Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns

One of the most important things to consider before listening to an album for the first time is what you're about to listen to. You could do this by listening to the little previews in iTunes, finding the songs playing on a radio, or even listening to it on YouTube before you buy it. I prefer the iTunes preview method so I can be pleasantly surprised during the album. But I think this is the main reason why A Thousand Suns was so poorly received by hardcore Linkin Park fans, because it is obviously a drastic departure from their previous work and the fans couldn't reconcile with this fact before listening, thus giving it a bad review.

But let's be honest: compared to A Thousand Suns, everything else tastes of ass.
 There are a few important things to consider before listening to Linkin Park's latest album if you are a hardcore fan of their last stuff. The first is that the core lineup hasn't changed much. You'll hear plenty of alternating Chester Bennington singing and Mike Shinoda rapping. Let's talk about Bennington first: all of a sudden, it seems like he's gotten so much better as a singer. He hasn't quite realized yet that he sounds so much better when his voice is deeper ("Iridescent"), but he has so much more control and diversity this time around. Still, he makes some mistakes, most clearly on "The Messenger," where his out of control voice almost ruins the nature of the song. Then there's Shinoda. He's toned down his rapping in favor of a more singing voice this time around as well. You can hear him actually singing on "Waiting For the End" where he sound wonderful alongside Bennington. Not that the alternating singing/rapping of the duo vocalists wasn't already great, but it's nice to see him singing too. I always like to talk about how much better music groups get when they have multiple lead singers. Two other examples are System of a Down (their later work) and, of course, The Beatles.

Now it's time to talk differences. The first and most obvious (as in, you don't even need to listen to the music yet) is the time. Before, Linkin Park was always really good with not letting their albums overstay their welcome. At a 45-minute time length, many albums feel like they go on too long, but Linkin Park managed to cut enough time off their music to make albums that last around 35 minutes, a much more appropriate time for the music they were trying to make. This album lasts 48 minutes. It is without a doubt their longest album to date (though I have not listened to Minutes To Midnight yet), and the best part is it doesn't overstay its welcome. In fact, it feels like it doesn't stay quite long enough. What I think they wanted to do with album was to create a very epic piece of music, but I wish it were longer, as that would bring the album a little closer to epicness. Maybe it's an epic length for Linkin Park, but not quite for me.

That said, the best part about the album is its epicness. Clearly, the album is meant to be listened from start to finish in one sitting. The songs stream into each other, right from one to the next, as if it's all one song. In fact, it is all one song. In the iTunes edition, they included a track containing each song of the album, calling it "A Thousand Suns: The Full Experience," further evidence of the fact I stated above, not to mention all the small mini-pieces of speeches, sayings and otherwise, like "The Radiance" and "Wisdom, Justice and Love."

Finally, let's talk about the actual music of the album. Linkin Park have decided to make their album a lot more experimental, and they do it fantastically. It's so wonderful to hear them making music like this, it feels like they're actually trying this time, rather than rewriting the same song a few different times for one album. Not that their last stuff was bad, but this is so, so much better. They actually do many different things with their music, rather than just two (fast and slow). "Burning In the Skies" and "Iridescent" both spotlight their excellence in slow motion, "Blackout" and "The Catalyst" spotlight their mastery in fast-forward, and "Waiting For the End" and "When They Come For Me" bring new music types to the table, showing their mastery of just about everything else. I could spotlight any non-break track as an example of how far they've come from the days of crunchy metal in Hybrid Theory, except maybe "The Messenger," which makes for a sort of disappointing ending. I think this is where fans were so disappointed. They had lost their old band in favor of a more grown-up, experimental band. To them: get the hell over it! This new material is great; don't hate it just because it's different. That's how racism, sexism and homophobia were invented.

Overall, this is a masterpiece, plain and simple. Linkin Park has changed so much over the years, and they've changed radically in the direction of good things. I can't emphasize enough the wonders this album pulls off. They've done it!

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