Park, 2010) April 11, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
Quite possibly the best album I regret not having listened to in 2010
What’s good about Linkin Park’s latest album is that it marks a distinct turning point for the band. Granted: Minutes to Midnight is the first turning point—Rick Rubin’s production touches and the group’s attempt to shift gears lyrically are obviously new—but the result is very much derivative of the band’s previous platinum sellers. Many of its highlights (“What I’ve Done,” “Bleed It Out,” “Given Up”) still borrow heavily from the security blanket of Hybrid Theory and Meteora, keeping the metal but not the nu, its sonic jabs hitting hard but not close to making a knockout impression. In those three years between the recording of the third and fourth album, fans should have seen something like A Thousand Suns coming, considering that musicians who have made their millions out of misery and angst are wont to pull dramatic surprises, either by committing suicide or by putting out an excellent record. Luckily, Chester and company decided to choose the latter.
To no one’s surprise, A Thousand Suns topped the charts but not any year-ender lists. It’s a proof of its troublesome personality, one that makes it even more intriguing to discuss. That it received mixed reviews upon its release is also a reminder of how important the album is in relation to Linkin Park’s career. Divisiveness is a virtue of every great album; and most critics, contradictory their tastes often seem, are usually wary when a band tries to digress and experiment on new styles. Add that to the fact that Linkin Park is a pop act, meaning its music can easily be taken for granted on account of cheap popularity. To make matters worse, A Thousand Suns is a concept album: a theme that describes the fear of nuclear revolution, a soundtrack that depicts the anxiety borne out of man’s relationship with technology, like an idiot’s guide to surviving the dread-ridden universe, filled with gloomy ideas and completely void of any metal nuances.
The first three singles are give-aways, the type of promotional merchandise that appears in any album to please public taste. But apparently they are far from second-rate. They are predictably good, but their makers also show signs of resistance to conventions. For instance, “The Catalyst” takes the risk of using “god bless us everyone” in the first line of its chorus, not only putting off many anarchists-atheists-fans but also effectively punctuating the band’s soft side and spiritual inclination. Standing out in “Waiting for the End” are Mike Shinoda’s sumptuous verses, but Chester’s sentimental musings (“sitting in an empty room/trying to forget the past”) shine on their own before getting sucked into a heavy collision of instruments. Obviously these are musical paths rarely taken before, but there is no stopping the wonders. “Burning in the Skies” is Linkin Park’s unlikeliest single to date: too alternative, too peaceful, too piano-driven, and in fact, too gay. The bisexual rumors might have been true after all.
But beyond these singles are the actual gems on the album. The transitions between tracks slaver to the point of sublimity. Never has the band tried this before, so the effect is startling and stunning at the same time. Opening tracks “The Requiem” and “The Radiance” set the tone with their drones and hums, the former making use of the robotic-girl-singing of “The Catalyst,” and the latter using a sound bite from an interview with no less than the father of the atomic bomb himself, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the three-minute fusion of both songs producing an effect closer to Children of Men than Soylent Green. Mario Savio’s famous “bodies upon the gears” speech is sampled in “Wretches and Kings,” which, along with “Blackout” and the manic “When They Come for Me,” spills a lot of hiphop and metal drills, all three songs tautly structured, delivering killer funk rhythms out of an obsessive-compulsive need for polish. A pair of songs (“Robot Boy” and “Iridescent”) highlights Chester’s vocals, both gorgeously arranged and star-spangled, Chester making them sound like elegant ballads in which a perky David Cook-ish American Idol contestant can lift unique arrangements from.
All these different sounds suggest hodgepodge, but A Thousand Suns, possibly its finest attribute that fans should take note of, is an easy listen. It isn’t anything but calm and controlled. It doesn’t try to go deep, nor pretend to make worldly statements. Instead it wallows in its obsession with finery. Very evident is the hardwork given to details, especially in achieving a perfect audio mixing that calls attention to the unmistakable luster of each track, the gleam of every tonal shift, and the sheen of the album as a whole. The noticeable number of self-references (in some fillers and verses) also proves that the band members are now dipping their toes in the water, confident yet conscious of their novel experimentations, unafraid to explore unfamiliar territories and make wrong turns. Never does it feel like a collection of songs, or an assortment of unevenly distinct tracks, but a complete and continuous record, a risky venture their label surprisingly put money on, a sweepstake in which the band wagered and won. Out of the vivid dream of someone else’s ambition Linkin Park managed to break newer grounds. And all of a sudden the world starts to get jiggy again.
*First published in Megabest