’s fourth studio record is an ambitious work but not a great one. Self-consciously grand and mature, A Thousand Suns
plays like concept albums of the past in which the songs would seamlessly segue from one into the next, creating an aural head trip full of ideas and tones. But while the album is musically bold and engaging, this sextet’s lyrics are rarely that stimulating, resulting in a disc that’s mostly full of the old angst and melodrama that marked the group’s previous efforts.
To Rock or to Rap?
For the band’s first album in three years, the members of Linkin Park had to decide whether they were going to continue in the direction of 2007’s Minutes to Midnight
, which was a more straightforward “rock” record, or return to the rap-rock
sounds of their 2000 breakthrough, Hybrid Theory
. A Thousand Suns
suggests that the group chose to veer closer to Minutes to Midnight
, although rapper Mike Shinoda and turntablist Joe Hahn do make their presence felt on the record. Perhaps more importantly than its sound, though, A Thousand Suns
is constructed as a complete 48-minute listening experience, with traditional-length songs glued together by instrumental interludes that sometimes include audio from the likes of Robert Oppenheimer
and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Clearly, the band want these speeches to add a weightiness to the proceedings that reflects the album’s overall musical grandeur. Two years ago, frontman Chester Bennington hinted
that A Thousand Suns
would be a move away from the more commercial instincts of the band’s earlier work, and the new album’s sound bears that out.
A Concept Album That's Weak on Concept
But while Linkin Park are trying to present themselves as a more grownup musical unit than the one that came on the scene a decade ago, the group aren’t quite capable of producing a record that’s as momentous as they’d like to think it is. In pre-release interviews, band members talked about wanting to emulate the mixture of politics and dense musicianship of Public Enemy
, but A Thousand Suns
is more in keeping with old-school concept albums like Dark Side of the Moon
and The Wall
where pseudo-heavy themes were married to vaguely spacey soundscapes. War and the end of the world are addressed on A Thousand Suns
, but despite the fact that America has been engaged in war for nearly 10 years, there seems to be little relevance or urgency in these songs, which treat their topics as more theoretical than flesh-and-blood realities for the band members and their audience.
In between Minutes to Midnight
and A Thousand Suns
, Bennington took time away from Linkin Park to form Dead by Sunrise, an alt-rock side group that released their debut, Out of Ashes
, last year. It was a record that found him opening up about his divorce and drinking problem, which led to some stirring moments, but it also contained tired commentary about society’s ills that suggested that he was incapable of singing about anything except himself. A Thousand Suns
is less candid than Out of Ashes
, as Bennington focuses on generalized doomsday scenarios that have all the melodrama of a teenager’s diary entries. He remains a captivating singer, able to be both fiery and vulnerable, but there’s a definite sense that he’s trying to show his artistic growth on A Thousand Suns
. But neither he nor Shinoda are what you would call compelling lyricists: On “When They Come for Me,” Shinoda lets fly with “I’m not a robot/I’m not a monkey/ I will not dance even if the beat’s funky,” while Bennington paints a rather ordinary view of contemporary chaos in the lead single “The Catalyst.” What you’re left with is a bland angst that’s not nearly as fresh as it was when Hybrid Theory
Compelling Music Saves the Day
Despite its thematic liabilities, though, A Thousand Suns
succeeds on the one criterion the ordinary fan will care about: as a piece of music. From the Middle-Eastern chants embedded in “When They Come for Me” to the icy keyboards of “Iridescent,” Linkin Park consistently grab your ear with their sonic dexterity. What the songs are about may prove underwhelming, but A Thousand Suns
segues beautifully between its different tones and styles. And the rap-rock fury of “Waiting for the End” and “Wretches and Kings” argue that Linkin Park can still make great music in a genre that’s long since lost its popularity. That’s the irony of A Thousand Suns
: By being madly ambitious, the band think they’re showing off their maturity. But the real testament to that fact is their longevity. Rather than being so serious, next time out they might want to loosen up a little.
'A Thousand Suns' – Best Tracks:
“Wretches and Kings” (Purchase/Download
“Waiting for the End” (Purchase/Download
“When They Come for Me” (Purchase/Download
“Robot Boy” (Purchase/Download
Release date – September 14, 2010
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