In a world of music elitists, aspiring industry hounds and coffee-table artist development divisions of record lables, Linkin Park will never be anything more than a guilty pleasure or the favorite band of some kid with bad taste in music. Linkin Park’s time is just about up. Their gimmick is dead. This is Linkin Park’s post-side-project/solo album. They know this. So now they can do whatever they want.
Maybe this is the reason for the sonic change on their new album “Minutes to Midnight.” Maybe this is why their album title references a symbolic clock that counts down to worldwide nuclear destruction. Maybe it’s just an unavoidable sign of growth and age.
Linkin Park is a much older band now. Their first album came out seven years ago; their second, four years ago. The new album’s sound exhibits a calm that often comes to bands that have aged a bit.
Oh sure, the album’s intro will spin a first time listener around until they’re completely directionless, wondering, “Did that sound more like achievement or failure?” Right afterward, all that a young LP fan has to go by is the consistent hand. Even though it fits the sound of the album, “Given Up” does a horrible job representing the sound of the rest of the album. These are all venial sins, though. After all, nobody complained about OutKast’s “Hey Ya.”
Eventually, listeners can identify a unified sound. This isn’t to say that the sound is so homogenous that none of the tracks stand out above the others (Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser,” anyone?). Back from Fort Minor, Mike Shinoda comes in on “Bleed it Out” with a perfect 4/4 flow that the handclap rhythm section follows to keep time. The song plays to man’s instinct to dance in circles around beach bonfires, chanting and screaming the night before a hunt for wild boar with wooden spears. With the ever-angry Shinoda yelling elsewhere on the track, “Candy paint on his brand new hearse,” there really isn’t much else that should be done.
“No More Sorrow,” a song that borrows its rhythm section from the drums of war, stands out with nigh-forgotten fury and uncharacteristically political lyrics. It’s hard to tell if Linkin Park has taken a turn toward politics because that’s the cool thing to do now, or if they genuinely showed up late to the “Let’s hate Bush” party. Either way, Chester Bennington sings, or rather screams, “No, no more sorrow/ I’ve paid for your mistakes/ Your time is borrowed/ Your time has come to be replaced” with enough of that good ol’ Linkin Park rage that he might have to worry about the Secret Service showing up at his door.
Though the political charge rides shotgun (but still doesn’t drive) on this album, the anger is more of a rarity on “Minutes to Midnight.” If it wasn’t for Bennington singing more often than screaming, and cutting Shinoda’s vocal appearances down to three songs (on one of which he sings instead of raps), it’s hard to imagine how this could have been done. Linkin Park is probably banking on the idea that their fans have gotten older and calmed down with them. For every song like “No More Sorrow,” there are tracks like “Leave Out All the Rest” and “Shadow of the Day” that are actually soothing, even with slightly rocked-out guitar solos at the end.
In the end, it’s not the screaming, the rock-rap, or the heavy electronica that make up Linkin Park’s sound. It’s the keyboards and strings that act as their signature. But of course people with bad taste in music and all of Linkin Park’s closet fans know this. This album is different, and it may take a little while to grow on some, but Linkin Park probably won’t lose any fans with the changes they’ve made. Unfortunately for them, they probably won’t gain any either. Music elitists and people with good taste are smart enough to scoff at the group’s name and not bother to listen to “Minutes to Midnight” before they say it’s crap.