Burning in the Skies
Waiting for the End
It shouldn't really be a surprise, but it's still a shock to the system, exploding expectations like broken billiard balls. Minutes to Midnight, Linkin Park's third album, made clear the California sextet's move from nu-metal dynamics to something softer and more mainstream-friendly (not that they were struggling to shift records - 2000 debut Hybrid Theory has sold over 24 million copies). But if that was the sound of a band embracing their classic rock side, A Thousand Suns is, at its zenith/nadir (delete according to taste), Celine Dion Goes Mall Rock.
This album's closer, The Messenger, is the wettest song to ever fill the raspy throat of flaming-armed frontman Chester Bennington. It's on a level with Avril Lavigne's I'm With You, or Christina Aguilera's Beautiful, only hollered hoarsely rather than pitched painfully high. Similarly wet about their edges are Iridescent - an exercise in Gallaghers-level rhyming - and Burning in the Skies.
However, it should be noted that Linkin Park were not intending to make an album when they set about recording these less-than-impressive efforts. They were playing with ideas, breaking down concepts that'd served them well previously, trying to find something fresh. They didn't want whatever their next album was to be predictable, and while A Thousand Suns might have emerged by accident compared to previous LPs, it's certainly a far from plays-to-perceived-type affair.
The aforementioned blips on this critic's radar can't obscure some perplexingly compelling material elsewhere. When They Come for Me lays its intent on the line with its first words: "I am not a pattern to be followed". The track's jungle percussion and backing chants give it a tribal feel, and if the lead vocals - rapped, badly - were just a touch peppier there's no doubt it'd be a magic moment of their catalogue to date. Blackout is a lot of fun, Bennington ranting potty-mouthed across an electro-tinged arrangement that isn't so many stylistic miles away from the crunchy beats served up by Pendulum, albeit slowed and scratched into a dizzy spin. The Catalyst is the closest A Thousand Suns comes to the Linkin Park sound of old, and is among this collection's most immediate offerings. It's no surprise it's been well received at radio, plucked from its parent LP as the first commercial single.
But the penultimate track here really shouldn't be a sign of things to come, simply an echo of the past. If Linkin Park take the best moments of this haphazard set as jumping-off points for what happens next, they might just strike upon a new formula every bit as successful as the one that flogged their debut so brilliantly.
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