Saturday, July 14, 2012

After the 1000 suns set, is there still more to be heard?

Linkin Park's 4th A 1000 Suns showed a depth and dare I say it - art-rock aggro flavor the band had yet to explore.  Does "Living Things" keep this more interesting direction intact?  Not exactly - not that it's bad, but it doesn't seem to be taking any new steps forward.

Opener "Lost in the echo" seems like a self-correction for Shinoda's somewhat muted presence on their previous album - it rides a Depeche Mode-aping synth swirl and features equal parts Shinoda raps and Bennington scorched-earth vocals - and then things start to sound like the end of 1000 Suns with "In My Remains" - which plays like an amped-up version of the confessional strains of the mild acoustic track that ends the previous disc.  Lead single "Burn It Down" keeps piling on the Depeche-aping synths - and lest that make you think they've run out of ideas, it's worth saying they haven't - just that the similarity is noticeable.  It isn't as evolved lyrically as much of 1000 Suns was, but it doesn't stray from what they do well as a band.

If 1000 Suns was a song cycle loosely constructed around the fear of a nuclear holocaust, Living Things tries to make the case of being the song structure for the afterwards - the last gasp of those left behind, the survivors - an idea that sounds good on paper.  The problem is, that idea is never fully realized.  Also, things start to sound like 2001 on track 4 "Lies Greed Misery" - with a beat that seems stolen from that year and lyrics that sound like they haven't learned a thing since then - these glaring mis-steps almost crash & burn the whole album right there.

Thankfully "I'll Be Gone" picks it back up with some crunch-and-stomp balladry.  It's only knowing that Bennington is singing this song as a married man that makes it sound slightly less authentic - but he is far from the only one guilty of writing and singing songs that don't precisely match his life at the moment.  "Castle of Glass" continues this reflective vein, reminding us they do have more to talk about in song than some of this album's mis-steps would have you believe.  Then "Victimized" treads the thin crash & burn line yet again - it sounds far too much like the half-focused venom of their debut, all evolution seen in the past record washed away in a track plagued with too much directionless wailing.  Once again, the rescue comes in the form of the next song - "Roads Untraveled" is all soft piano and ringing chimes, plaintive and easing off the scream of the track before - other reviewers call it "too comfortable in its own skin" - strange criticism since it manages to be one of the better tracks on the album.  To each his own on that I suppose.

This album is very schizophrenic in mood - it can't decide whether to stay reflective or go back to industrial-drum-thud 2-stepping like on "Skin To Bone" - and yet with all this it manages to end on a haunting note with the instrumental "Tinfoil" leading into the closer "Powerless" - a song that makes you wish the whole album could have been as cohesive - it's haunting, it's a ballad but with jagged edges - it's all this band has become as it evolves and changes into something more than just a nu-metal standard bearer - and it shows how much more they can be when they aren't backpedaling.  So with "Living Things" we have an album that is marred by a few mis-steps, but still leaves one wanting to keep an eye on LP for what they do when Album 6 arrives in the future.

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