"A Thousand Suns" fizzles out

Sept. 19, 2010, 9:07 p.m. | By Alison Kronstadt | 13 years, 9 months ago

Linkin Park trades an established sound for an incoherent mash – up of different genres

Musical experimentation can be good. Musical experimentation can bring a band greater fame, reach new audiences and sell more records. Simultaneously, extreme musical experimentation can break a band, especially one with a well-established fan base. Linkin Park's fifth album is almost completely different from anything Linkin Park has ever done. The outfit's risky "musical experimentation" alienates both old fans and prospective new ones, with overwrought lyrics, jarring failed attempts at artistry and a disappointing lack of continuity and sense.

A Thousand Suns, Linkin Park's fifth album, hit stores September 14. Photo courtesy of Hollywood News .

Before the album's release, members of the band gave interviews saying that the new album was a step in a completely new direction. The band's diverse instrumentals, screaming vocals and energetic rapping of the past four albums do not mesh well with "A Thousand Suns," which is characterized by repetitive melodies and lyrics as well as jarring transitions between songs. In this album, Linkin Park tries to span far too many genres at once and as a result the whole CD suffers.

Linkin Park's louder material on the album is what will most appeal to their dedicated fans, yet those songs are few and lack the diverse instrumentation—anything from a guitar to a Japanese bamboo flute—that drew many people to the band. Furthermore, the band's lyrics, never truly their strongest point, are borderline ridiculous and poorly constructed. In "Burning in the Skies," lead singer Chester Bennington reverts to his usual screaming, as well on the bitingly angry "Blackout," but the songs' melodramatic and uninteresting lyrics ruin their already limited appeal. "Here's the dead wood to make the fire rise, the blood of innocence burning in the skies," Bennington scream-sings. With no real message, these lyrics are superficially dark and brooding. In "Blackout" Bennington screams "You take and take and take and take, f*** it, are you listening?" With the screeching turntables and equally harsh vocal style, his song can certainly be hard to take.

Unfortunately, the softer songs on the album are not much better. The last song on the album, "The Messenger" is an acoustic track filled with shallow words and cringe-worthy metaphors. Over cheesy chords, Bennington tries and fails to croon trite lyrics such as "when life leaves us blind, love keeps us kind."

Even Rapper Mike Shinoda, who won respect from his quick and witty verses delivered in collaboration with Linkin Park and his side project Fort Minor, falls flat when he experiments with singing. On "Waiting for the End," Shinoda sings several soothing, reggae-influenced verses which clash horribly with the song's less-than-sunny lyrics and the soothing piano is just confusing compared with the band's older material. When he does rap, however, Shinoda is uninspired, a shadow of his old self, and his trademark flare is notably absent. In "When they come for Me," Shinoda leaves novelty behind and chooses to describe why he is the best rapper out there.

Not only were the vocals of "A Thousand Suns" were lacking, but also the instrumentals and more technical elements of the band's sound were neither varied nor interesting. The conspicuous absence of a guitar and the overuse of the turntables for hard-on-the-ears effects like feedback and scratching seriously hurt the album's sound. Tracks such as "The Radiance" and "Wisdom, Justice and Love" are songs featuring a simple, unemotional anti-war quote and some strange screeching sounds provided by Joseph Hahn's turntables. Meanwhile, songs like "Jornata del Mundo" are simply those turntables with muffled yelling. These strange songs make the album even more disjointed—and longer, as "A Thousand Suns" has 18 tracks. Also, they seem to be an effort to convey some deeper meaning that did not translate nearly as well as the band may have intended.

The final song of the albulm "Blackbird" is the one high point of the album for its simple familiarity: the heavy guitar, the buildup to a loud chorus, the rapport between Bennington and Shinoda. The song plays like it could have been on an earlier Linkin Park album, Shinoda rapping with his old ease and intelligence and Bennington finding the delicate balance between singing and screaming. Veterans of Linkin Park will especially find themselves smiling and saying "Ah, this is what was missing." Regrettably, the song is album-only and was released as a prize for beating the band's iPod app game, so the listener still has to sit through the rest of the album to get to it.

Overall, "A Thousand Suns" represents considerable effort, but falls flat. It wanders all over the place, takes a stab at everything from gothic instrumentals to acoustic songs. The band spreads itself too thin to achieve any true musical growth. Linkin Park fans—the ones interested in this album, as the band is undeniably an acquired taste—will probably be better off re-listening to their old favorites, as "A Thousand Suns" offers little in that realm.

Alison Kronstadt. Alison Kronstadt is happiest when she's making you laugh, so tell her her stories are funny or she'll cry. She has a lot of opinions and hopes you like to read them. She wrote her first bio when she was an awkward little junior and … More »

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