Music

Linkin Park: Living Things

A fine collection of rap/electronic/rock that unfortunately disappoints when compared to its predecessor.


Linkin Park

Living Things

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2012-06-20
UK Release Date: 2012-06-25
Artist Website
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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.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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