The members of Linkin Park are as pissed off as ever. That’s the impression one gets a few seconds into the opener, Lost in the Echo, of their fifth studio album. Mike Shinoda takes control almost at once: ‘I don’t hold back, I hold my own, I can’t be mad, I can’t be calm, I can’t sing flat, it ain’t my tone, I can’t fall back, I came too far.’ He then steps back to let Chester Bennington do what he does best, which is stretch those astonishing vocal cords while singing about broken promises.
On the one hand, it’s a method the band has tried and tested before. They even have the same producers (Shinoda with the God-like Rick Rubin) they’ve had for five years now. What’s surprising is how they still manage, ever so often, to push that proverbial envelope a little. When that happens, it’s easy to forget the 12 years since their debut, Hybrid Theory, which made the once cheesy sub-genre known as Nu Metal a little more palatable for the rest of us.
The pushing of the envelope, this time round, happens pretty late into the album, on the minute-long instrumental break titled Tinfoil, followed by the closer Powerless (‘You hid your skeletons when I had shown you mine, you woke the devil that I thought you’d left behind…’) As a classic example of Nu Metal, the rhythms used as a backdrop to those lines are almost offbeat, colliding in some strange way to sound tuneful. There’s a fair amount of experimentation on tracks like Until It Breaks and Lies Greed Misery too, although that is largely lyrical. For fans of the old stuff, this album won’t disappoint. For those unhappy about A Thousand Suns, it will probably be welcomed as a return to form.
If you are over 20 — and, more importantly, male — this is probably not an album that will grow on you. Consider, for example, a track called Fall that opens thus: ‘Well let me tell you a story, about a girl and a boy. He fell in love with his best friend, when she’s around, he feels nothing but joy…’ Also consider the album’s big single, Boyfriend, with its annoyingly catchy refrain ‘If I was your boyfriend, never let you go, keep you on my arm girl, you’d never be alone.’ You get the picture. The one thing he does have in spades is charisma, which makes sense considering his incredible rise from YouTube curiosity to global mega-stardom. It comes through on tracks like Catching Feelings (produced, interestingly, by former R&B star Babyface).
This isn’t a great collection of pop songs as a whole. What it does provide is ample proof that Bieber has what it takes to make it as an adult. If he decides to chart his own course a few years from now, putting aside what his managers ask him to do, he may surprise us with something enduring. You know, the way our greatest pop stars once did.