Thursday, May 16, 2013

Linkin Park's LIVING THINGS (review)

Since Amazon.com deleted my #1 most-helpful voted review of Linkin Park's LIVING THINGS (for no apparent reason), I thought I should salvage what I could find and post it as a blog. I know some of what I've said in this review is dated, since it's been about a year since the album has come out, but it's still a good review.

Enjoy.


Genre(s): Electronic Rock, Alternative Hip Hop, Alternative Rock, Folk Rock, Reggae, and a little bit of Soul—or let’s just call the genre “Linkin Park” (there are many debates and disagreements, but it’s important to know that no two songs have the same genre—especially on LIVING THINGS).

Likely to be singles: Castle of Glass, I’ll Be Gone, Powerless

Hardest/Heaviest song(s): Victimized, Lies Greed Misery, Skin to Bone

Softest song(s): Roads Untraveled, Powerless

Strangest song(s): Castle of Glass, Skin to Bone, Until it Breaks, Victimized

Hybrid Theory/Meteora-esque: Lost in the Echo, In My Remains, Lies Greed Misery, Powerless

Best song: Castle of Glass

Worst song: Lies Greed Misery

Pros: Genre variety, flawless vocal execution, poetic lyrics, no explicit language, and there’s a perfect balance between tried-and-true genre songs that’ll please old LP fans and non-LP fans, and experimental songs which will attract the M2M and ATS fans.

Cons: Short album, short songs, lacking a consistent theme relevant to the title (but there were birds chirping at the end of “Until it Breaks”)

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

 

“’cause once you got a theory of how the thing works,
Everybody wants the next thing to be just like the
first.”

- When They Come For Me

 

INTRODUCTION:

Firstly, there has not yet been one review of LIVING THINGS that has hit the nail on the head; hopefully I come close. At least I hope to hit the board in which the nail is securely poking out of. And when I say no reviews have hit the nail on the head, that includes negative, mixed, and positive reviews (don’t be offended, for I may not have read your review); this is a review in which I attempt to leave no stone unturned that will help you—the reader—understand what kind of album you’re going to listen to. Perhaps look at it as an in-depth analysis . . . which is no less than this album (or any album from Linkin Park) deserves.

 

Secondly, there are only a few reasons why you’re on Linkin Park’s LIVING THINGS Amazon page—1) You’ve listened to one or two songs and have decided you hate the album, so you’re giving it a crappy review based off from your previous listening experiences with Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns (and hence, a narrow-minded “OLD LP LOVING/NEW LP HATING” zombie that’s scouring through each new Linkin Park album for that Nu Metal sound that is clearly extinct and thus you have misplaced disappointment that could have been avoided altogether by having an open mind and just enjoying music that doesn’t make you wanna punch walls, or just not listen to it, knowing you’ll hate it, the same way I don’t listen to country music because I hate it! [*takes a deep breath in*]); 2) You’ve listened to all the songs and decided that you loved the album with a few critiques (or no critiques), and you’re writing a review for others to read and you just happened to read mine; or 3) You’ve come to see the average rating for LIVING THINGS, and perhaps you’ve read the best reviews for the album to get a clear idea of whether or not to buy it.

 

BEFORE LIVING THINGS:

This review is for the latter, whether you’re a skeptic or a faithful fan. But first, if you’re unfamiliar with Linkin Park, there’s something to be known about them. And that is: they’re the most unpredictable mainstream band out there (and, alas, the most underrated and misunderstood, but I’ll get to that later)—their albums are unpredictable as a whole, and their songs are unpredictable segment for segment.

 

In early 2000, they made themselves the most successful Nu Metal band by creating a hybrid fusion between hip hop, rock, and metal; of course, that’s not to say they “invented” it—no, Limp Bizkit was a little before Linkin Park, and then there was also P.O.D. (remember them?), and the blend between hip hop and rock began even earlier with the infamous Run-D.M.C. / Aerosmith collaboration. But, it’s safe to say for the younger generations, Linkin Park refined the formula and made it cool and so catchy that your mom might know half the lyrics to most of their singles (or think they know the lyrics, but really they don’t, like my mom—and I don’t know anybody between sixteen to thirty-years-old that doesn’t know 80% of In The End’s lyrics). So, with that being said, Hybrid Theory and Meteora were smash hits—and even their remix album, Reanimation, was fairly successful—it had collaborations with Black Thought from The Roots, Aaron Lewis from Staind, and Jonathon Carpenter from Korn, along with other lesser known artists.

 

Then in 2007, Linkin Park changed it up. Literally they washed themselves clean of the Nu Metal sound; in a recent interview Chester Bennington compared Nu Metal to bellbottom jeans, “They were popular at the time . . .” but now wearing them would make you want to vomit. So, yes, they changed their genre, but they did not change their vibe or their artistic integrity. Truthfully, there were some songs in Minutes to Midnight that I didn’t love, but as a whole, Minutes to Midnight was exactly what it needed to be, and it was that album that made them survive the Nu Metal extinction event; it was their life boat; their Noah’s ark, if you will—and ironically their sophomore album, Meteora, was the meteor that caused the flood that resulted in them making Minutes to Midnight (because, not only were they getting sick and tired of Nu Metal, and being unfairly categorized as a Nu Metal band—along with every other “nu metal” band—but they also couldn’t make a Nu Metal album better than Meteora, nor could any other band—that’s why Nu Metal is dead, and Minutes to Midnight is why Linkin Park are alive). Minutes to Midnight had a few massive singles, such as “Leave Out All The Rest,” “Shadow of the Day,” “What I’ve Done” and “Bleed It Out” (“Given Up was their single to quench fans of harder music), but it didn’t have much rapping or screaming; that disappointed some Nu Metal fans, and grew respect in others for their risky departure (like me—but really, it was riskier staying in the Nu Metal genre if you look at the external and musical environment factors).

 

In 2010 they made A Thousand Suns, which is one of the most underrated albums of all time, comparable to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Radiohead’s Kid A; it was a concept album about nuclear holocaust, and it had a very dingy, post-apocalyptic vibe to it that wasn’t afraid to be politically or religiously preachy (or at least suggestive); an odd hybrid of Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead and Massive Attack. (Funny detail is that it came out around the same time as My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoy’s—which is also a post-apocalyptic semi-concept-album.) And because of their experimentation (and the content) it had a polarizing effect on Linkin Park’s “fans.” The Hybrid Theory trolls still didn’t approve, but for those who had accepted Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns was a huge treat of musical yumminess that added a new genre to Linkin Park’s array of sounds—Reggae. A Thousand Suns was philosophically deep in the effects of war and it had some spirituality (which I suppose also could have offended some people).

 

With that being said, let my review begin . . .

 

LIVING THINGS REVIEW:

And now we’re at Linkin Park’s fifth album, LIVING THINGS. If you take the best elements from Hybrid Theory, Meteora, Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns and throw in a dash of Folk and Reggae, you can imagine what LIVING THINGS sounds like. As a whole, it’s their most energetic album; it’s not as safe as Meteora, nor is it as risky as A Thousand Suns—it’s deliberately somewhere in between (for better or worse). But, once again, there’s going to be a big gaping chasm in reviews for this album. It’s too experimental for the Hybrid Theory fans, and it’s not experimental enough for the Thousand Suns fans (which I am). Good news is that LIVING THINGS is close to Meteora and Minutes to Midnight. HT fans may not like “Castle of Glass,” “Roads Untraveled,” “Skin to Bone,” and “Until it Breaks,” but will most likely like “Lost in the Echo,” “In My Remains,” “Lies Greed Misery,” and “Victimized.” But for ATS fans, the good news is that there will likely be only one song on the album that you’ll find weak (if you’re anything like me), and that song is “Lies Greed Misery.”

 

When the album begins, the first seven songs don’t let up, and then the momentum drops for two songs, and then—in the duration of one song (“Until It Breaks”)—it picks up, slows down, picks up, and slows down. Finally, the album ends with their best Power Ballad ever, and finishes LIVING THINGS with a similar taste that “Pushing Me Away” did for Hybrid Theory and “Numb” did for Meteora (I deliberately leave out “The Little Things Give You Away” from Minutes to Midnight and “The Messenger” from A Thousand Suns because those two songs were experimental endings as opposed to the tried-and-true approach that Linkin Park took with this album’s final track, “Powerless”).

 

Without further ado, I bring to you reviews for each song:

 

ONE) LOST IN THE ECHO: Let me start off by saying that Mike Shinoda delivers his best rapping ever, and that’s taking “When They Come For Me” and “Hands Held High” into consideration; and I’m not so much talking about lyrics as I am style and his verbal grace. In this song, he tears it up with Eminem-esque intensity. This is also the closest that Linkin Park comes to their old Hybrid Theory / Meteora sound. In truth, comparing other Linkin Park songs of similar formulas, it’s better than “In the End,” “Faint,” and “Bleed It Out.” But I do think that we’ve “heard” this sort of song one too many times; it’s certainly not as unique as “When They Come For Me” and hence, not a perfect score.

RATING: 8.5/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: METEORA

REMINISCENT OF: A Place For My Head

 

TWO) IN MY REMAINS: When I listen to this song, I hear a combination between My Chemical Romance and Avenged Sevenfold—a crazy combination, I know, but there’s a certain vibe to the song when Mike starts chanting, “Like a soldier, falling, one by one by one,” that I get gooseflesh. When you listen to LIVING THINGS for the first time, you’ll think to yourself “this will probably be a single,” and when you get to the midway point in this album, you’ll start to doubt if this song will be a single at all . . . because, simply put, there’s still some bigger epicness to come. I only wish this song was as fleshed out as most of the Thousand Suns tracks were. It could have been EPIC instead of just really good.

RATING: 9/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: MOODY

REMINISCENT OF: Nothing they’ve done before.

 

THREE) BURN IT DOWN: This is the first single from the album, so I’ll keep it short. As “What I’ve Done” was the bridge from Meteora to Minutes to Midnight, “Burn It Down” is the bridge from A Thousand Suns to LIVING THINGS. In other words, it has an in-between sound. And, the song itself is about burning down something old and building something new for better or worse. This is one of only two tracks on the entire album that feels like an entirely complete and fulfilling song (despite the imperfect score).

RATING: 9/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: ANTHEM

REMINISCENT OF: New Divide + Waiting for the End

 

FOUR) LIES GREED MISERY: This song lies between a soft and a hard spot. It sounds like something that you might hear from Fort Minor (with, of course, Chester as a guest singer), except if this was on Mike Shinoda’s Fort Minor album, it would probably be my least favorite song on the album, and I like Linkin Park more than Fort Minor . . . so, what does that say about this song? It’s a bland, short and heavy hip-hop/punk-influenced song with a heavy chorus—and it’s one of my least favorite Linkin Park songs ever. But, the thing with Linkin Park is that one man’s trash is the next man’s treasure . . . but I believe it’s misplaced anger. I think LP wanted to make a song that their “angry HT fans” could enjoy (and by no means am I saying you’re an angry person if you like this song).

RATING: 4/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: PETTY

REMINISCENT OF: Bleed It Out

 

FIVE) I’LL BE GONE: Owen Pallett (Arcade Fire collaborator) did the strings on this song. The verses are unique and sung beautifully, and the choruses are the best on this album, and maybe the best chorus on any album they’ve done. This was my mom’s favorite song; with that being said, this might be the biggest single on the album when the time comes. This is also the first song on the album (assuming you’re listening to it from beginning to end) that really shows the evolution of their abilities as a band and the progression of their sound.

RATING: 10/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: IMPRESSIVE

REMINISCENT OF: From the Inside and What I’ve Done

 

SIX) CASTLE OF GLASS: NME has called this song a country song . . . eh, not really. Although it does have a sort of twangy guitar arrangement; I call it Western rock if it’s anything at all to do with a country vibe. This is my favorite song on the album; it’s even my girlfriend’s favorite song at the moment (and she’s only a moderate Linkin Park fan). The song starts off with a hypnotic chugging of a steam engine-esque tempo and builds with a folk—almost country or western—guitar arrangement (it could be keyboard; it’s hard to tell with LP). And when Mike Shinoda starts singing, “take me down to the river bend, take me down to the fighting end,” you know that this is going to be a magical song which isn’t your typical Linkin Park. The chorus is short, poetic, and catchy. When I listen to the song, for some reason I think of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It also is reminiscent of Mumford & Sons and Johnny Cash. This is the song that I would play to people who are skeptical about the album.

RATING 14/10   :-P

ONE WORD SUMMARY: TRANSCENDENT

REMINISCENT OF: Nothing they’ve done before.

 

SEVEN) VICTIMIZED: The working title for this song was “Battle-axe,” and when you listen to it, you’ll know why. It’s short, blunt, and straight to the point. It could be longer, but it doesn’t need to be; in fact, it is what it is, and that’s okay in my book. If anything could be said about this song, I would say that it was influenced by 80’s punk bands and the rapping reminds me of The Roots.

RATING: 7.5/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: RANDOM

REMINISCENT OF: Nothing they’ve done before.

 

EIGHT) ROADS UNTRAVELED: Folk, Blues, and Soul, and it feels like it could be the spiritual successor to “My December.” There isn’t much to be said about this song, except for . . . there’s an omnipresent clinking of glass or maybe chimes of some sort . . .  It’s also the slowest song on the album, and it’s one of the most unexpected tracks. I wish it was longer and had more lyrics, but what’s done is done. I certainly can’t imagine another band of Linkin Park’s caliber attempting (and succeeding) in this type of song, so whatever could be better about this song is not relevant. All songs can be better (and a song being too short is better than a song being too long).

RATING: 10/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: ATMOSPHERIC

REMINISCENT OF: My December and Robot Boy

 

NINE) SKIN TO BONE: This song was supposed to be (according to Mike and Chester) one of their Folk-influenced songs on the album, but I sort of get a late Kanye West vibe from it. Or maybe if Kanye West made babies with Bob Dylan—I’m not sure. This song is one of the most difficult to describe; I guess you can even call it heavy dubstep (and I had read a review somewhere comparing this song to dubstep, but I’m not familiar with the genre—and I think that dubstep is the new Nu Metal at the moment in the sense that “everything” is dubstep; so I would make the point to say that if this song has any dubstep musical elements in it, then it’s of good taste). It’s really a bizarre song about constancy and permanency and death. The lyrics remind us that the clock is ticking.

RATING: 8/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: DEPRESSING

REMINISCENT OF: Wretches and Kings (without rapping)

 

TEN) UNTIL IT BREAKS: The composition of this song is really what makes it so unique. For me to describe it, it would almost feel like I’d be spoiling the fun. So, I’m not going to describe the composition—but I’ll say it’s a combination of A Thousand Suns and something that the hip hop group The Roots would make with a hint of Green Day; I feel like this would have been a great song to be included on A Thousand Suns. It’s one of my favorites on the album, but I can guarantee that those who didn’t like A Thousand Suns will not like this song (and if you do like this song, are you sure you didn’t like A Thousand Suns? Just wondering). To each their own.

RATING: 10/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: COMPLEX

REMINISCENT OF: When They Come For Me and Hands Held High

 

ELEVEN) TINFOIL: Instrumental. It’s actually pretty good and I think it’s a required bridge from “Until It Breaks” to the final track, “Powerless.”

 

TWELVE) POWERLESS: If you put this song at the end of any of their previous albums, it would work for those albums as well as it does for this album; “Powerless” has little fragments of their previous ballads inside. But, aside from that, it works perfectly as its own thing. And what it is is an emotional Power Ballad about being with someone who you love but watch them ruin things for themselves and others. And it’s the most touching song they’ve ever done, in my opinion (and I sort of wish it was longer for that reason). You really feel something when you listen to it; the lyrics connect with anyone who’s been let down; the chorus is full of raw emotions in which is sung just as beautifully as Chester sang “The Messenger.” And then when you hear the chanting/howling “Ooooo ooooo oooo ooooo,” you can’t help but feel gooseflesh and the hairs rise up on your arm and feel a sob crawl up your throat, or maybe tears swell in your eyes (okay, I’m exaggerating, just a little). When the song ends, you want more . . . but you can’t have more, because the album has reached its end.

RATING: 10/10

ONE WORD SUMMARY: EMOTIONAL

REMINISCENT OF: Pushing Me Away, Numb, and In Pieces

 

CONS:

As a consistent fan of Hybrid Theory, Meteora, Fort Minor’s The Rising Tied, Minutes to Midnight, and A Thousand Suns, I can honestly say that what hurt Linkin Park the most was trying to build a bridge between them and the fans that they lost; and in doing so (which is the equivalent of trying to get back with someone that cheated on you just because you got a haircut and wore dress shoes instead of converse), they sort of backtracked—call it being comfortable in their skins if you want, but I call it being scared and hurt by all their negative reviews from M2M and ATS, and so they didn’t want to get bad reviews from “fans (but let’s just say ‘stubborn nu metal’ fans).” And thus, LIVING THINGS doesn’t quite live up to A Thousand Suns, in terms of feeling like a complete, fulfilling album; but it will very likely find a few fickle Hybrid Theory fans that might like “Lost in the Echo,” “In My Remains,” and “Lies Greed Misery”.

 

Another flaw I found—which was glaringly obvious in “Lies Greed Misery”—was the fact that they are, in a way, relapsing about an ideology that they sang about often in Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns (and even in Meteora for the most part), which was . . . forgiveness; it’s not you, it’s me; selflessness—that way of thinking. I found that “Lies Greed Misery” crumbled that foundation that was built by previous songs of good, righteous morals, such as “Breaking the Habit,” “Leave Out All The Rest,” “What I’ve Done,” “In Between,” “Burning in the Skies,” “Robot Boy,” “Iridescent,” and “The Messenger”. There was nothing redeeming about “Lies Greed Misery”—it felt like petty high school politics when you just wanna get back at somebody without a good cause (so-and-so said this about me, and I’m gonna say this about them). If the song was about how people’s stupid actions cause them to be in the state poverty or bad health that they’re in, as the lyric, “you did it to yourself” states, and then perhaps it would have made the song better. But the song was more or less just about being in a verbal feud with someone . . . a little petty, if you ask me. Yes, it’s a big gripe, but it’s only one song, and it doesn’t knock off a star. If you’re an angry person, you might like this song. But I’m not angry. The Hybrid Theory years were a decade ago.     :-P

 

THINGS THAT WOULD HAVE MADE LIVING THINGS BETTER:

1. If they had fully fleshed out each song, and hence making the album longer, it would have felt like a complete album—as Minutes to Midnight and A Thousands Suns both felt like (even if you hated those albums). Some songs were just too short to state their actual meanings successfully.

 

A) “Lies Greed Misery” should have added a little something—perhaps an extra rapping verse that overlaps Chester screaming, “You did it to yourself!” and perhaps making it a longer, more fulfilling song. And perhaps if they would have done something extra to this song, it wouldn’t have been my least favorite.

 

B) “Castle of Glass” was such a beautiful, unique song, and it ranks up as one of my favorite Linkin Park songs ever. But, when they have such a gem, why couldn’t they unleash it? I would love to have heard at least three more minutes of this dark western weirdness that would have made it into something legendary (but I have a feeling they knew this was going to be a single, so they made it short—a shame, really).

 

C) “Roads Untraveled” was pretty. And it was pretty short for being so pretty. In M2M and ATS, they would have milked it a little more, and they should have with this song, too.

 

Ultimately, if those three songs were amplified, then I think the album would have felt more complete. And perhaps people wouldn’t have cared that “Victimized” was so short (because the two songs sandwiching it would have been long). The only songs on the album that I felt were truly “complete” were “Burn It Down” and “Until it Breaks”.

 

2. When I heard the title of the album was LIVING THINGS, I was pumped because I was thinking it was the natural extension of the concepts applied in A Thousand Suns (what I mean is that ATS was about nuclear holocaust and dead things—(get it?)—and thus, this album’s title . . .), but the title didn’t really mean anything in connections with the songs (other than it being about personal relationships), except that it did feel more energetic than ATS (and hence the CAPITALIZED title). I wish they would have made LIVING THINGS into at least a semi-concept album instead of a compilation of songs (really good songs, I might add, just there wasn’t a consistent flow as there was in ATS).

 

CONCLUSION:

It’s kind of hard to define this album’s genre—the best I can say is that it’s a musical chimera between Avenged Sevenfold, The Roots, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Unlike their last album, LIVING THINGS is deeply personal with songs a non-LP-fan can enjoy (unless they’re too stubborn to even listen to any of their music, like a friend of mine that wouldn’t give “Castle of Glass” a chance, because she mental conceives them as a Screamo band), songs that an only-Old-LP-fan can (and should) finally come around and enjoy again, and still contains some bold risks that ATS fans can enjoy, with genres ranging from Electronic Rock, Hip Hop, Reggae, Folk and Punk; it’s an album in which each strum of guitar and bass is masterfully crafted and placed, each pound or tap of the drum has a purpose while creating hypnotic beats, and the lyrics are honed, the vocals ruthless and raw. Even Mr. Hahn, the DJ, has a comfortable—not overbearing, but not overly minimal (like in M2M)—place in each song.

 

IN THE END:

Along with life, there’s pain; and with pain, there’s hope. This album will have a song for you. I recommend that you buy the album too, instead of downloading it illegally, because Linkin Park takes pride in their album artwork.