’s last album, 2010’s A Thousand Suns
, was a grand attempt to take on war and apocalypse, but with their latest, Living Things
, they trim back their ambitions. The band’s shortest disc since 2003’s Meteora
, Living Things
is a straightforward collection that plays to their rap-rock
strengths, and while it’s often musically engaging, these 12 songs don’t have enough cumulative impact. As a result, the record ends up being a diverting experience rather than an arresting one.
A Musical Feast
Though Living Things
has been billed as Linkin Park’s return to more personal songwriting, the album’s sonic scope boldly maps out a landscape in which even breakup tunes feel cataclysmic and epic. The sextet, led by singer Chester Bennington and rapper Mike Shinoda, have managed in their 12-year career to carve out their own musical niche, which incorporates the moody keyboard textures of new wave
, the hip-hop energy of turntables and samples, and the rock assault of screamed vocals and revved-up guitars. Though rap-rock as a genre has long since lost its commercial luster, Linkin Park have survived thanks to their strong melodic instincts. Those instincts are very much in evidence on Living Things
, which has a sweeping, stirring quality to it. Effortlessly segueing between songs, the album ebbs and flows in dramatic fashion.
The Same Old Angst
Unfortunately, the problem with this band remains that while they’ve sharpened their musical approach over time, their thematic content hasn’t progressed. When Bennington and Shinoda tag-team on the opening track, “Lost in the Echo,” the dizzying fury of the music is far more compelling than the dull lyrics that are a call to action to the audience. Later on the dynamic first single, “Burn It Down,” this deficiency is amplified. Gloriously icy keyboards and a propulsive beat enrapture the ear, but the words aren’t nearly as captivating, dealing in a familiar love-as-Armageddon conceit. Since their emergence with 2000’s Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park have made a career exorcising their angst, but this band’s misery is best felt through their articulate music, not their lyrics.
With the exception of “Burn It Down,” Living Things works best in mid-tempo mode, which allows Bennington’s occasionally self-pitying vocals to be buttressed by pleasingly atmospheric tunes filled with aching regret. On the album-closing “Powerless,” Bennington sings regretfully to a self-destructive friend or lover. “Castle of Glass” sports an indelible melodic hook that merges pop and industrial, while “Roads Untraveled” brings together chimes and a mournful keyboard for a nicely understated message about the need to forget the painful memories of the past. Frankly, it’s a lesson one wishes Linkin Park would take more to heart since their lyrical laments tend to feel like endless complaints.
Room for Improvement
On one level, it’s easy to respect the musical dexterity of Living Things
, which makes it a headphone marvel. But at the same time, there’s a nagging limitation to the album that leaves it feeling underwhelming. Linkin Park may not be the young Turks anymore, but they’ve matured into a confident, tuneful band. Still, it would be nice if they could ditch the navel-gazing angst for a more interesting worldview. A Thousand Suns
was an attempt to do just that, and while that album wasn’t wholly successful, it’s unfortunate that the band decided to revert a bit to old ways on their new disc.
'Living Things' - Best Tracks:
“Burn It Down” (Purchase/Download
“Roads Untraveled” (Purchase/Download
“Castle of Glass” (Purchase/Download
“Lost in the Echo” (Purchase/Download
Release date – June 26, 2012