17 November 2013

Mini Shots: Linkin Park


Ah, "nu metal", music for angry white men. Music that was too immature and lazy to truly sit under the heavy metal umbrella and too obnoxious to be liked by pop enthusiasts. The late 1990s early 2000s were a dark time for rock music. Anyone who liked this crap was piece of scum, contributing nothing but garbage to society.

Well, that's what people keep telling me. But here I am, a certainly non-white female, who indulged herself in the genre for a few years. Mentally, however, I probably went through a similar rebellious phase while in grade school. Pop music sounded terrible to me, my classmates did not give a crap about my existence. So in turn, I did not care about their taste in music and went to find my own. And thus began Fangirl's long journey to finding music that sounds good.

While Evanescence was my first love that helped me appreciate the melancholic, Linkin Park prepared me for the anger. They were a gateway that indirectly later helped me stomach some stuff from the libraries of In Flames, Moonspell, and even Rammstein. Unlike Evanescence, they simultaneously disappointed me more but made me more fond of them as time went on. I'm in the crowd who still likes their older work. Despite how whiny and angsty they sound lyrically, I can at least say they had energy and a pulse. They defined rap-rock for me, and I can't help but think they were the most memorable in that odd music marriage.

So... let's see what road this band took Fangirl and where they are now.

Hybrid Theory, 2000

Originally Linkin Park called themselves Hybrid Theory, based on the idea that their music has them combine rock and rap. Not very clever, perhaps, but they made sure to keep it around as the title of their self-released EP in 1999. Then they did it again with the infamous debut album.



D'awww.... they were such little kids back then!

*clears throat* Anywho.

Being my first Linkin Park album, I though Hybrid Theory was extremely cool...  The music was a beautifully balanced combination of tight raps and aggressive rock. "Papercut" is in your face and paves a great head-start to an energetic album.

The style of this album is memorable, yet it has not aged well at all. In fact, its luster died on me very quickly (as in a few months or so). While "Papercut" is a wonderful song about being 100% mentally stable (psychological insanity always tickles my itch) and "In the End" a nice intermission and break-up song, most of the album is blatantly whiny. Other songs sound like hip-vaguely-in-the-moment protests that ultimately mean nothing but intelligence fitting of "your mom" comebacks. And most have Chester Bennington throw a tantrum while Mike Shinoda backs away before he gets too close to anger with his fellow vocalist.


"One Step Closer" is too much of an odd protest that don't have enough context for you to care about what they're saying. Then "By Myself" is so distorted and messy and fails to be like "Papercut". They're so loud and hilariously childish you can barely take them seriously. I'll give "Points of Authority" for being an underdog-themed song and "With You" for trying but failing to be sweet, ruined by Chester's screaming.

And then we have "Crawling". ... Does anything new need to be said?

Despite the immature nonsense, I can still look fondly on it. the iTunes version I bought gave me "My December" and a remix of "High Voltage", both nothing to write home about. But if anyone never knew where the "Put a label on a lifestyle" thing on my label list came from, now you know.


Linkin Park made a first impression that was hard to ignore. Praised at the time, but still mocked by many. Understandable.

So how's the follow-up?


Meteora2003


One of my favorite albums ever. Part of me wishes I was joking, but I'm not. The physical CD has several pages of pictures of the band spray painting a mural. It's quite cool when it's done. With the dedication behind it, it's one of the most memorable CDs I ever picked up. I would have never seen it had I stuck with downloading mp3s or mp4s.

Linkin Park decided to take themselves a bit more seriously this time. The angry hissy fits continued on, but they felt less frequent and pronounced. If anything they sound weaker, like the group knew they couldn't keep up the adolescent antics anymore. Even their music videos look slightly less over-the-top.


I find their singles "Somewhere I Belong" and "Breaking the Habit" to be some of their best. They sound more sincere and less obnoxious and pissed off at the world. While one is more hopeful and has a simple but nice piano riff, the other feels like a mellow sequel to "Papercut". If "Papercut" was the equivalent of a mental breakdown, "Breaking the Habit" is the aftermath when the person sees what a mess he/she really is.

Unfortunately, "Easier to Run" tried to capitalize on melancholy too, but utterly fails in comparison to "breaking the Habit" as well as when it stands alone. An emo from Livejournal or MySpace must've emailed it to the producers who thought it would be fitting to Linkin Park. Based on their streak so far, sadly, it kind of is. "Faint" is no better, but for the anger management reasons.


"From the Inside" is a guilty pleasure, as it's my favorite song in which Chester screams until his throat bleeds. The buildup to the bridge is very well done, as the song starts off mellow and slowly gets louder and louder. Lyrics are typical Linkin Park, but its eons better than "Faint".

Mike only really shines in "Nobody's Listening", a almost-exclusive hip-hop/rap track with a Japanese shakuhachi flute thrown in. At the very least I can easily recall it as that one awesome song that made me declare Mike a better vocalist than Chester in the group. That ultimately made me decide to check out his side project. I have no regrets.


I play the whole album from start from finish, but I never go past the "Session" instrumental. The less I say about "Numb", the better.


The Rising Tied, 2005


I'm cheating a bit. Technically Fort Minor is Mike Shinoda's side project, but you might as well call it Linkin Park without real instruments. Fair enough. But I still really like this.

The Rising Tied is a very digestible hip hop album for someone who tends to stay away from that genre as a whole. Or if you don't mind something Linkin Park-ish without Chester. Nothing against the poor guy, I just have a favorite. Especially when he tends to get better lyrics to deal with and doesn't try to be so loud he tries pop everyone's eardrums.


Although it's depressingly haunting, the best song has to be "Kenji". The detailed lyrics create a vivid story that always punches me in the gut. It constantly reminds me that people across the world are often treated poorly for no justifiable reason except "fear" and "race". No one has moved past this, not even the United States of "F#$% YEAH! 'MERICA!" Just thinking of an Arab or the Islamic religion makes our skins crawl. And before I start drowning in the kool-aid my terrorism-obsessed culture shoved down my throat, I have to stop and play "Kenji".


That was dark. My Anthropology class on world problems took over my brain for a minute.

Anywho, this is a great album. Too bad "Right Now", "Feel Like Home", and "Back Home" are  clones of each other. They're still good in their own ways and topics, no matter how sincere the humility in the lyrics tend to be. However, "Cigarettes" is the dumbest and weakest track of all. Other than that, every song is fun, catchy, heartfelt, or interesting. And of its siblings, "Right Now" comes first and has the most staying power thanks to its storytelling.

Even with the ups and downs, The Rising Tied is one of the best albums I bought blindly. And I'm pissed that Fort Minor is still on hiatus.

Until then, CUE THE OVERPLAYED BUT CATCHY SINGLE!


Yeah, I love "Remember the Name"... Shut up, it's gonna be lodged in my brain for months! DX


Minutes to Midnight, 2007

Thus began Linkin Park growing up. Thus began Fangirl trying to get used to this sudden change.

Looking back, the shift was not that drastic from what I remembered. There were still heavier, angrier songs, "Given Up" is Chester's obligatory tantrum episode. "Bleed It Out" attempted to capitalize on Mike, who only sounded exhausted after his solo side project. But then it gets even worse with "Hands Held High", his second worst moment in the band's discography. The worst?


Uh... NO. You're stuck in between passable and boring, Mike. Lousy apology too.

Anywho.

Yeah, they changed.

Over many years of watching Linkin Park going downhill, Minutes has grown on me. I have listened to the whole thing from start to finish a few times. But that does not mean it's good. As immature as it is, I'd rather take Hybrid Theory over this. Sadly, the songs still have boring melodies or feel outright repetitive.

I do like a few songs, though I still do not understand why Twilight had "Leave Out All the Rest" on its soundtrack. Why desecrate a decent - though emo-ish - song by associating it with that - ?

Oh, right. "What I've Done" also got the box office treatment too with the first Transformers flick.


WHAT?! AGAIN?! I don't care anymore. That barely counts since it's not on the album... still...

Anyway. Linkin Park tried to "mature" a bit by taking on political topics, mainly the wars in the Middle East and Hurricane Katrina. There's a problem with this right from the get-go. The band that was the life of many teenagers - male and female - who claimed they were true metal heads and goths... was trying to be serious. At least the lyrics are okay in "Hands Held High" and "The Little Things Give You Away", as repetitive the music is.

At the same time, they still held onto their obnoxious screaming anthems that just don't fit. Minutes to Midnight is a mess if only because it flip-flops between what they have been to what they want to be. Young Fangirl noticed this, but did not know how to describe it. Back then I just bashed it like everyone else. I'll still attack it now, because this album is sloppy and inconsistent. They can't keep an even flow, mood, tone, or sound and what resulted was just a not very good album.


For the first time, I can't find a single track on the original release that does not include Mike Shinoda that I like. Of all the Linkin Park albums, this is probably Chester Bennington's primetime. I'm a bit of a sucker for "Valentine's Day", morose depressing, but still poetic [of the wrist-slitting variety]. And I still like "Given Up" even with it faults.

Because at least it's not... oh, boy...


A Thousand Suns, 2010

Well, I have good news. For the first time in three years I listened to the album from start to finish. And guess what?


It's still shit.

I tried, and tried, and tried, and TRIED with all my heart and soul to finish the album and not want to hurt someone. You have no idea how much I tried. I waited a few months to try again. I tried to listen to it without getting distracted. I even listened when doing homework. I have yet to try it while level/skill grinding in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, but then I realized Shoji Meguro's atmospheric compositions would commit suicide. No matter what I did, the album was too abysmally, unforgivingly boring to sit through.

My opinion has not, and probably will not change. Like I still hate the two intro beginning. And I still hate the shoe-horned in speeches and recordings that just make the album seem smarter than it really is.


To this day my friends keep pushing and pushing me to not be so closed-minded, but my relationship with A Thousand Suns is like mine with watercolor paint. From the moment I first tried it, I despised its very existence with every fiber of my being. Whenever I try to be more flexible and accepting, I end up screaming, yelling, and threatening to kill myself. Ever since I was a young child I hated watercolors. My opinion has not changed.

My review of it was very badly written, since it was one of my earlier posts. In spite of that, nothing about my opinion has changed. I permanently deleted all traces of that album from my memory drive and I'll never regret it.


Not even the power of Martin Luther King, Jr. can save this album.

I know Link Park has been maturing after their first two albums. They still get a ton of flack for Hybrid Theory and Meteora. BUT at least they were interesting. They were loud, obnoxious and immature, but at least they could catch your ear. There was energy and passion that was hard to ignore, whether you liked it or not. Both the rock and the rapping were extremely tight and catchy, they're an act that helped define that awkward genre.

But here they sound DEAD. Zombified. This is NOT artistic progress. Linkin Park didn't have to drop every strength they had, they just had to better their lyrics with themes more relatable to someone above the age of ten. Mike needed more songs where he could show off his rapping skill, since he was never as tight as he was in "Papercut".


The ONLY song I can say that ATTEMPTED to be interesting was "When They Come for Me." Why? BECAUSE MIKE SHINODA IS RAPPING! Seriously. I got so fucking sick of this album because Mike Shinoda was the only diamond I found in this pile of sludge. He NEEDS to make another Fort Minor album badly. Everything else sounds like a wannabe trying to be Radiohead or Placebo or Nine Inch Nails. What really doesn't help is that no song seems to have a concrete beginning, middle or end. "Robot Boy" defines this point.

Why does this album suck so much?! Not even Marilyn Manson's Eat Me, Drink Me was this boring!

Sure, they talked about themes of the horrible possibility of nuclear warfare, but that does not mean shit when you suck out ALL personality and be as invested as a computer printing college textbooks. Mike rarely raps, Chester isn't even trying to sing his heart out, the band is barely holding their instruments, and I can easily find better anti-war messages in far superior works of art. That's why I disliked Paranoia Agent and Devil Survivor 2 The Animation, why I fucking despised Prometheus. If you can't invest me in the core, essential aspects of your medium, your "hidden depths" will be ignored. I cannot and will not ever take you seriously because you bored me until I had no respect for your presentation.



"Blackout" makes "One Step Closer", "Faint", "Crawling", "By Myself" and "QWERTY" sound like the Beatles! Because at least they didn't have FUCKING DUBSTEP AND ADOLESCENT HISSY FITS!!!!!!!!!! And NO! THE MELLOW ENDING WAS NOT FUCKING WORTH THAT SHITTY BEGINNING!!!!!


...

...I'm gonna let an Atlus game whoop my ass for a few hours, if you'll excuse me...


Living Things, 2012

*cue "Hallelujah" chorus*


This album... gives me hope. It's a hundred billions times better than A Thousand Suns. I haven't been so pumped from a first track since Hybrid Theory. "Lost in the Echo" is energetic and tight, bringing the best of the band without sounding like children.

Linkin Park adopting an electric rock route is a great idea. They can continue their rap-rock style while taking a sound that is easier to digest. Add in lyrics that seem written by an adult for once, this album illustrates artistic progress. "Lies, Greed, and Misery" comes close to the tipping point, however. On the other hand, it's much shorter and less over the top than Hybrid Theory's "A Place for My Head", which basked in screaming "GO AWAY!" for no reason.


For some reason Mike still sings occasionally. To his credit, the times he does, the music isn't trying to emphasize his lack of talent in that department. "Castle of Glass" isn't a sad ballad with lyrics that paint him as an awkward jerk, it's... it's... about not fitting in? Wow. They managed to make a beautifully composed song with poetic lyrics... that could be open to interpretation.

What sorcery and demon summoning is this?!
*sobs* The band of my childhood is growing up!

*"Victimized" plays next*

...

Way to kill the moment, Linkin Park. But you get a cookie for trying, though.

If there's one thing I started to notice after listening to this album, Linkin Park sure is allergic to songs longer than three and a half minutes. Only this time with Living Things, the songs feel longer - in a good way. There's more material to work with and the band better paces themselves. Not too short like Meteora and Hybrid Theory, and not too unforgivably dragging like A Thousand Suns. I think Minutes to Midnight felt similar in this regard, until "The Little Things Give You Away", which was just boring, despite its sincere lyrics.


The closest to bland the album gets is "Until It Breaks". It starts off with several strong verses, a quick few lines from Chester, then ending in something like a lullaby. Honestly, I see this as a revamped "Hands Held High" in execution. The transitions are not at all jarring and Mike sounds like he's having fun for once. The ending does remind me of A Thousand Suns' quiet moments. However, it's just a small portion of a track, not several entire or half of songs.

But I surely caught the Banksy and Brainwash reference. That made me smile and pat myself on the back.

And for the first time ever, this band had a great finishing track in "Powerless". No anthem for emos, no political message, no acoustic track. It's a classic ballad, and Chester sings wonderfully. This is as good, if not better than "Shadow of the Day".


Now I know what I want for Christmas.


Extended Plays, Jay-Z, and Live Shows

Similar to Evanescence and Origin, Linkin Park made an EP that is super rare to find since only 1,000 copies were ever made. At the time, around 1999 they were called Hybrid Theory and the EP was self-titled. Hybrid Theory EP was remastered in 2001... but good luck finding the real deal. But it's not the end of the world since half the six songs have been rereleased in other EPs, or in the case of "High Voltage" available with the band's first album. From what I know of, only "Carousel" never got a second chance. It's not too bad. I wish the debut album had more songs like it.


Anyway, these guys have a pretty solid deal cut out for fans. It shows how dedicated Linkin Park is to their work and how much they want to treat their fans. For quite a good number of years, they pump out extended plays known as LP Undergound. As of 2012, they have 12 volumes containing bonus tracks, demos, and some live performances. I haven't been able to snag one, since I never signed up for the fan club, but Best Buy sold Songs From the Underground, which contained some tracks from the EPs, and the more recent EPs too. 

Other things of note are their live albums and a collaboration with Jay-Z. From what I've seen on Youtube and the little I've heard from 2003's Live in Texas, they're decent. Though they just got another live album out called Road to Revolution, which thankfully does not cover A Thousand Sun's awful music but has some things from the collaboration.



Yeah, in 2004 Linkin Park teamed up with Jay-Z and made the accurately titled Collision Course. I've heard several tracks when I attempted and failed to make a rap station on Pandora. I remember thumbing them up, if only because the album emphasizes my favorite aspects of Linkin Park. ...And that was one of the most ironic statements ever made. Well, at least "Numb" is more tolerable with the mesh-up with "Encore". The others are... hit and miss. "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer" is an epic rap battle that sadly ends with Chester's childish tantrum. Still, I have to call it a good effort from Linkin Park and Jay-Z overall.

There's also the Projekt Revolution tours they used to do during the summer/fall. I only really cared about it for one reason.


2007 and 2008 during their Venus Doom era. Other bands I liked that hung around the same time were My Chemical Romance, Placebo, Julien-K, The Used, and Mindless Self Indulgence. I wish I was there. TT-TT


Conclusion

I'm pretty glad Linkin Park is growing up. The road they took to get to Living Things has been very rocky, but it's good to see their rap-rock roots pop up occasionally. These guys aren't my childhood or anything, but I have to give them credit for fueling my inner demon. Now my temper is so irritable, people often say I'd be an angry drunk. Looking at my posts and what I listen to... I wouldn't be surprised if I'm of the old man variety of angry.

Anyway, not many other nu metal and alternative rock acts stood out like Linkin Park did. I've looked up other bands that tried out rap-rock too, like Thousand Foot Krutch, only for them to immediately drop it once the trend died. So I cannot credit Linkin Park enough for sticking to their guns, even as it became unpopular. And at least Mike Shinoda's an actual rapper. I can't imagine Linkin Park without him, since I know Chester Bennington would not hold a rapping career even if he stepped into a pool of black paint. They each had their own vocal style and they stuck with what worked for them. Mike tried singing a few times, but he's very flat even when he tries his hardest (i.e. see "No Roads Left", which I still have a soft spot for).

Looking back at a younger me, who called Minutes to Midnight selling out, I don't know what to think. It has more strengths than I gave it credit for, but I knew it was an experiment that went wrong somehow. Bringing up politics is not a bad thing, but they actively denied being enthusiastic rather than channel it through words a three year old knows. So I'm glad they realized that [I hope] and brought back some of their old school energy, only in a new form. And now Living Things exists. And I'm proud of this band.


Otherwise, I can't say much else about them. Linkin Park's line-up hasn't changed since 2001, so the guys are pretty close. They seem to have fun with what they do, which is more than I can say about most other acts I enjoy. Their evolution could have been rockier musically if new members kept coming in and old ones dropped out. That would be a disaster. Thank god Linkin Park generally knows what their doing, whether people like their stuff or not.

Final Verdict?

I still love this band. I can't help it. Meteora will still be my favorite album of theirs with Living Things telling Hybrid Theory to move back a slot.


Just in case everyone is sick of an Asian-American rapping and a white guy screaming, how's this to mellow the mood? It took many years, but I've come to like this song. It's good to end on a positive-ish note for once. :)

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