Linkin Park is alive and [somewhat] well on their fifth release
I’ve never really considered myself a Linkin Park fan; however, as much as I hated to admit it, their last album, A Thousand Suns, completely blew me away. With its conceptual continuity, anthemic prowess, political/apocalyptic overtones, beautiful segues, striking interludes, encompassing melodies, and overall intense emotion, it’s fairly brilliant. In addition, it sparked a bit of an odd paradox — while many loyalists felt it was too different and abstract, just as many outsiders (including me) thought it was a flawed masterpiece. Naturally, the expectations were high for its follow-up, and now that it’s here, it’s safe to say that it doesn’t quite satisfy them. Living Things is a strong collection of songs, but it’s only just that, and thus it can’t help but feel like a letdown.
Essentially, Living Things is a synthesis of all the styles they’ve explored thus far, resulting in some fans giving it mock titles, such as A Thousand Meteora Minutes of Hybrid Theory. Indeed, as one would expect, the album is packed with their most prominent trademarks: Mike Shinoda’s inventive rhymes and delivery, Chester Bennington’s melodic passion, surprising range, and abrupt rage, and Joe Hahn inventive beats and samples. And as usual, they come together very well most of the time. Unfortunately, though, the album never strives to break new ground or achieve any grand ambitions. Instead, it’s simply a confident entry in which the group perfects its sound (which may be fine for some) without striving to make the whole more than the sum of its parts.
The album opens with “Lost in the Echo,” which exemplifies perfectly what makes Linkin Park kind of special. Lead by an engrossing, melodic beats and soundscapes, Shinoda raps the verses while Bennington adds the chorus. Although both sections are likeable enough (especially Shinoda’s contribution), they’re nothing too special. Nonetheless, it’s an explosive introduction, and fans should feel right at home. “In My Remains” is your typical thoughtful ballad, and Bennington puts his usual passion into it. The brief bridge (“like an army falling one by one by one”) is a nice touch; it’s a shame there isn’t a new Transformers movie to coincide with it.
Linkin Park soars highest when they concentrate on either introspective songwriting or inventive blends of rap, electronic, and rock. In terms of the former, Living Things contains several pleasing moments, including the admirable maturity of “Castle of Glass”, the somber “Roads Untraveled” (which segues expertly from the previous song and may or may not be a reference to Frost’s famous poem), and the upbeat and direct “I’ll Be Gone”. As for the latter, “Until it Breaks” is easily the most diverse and epic track. It shifts between Shinoda’s aggressive wordplay, Bennington’s piano-based regret, and a calming, dreamy closing that, as odd as it may be, soundsa lot like Mew.
Of course, this track effortlessly glides into the touching and industrial interlude of “Tinfoil”, which subsequently flows into the album’s closing piece, “Powerless”. While these transitions sort of mirror the closing section of A Thousand Suns, they aren’t nearly as effective. “Powerless” is sufficient enough as a sorrowful conclusion, but it doesn’t do justice to the emotional promise of its introduction, and it certainly doesn’t strive for the same boldness and inventiveness as “The Catalyst” (I like to pretend that “The Messenger”, which actually closes the last record, doesn’t exist).
Another Linkin Park trademark is Bennington’s screaming and in-your-face anger, and while it never gets as outwardly unbearable, there are still a few instances, like on “Lies Greed Misery” and “Victimized”. The latter track actually sounds a lot like “Blackout”, which brings up another important factor: Some parts of Living Things seem to emulate previous songs. For example, Shinoda’s contribution to “Until it Breaks”, as good as it is, also sounds like his portion on “When They Come for Me”. Although it’d be ridiculous for a band to not sound like itself, these moments may be a bit too transparent for some. Also, although several songs will no doubt be singles, arguably none of the tracks feel like instant hits. In other words, nothing on Living Things is as radio-friendly and undeniably catchy as, say, “Waiting for the End”, “Shadow of the Day”, “What I’ve Done”, or even “In the End”. Still, most of the songs are very strong even if they don’t necessarily possess you.
Living Things raises an interesting question about an artist’s newest release: Should it be judged on its own merits or should it be compared to what preceded it? Much like The Decemberists’ The King is Dead and Mastodon’s The Hunter were disappointing because they followed their creator’s masterpieces (The Hazards of Love and Crack the Skye, respectively), Living Things is a very good entry that’s simply not as special as its precursor. All in all, Linkin Park has always been a bit unique and the best at what they do, and they continue to excel on this album. Just don’t expect too much from it.