Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stop Talking, Start Trying to Catch Up

A Thousand Suns
Linkin Park
Released 9.14.2010
(hang on, this review is going to be really long - it's maybe more of a thesis . . .
but look at me posting a review of something the week it came out!  Go me.)

I've hardly stopped listening to LP's newest since I downloaded it on Tuesday morning before work.  I wrote a lot of this review on Tuesday, but wanted to give myself a few days to mull it over before posting.  My opinion hasn't changed, and in fact, my extremely high regard for LP's fourth studio album has only increased in the ensuing days.  Bravo, guys.  Bravo.  The album is, in a word, Epic.

I want to start by saying that this is like nothing LP has ever done before, and not like much I've ever heard before.  To call it "experimental" or a "concept album" is fair - it's more electronic than everything they've done previously, and I guess it's not as heavy, but it is definitely bigger than anything they've done.  When they put out Minutes to Midnight, I recognized the new direction, and I liked it.  The band indicated with that album that they hoped that people would treat the album as a single work, and listen to it that way, as opposed to individual songs.  This time, they weren't taking any chances - the iTunes versions of A Thousand Suns all include a 16th track called A Thousand Suns: The Full Experience.  It plays the entire album in one piece without breaks between tracks - the way it was intended.  If you're going to listen to this album, and especially if you're going to place judgment on it, please, please, please do yourself (and the band) a favor and set aside 47 minutes of your life to listen to the whole thing beginning to end.  And do it with an open mind.  I think you'll find that this is more LP than you might have initially thought.  Of course the individual songs stand out - but you need to hear it all in context to really get it. This isn't "9 songs with 6 little blips of noise in between" like some (former?) fans have argued - it's a 47 minute cohesive work.  If you're looking for a collection of radio songs and arena anthems, this is obviously not for you.  Open your mind up and listen in one piece.

And I feel like a lot of the reviews that are dissing this new album just don't get it.  Bands grow and evolve and advance, just like the people in them do - U2 is never going to make another Joshua Tree, and the Chili Peppers will never put out anything like Mother's Milk again - that doesn't mean that what they're doing now is no good!  LP has been one of my favorite bands since Hybrid Theory came out, and I've really loved seeing them progress as a band and as individuals, including Mike and Chester's side projects.  I fully acknowledge that this new album isn't full of hard, screaming anthems the way that HT or Meteora were, but feeling or saying that this album is awesome doesn't take anything away from how great those two albums were.  It's just different.  It's different in an awesome way.  

I can't help feeling like When They Come for Me is LP's retaliation against everyone that just wants them to keep making HT and Meteora over and over and over again.  Lines like: "'cause even a blueprint is a gift and a curse/'cause once you got a theory about how the thing works/everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first/and I'm not a robot, I'm not a monkey/I will not dance even if the beat's funky ... Ya'all ought to stop talking, start tryin' to catch up, muthafucka!"  It's like saying that they're going to do what they do, how they want to do it, no matter what anybody thinks, and you'd best stop badmouthing it and start trying to keep up with it - they're doing cooler and cooler shit, and you're going to miss out on all of it if you get so hung up on the old stuff.  I LOVE this song, by the way, and I cannot wait to see this performed live, with the chanting and all of that.

The fanboys want something heavier - they want to hear Chester screaming.  You know what?  Chester has been screaming for a long-ass time, and maybe he's tired of it.  Get over that and actually listen to him - he's a fantastic singer.  Enjoy it, you can thank me later.  Pay close attention on The Messenger at the end - Chester's voice is completely laid bare with nothing but some acoustic accompaniment, and it's effing beautiful.  And while you're at it, go back and replay When They Come for Me, Blackout, and Wretches and Kings - they're all pretty heavy, and the beats are sick.

The beats on this whole album are pretty sick, and most of the songs are stick in your head catchy.  Stick in my head, anyway.  The whole thing has this feeling of being bigger than itself - of being bigger than anything - it's almost ominous.  I've often said that part of what's always drawn me to LP is the complexity of their sound, and I think that's more noticeable here than ever.  There's sort of a middle eastern/African/reggae influence that seems to pervade a lot of the album, and that's super-effective, when the political anti-war theme of the whole thing is taken into consideration.  This album is smart.  It's brilliant in it's concept and in it's execution.  From the creepy opening, through quotes from Robert Oppenheimer, MLK Jr., and Mario Savio, the album builds and builds, taking you with it through an uprising and rebellion with a virtual apocalypse of sound before summing it all up with the beautiful song of hope and love in The Messenger to wrap it all up and let you walk away with a great feeling.  I'm pretty sure that the chorus from that song has been the most quoted in all the reviews I've read, so I'd be remiss not to point out that "When life leaves us blind/Love keeps us kind" is maybe the sweetest thing LP has every said to anyone.  Awww.  But it's effective.  I usually can't support the interludes and quotes and everything on a lot of hip hop albums, but this is completely different - the quotes that are used are used in a way that works. I said at the outset that there's a lot of electronic sound here, and there is, including a lot of vocoder/autotune-type stuff.  Frankly, I could have done with a little less autotuning, but I get that it's used for the feeling it gives the songs, not to eff with Chester's voice, so I'm over it.  I'm just don't love autotune.  My one and only other criticism is that somewhere in the middle of Blackout, the mixing feels sloppy.  It's totally possible that the sound is also intentional, because it works with the song, but there's just something a little off about it.

While we're talking about individual tracks - Waiting for the End is like magic.  It might be the most perfectly produced song I've ever heard.  I love the flow.  It just rolls - it rolls you up and takes you with it.  The timing and the pace are so spot on.  I'm pretty sure it's my favorite track on the album.  I adore the nods to Chuck D and Public Enemy in Wretches and Kings, and Burning in the Skies threw me for a loop the first time I put the album on - it initially seemed too poppy to me, but after hearing it 100 more times in the last couple of days, no, I think it fits perfectly with everything else

I don't know folks, the bottom line here is that A Thousand Suns just made my short list of the best albums ever, and I just want you all to give it a fair chance as a single piece of work.  The band has made it clear from the start that this wasn't going to be your typical album - it was designed to be something completely different that the record stores wouldn't know what to do with.  Mission accomplished.  It's not a collection of 15 songs, and no one wants you to listen to it that way.  Set aside 47 minutes of your life to enjoy this in one big bite, then feel free to go back for seconds (or thirds or 57ths) so you can really let it all sink in.  I love it.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome review. I totally agree - I'm done with Chester screeching out every other song. This album is incredibly smart, varied, and insanely cool - I respect it more than any other LP album.