Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns

Full disclosure: as much as I am ever a “fan” of anything, I am a Linkin Park junkie. I suspect that’s only partly because they do loud, obnoxious rock and roll; it’s also partly because they are very sophisticated musicians who use the same vocabulary that musicians have been using since at least the sixteenth century. There’s a nice sense of continuity there.

The notes to A Thousand Suns begin “We were not making an album. For months we’ve been destroying and rebuilding our band. . . . Sitting together in the studio where we made our first album, all six of us voiced a commitment to going out on a limb, to making something truly daring.” Thinking back over their studio work prior to this, I suspect that’s what they’ve been doing all along, if not consciously. Hybrid Theory certainly offers little in the way of preparation for Meteora, which in turn does not give much in the way of clues for Minutes to Midnight — but they do.

The opening track, “The Requiem,” offers a variation on what has been a growing tendency to alter sounds electronically; it segues immediately into another short track, “The Radiance,” a spoken-word number using the words of Robert Oppenheimer, who in this segment cites a story from the Bhagavad Gita in which Siva says he has become the “Destroyer of Worlds.” We’ve got our theme.

“Burning in the Sky” is a smooth, deceptively pop-sounding track that harks back to “What I’ve Done” (Minutes to Midnight) and “Easier to Run” (Meteora) in its assumption of guilt and worthlessness. That’s a recurring motif in the band’s music, one that I think probably speaks very powerfully to adolescents or anyone else who can be called an “outsider.” “When They Come For Me” carries the same idea, with an added measure of rebellion, set into one of Mike Shinoda’s quasi-rap vocals; this one’s notable for its almost pure electronica over one of those complex, constantly changing rhythm patterns that Rob Bourdon tends to lay down. This one’s also notable for Chester Bennington’s wild, not-quite-off-key wailing that sounds like a foray into the singing styles of the Levant.

Without going into detailed discussions of each track, let me just note that the album flows from song to song, evidencing Linkin Park’s facility with creating a true synthesis of styles and genres. Some commentators have called their music “derivative” (as though there were any other possibility) without, I think, noting the way in which this band actually recombines elements into something that echoes its antecedents without being enslaved to them. And there is, in spite of their attempt to “rebuild” the band, something that says definitively “Linkin Park” — the characteristic colors and textures, the layers of sound, and the way in which they convert “sound” into “music” almost, it seems, as a reflex.

This seems to me a carefully constructed collection, the themes of “Destroyer of Worlds” and “lost soul” weaving their way through the lyrics and even the music itself from track to track. (“Wretches and Kings” is a study in impending doom; “Wisdom, Justice and Love,” from a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., adds our own culpability into the mix.)

The capstone is the next-to-final track, “The Catalyst,” which starts off deceptively enough — introduced with more electronic “sound” over a simple, driving rhythm, it moves immediately to Bennington’s urgent vocals, and then synths, layer on layer, reprising and expanding “The Requiem” in a driving, powerful song that is a new facet, perhaps, of Linkin Park, but unmistakably Linkin Park nevertheless. The end is damn near transcendant, long soaring vocal lines interwoven over that rhythm and layers of instrumental sound punctuated by a staccato vocal that puts all the urgency up front. “The Messenger” serves as a low-key coda that allows us to decompress a bit. A bit..

Linkin Park is: Chester Bennington, vocals; Rob Bourdon, drums; Brad Delson, lead guitar, backing vocals; David “Phoenix” Farrell, bass guitar, backing vocals; Joseph “Mr. Hahn” Hahn, turntables, keyboard, samples, backing vocals; Mike Shinoda, vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboard.

(Warner Bros., 2010)

(A note: I seem to have gotten the “clean” version of the album. There is also a “Parental Advisory” version, and a songbook, both published in 2011.)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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