Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is revered as one of the greatest albums of all time because it was one of the most ambitious albums released in that era. The idea of crafting an entire album that was designed to be a continuous musical composition, rather than several separate songs, was a revolutionary idea in rock music at that time. Sure, concept albums existed before Dark Side of the Moon, but virtually all of them were conceptually based around a lyrical theme, rather than a musical one. While Dark Side of the Moon did have its singles, the innovation and progression it introduced forever changed the rock and roll landscape.
Other groups have tried, with varying degrees of success, to release albums that came across as one continuous composition, but most groups that attempt this feat are part of genres in which that type of album is expected. Progressive rock groups such as Rush and Porcupine Tree, or technical metal bands like Meshuggah and Between the Buried and Me, are the best examples of success in this venture. Not since the album that started it all has a mainstream rock group with a worldwide following in the hundreds of millions attempted a feat such as this—until now.
Once the poster boys of nu metal and the leading band among angst-ridden teenagers, Linkin Park has become a much more mature, well-rounded group in the past four years. The release of 2007’s Minutes to Midnight heralded the beginning of a new era for the California six-piece, one focused on pure hard rock and mostly free of the acrimony of youth. The haunting vocal melodies, piano sections, and lack of electronics divided fans, with some praising the band’s style shift and others criticizing them as sellouts. The band’s new album, A Thousand Suns, is likely to divide listeners even further, as they continue to evolve beyond their roots into even more new territory. For those who can appreciate it, this album is undeniably the most intelligent, majestic album of Linkin Park’s career; a stunning testament to the band’s ability to expand beyond the boundaries set for them by critics and fans.
To its immediate credit, the album does see the return of Mike Shinoda’s rap vocals, an element sorely missed on Minutes to Midnight. Shinoda does have a great singing voice too, but relegating the singing mostly to Chester Bennington re-clarifies Shinoda’s roles in the band as MC, keyboardist, and occasional second guitarist. The album also sees an increase in Joseph Hahn’s electronics over Minutes to Midnight, but not in the traditional form of record-scratching and one-shot sound effects. Rather, Hahn creates a separate musical landscape in the background of the entire album, layering and accentuating the primary instruments in certain parts, and acting as an organic, spacey music bed in others. The record scratches and sound effects do still exist, but they take a backseat to the new sounds of the innovative DJ.
The album has fewer actual “songs” in the traditional sense, with almost half the album’s tracks being interludes or instrumental sections. However, that is the beauty of A Thousand Suns. In itself, this album is one 48-minute song that ebbs, winds, and flows through different sections, almost like the movements of a classical symphony. When experienced in order from start to finish, this album is an incredibly powerful composition, with many subtle touches that require listeners to replay the album multiple times in order to catch them all. Unfortunately, this does somewhat diminish the enjoyment of individual songs apart from the album as a whole, but tracks like “Wretches and Kings”, “When They Come for Me”, and “Blackout” are still quite excellent on their own. Listening to them as part of the whole album just improves them that much more.
A Thousand Suns is completely unexpected, beyond anything that Linkin Park fans could have ever imagined possible from the band. This album is a glorious work of art from a band that has become so much more than what they once were. Linkin Park may have been criticized in the past for trying to be more than they are, but this album proves that they are not constrained at all in their artistry. A Thousand Suns is the best attempt yet at reaching the heights of Dark Side of the Moon, and while the album may not perform as well as its inspiration in this age of file sharing and iTunes, it is still a stunning work of musical genius that rivals the older album in inventiveness and quality.
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// Notes from the Road
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