Monday, November 10, 2014
Linkin Park -- Minutes to Midnight
I have never heard a band miscalculate what their core strengths are worse than Linkin Park, on their third album, Minutes to Midnight. Though I've admitted I underestimated how good the first two Linkin Park albums were when they were released, I still agree with my mid-00's assessment that, after those two, Linkin Park needed to stretch beyond an album full of three-minute singles. Here are things I didn't think about back then, but apparently the band did:
1. We really need to start making ballads about romantic relationships. Why don't we do that? There really aren't enough of those.
2. We have a guy who could sing for any rock band in existence. Let's bench that guy and let our rapper sing instead.
3. Hey, you know how we hit that lyrical sweet-spot where anyone can identify and attach meaning to our lyrics? That's stupid, let's be political.
4. While we're at it, why do we not curse? Even though everyone is used to us not doing that, and we sound silly doing it, let's do that!
5. You know how our music used to be really fun! Fun is stupid now!
Let's break these four things down.
1. After a power instrumental opener, "Wake," and "Given Up," possibly the heaviest song Linkin Park will ever record, the listener is greeted by the wimpiest song Linkin Park had yet recorded in their career, up to that point on Minutes to Midnight, "Leave Out All the Rest." Unfortunately, "Leave Out All the Rest" is not even the wimpiest song on the album, but it does nothing at all to stand out from any other song ever created. Track five, "Shadow of the Day," isn't much more muscular, but at least benefits from some decent atmosphere from DJ Joseph Hahn, and guitarist, Brad Delson doing his best U2 impression. "Hands Held High" attempts to be edgy in its lyrics, but it's soft as cotton, musically. Track nine, "Valentine's Day," is the wimpiest song Linkin Park ever recorded, and though I've purchased and enjoyed every Linkin Park album since Minutes to Midnight, if they ever release something even wimpier than "Valentine's Day," I'm out. The opening lyrics are "My insides all turned to ash, so slow, and blew away as I collapsed, so cold." That is just terrible. I get that Chester Bennington went through a painful divorce right before this album was recorded, and I wouldn't even say this if not for the fact that he is now happily married with three children, but, dude, you have to do better than that. Finally, track ten, "In Between," is more musical wussitry.
2. Mike Shinoda is a good rapper. He is an excellent background vocalist. He is a good songwriter. He should not be carrying any songs vocally when he is in the same band as Chester Bennington. "Hands Held High" would work well as an oddity in Linkin Park's catalog. "Remember that one song that was nothing more than a Shinoda solo track? That was weird!" But it isn't an oddity because a few tracks later, it happens again. "In Between" features full-on Shinoda singing softly by himself. I bought a Linkin Park album in part because their vocalist is awesome, and I like the rapper dude's interjections. I don't want to hear the rapper dude try to sing as if that is just something that Linkin Park does. It isn't. They already have a singer, and his name is Chester Bennington. Meanwhile, Shinoda, the band's RAPPER, only raps on two of Minutes to Midnight's tracks.
3. Linkin Park's first two albums do a great job of talking about taking charge and responsibility of personal problems, while pushing away those who are making those problems worse. Minutes to Midnight is mostly about how stupid Linkin Park think President Bush is. Fair enough, it's an opinion, and System of a Down did a great job exploring that topic on their Mesmerize/Hypnotize albums. Linkin Park sound out of place doing it, and the vague, overly populist way they do it betrays a lack of authority to even talk about the subject. The most egregious offender is album closer, "The Little Things Give You Away." Musically, the song does an excellent job of proving that Linkin Park can write an interesting song that is longer than six minutes, while allowing each musician a moment to shine. Lyrically, the song blames Hurricane Katrina on President Bush, based on a visit the band apparently took to New Orleans. As someone who lives close to New Orleans, and who experienced Hurricane Katrina first hand, I can tell you for a fact that George W Bush did not swim out into the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas, swim swiftly in a circle, and exhale super-heated breath into the ocean, thus creating the costliest natural disaster in recorded history. I can also tell you that the responsibility for government response to the storm falls just as squarely on the state of Louisiana, and specifically the mayoral administration of the now incarcerated Ray Nagin, and the governmental administration of Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. You can blame Bush for a lot of crummy things that happened over his eight years in office, but the chorus to "The Little Things Give You Away," "All you've ever wanted was someone to truly look up to you, and six feet under water, I do," is just stupid in light of the complexity of the situation. If you want to get political, sing about something you actually understand.
4. I went to high school with this clean-cut kid, who had a pretty bad speech impediment. He was a nice guy, and most people got along with him just fine, but one day he decided that wasn't good enough. He decided that for everyone to think he was cool, he had to start cursing like a sailor. One day, the class was doing a geography quiz, and it was the speech-impediment kid's turn to read the question. "I telwu whut," he said. "Uf wu guys don know da ansa to dis question, wu some stupad mudafuggas!" This did not make anyone think that he was cooler. Likewise, when Chester Bennington belts out, "Put me out of my fucking misery!!!" on track two (and the first song to actually feature singing), "Given Up," he does not seem any cooler. Two tracks later, when Mike Shinoda raps the line, "Going out of my fucking mind," he is so self-conscious of the absurdity of the fact that he is suddenly using profanity after never having done so before on record, that he follows it with the line "Dirty mouth, no excuse." Honestly, this is distracting. Prior to this, Linkin Park was a little-brother safe band, and received no disrespect for it. The sudden potty-mouth just seems like a desperate attempt to seem edgy. It is, instead, out of place. Let me remind you that I am talking about a band I like.
5. After two albums that were naturally quite fun, Minutes to Midnight is a joyless endeavor. In an attempt to deviate from their previous sound, Linkin Park simply sound like any other band. It seems like Linkin Park realized how little of a good time Minutes to Midnight was, and decided to try to inject a little fun into it with track four, "Bleed It Out." "Bleed It Out," sounds like it was written and recorded while someone held guns to the band's heads and told them to "have fun or die." "Bleed It Out" is instead not fun, and sounds forced, no matter how many background, "studio-captured" "WHOOP!"s the band try to overlay into the mix. "What I've Done," which begins the band's boring, "Token Mid-tempo Transformers Soundtrack Single" series is somehow even less enjoyable. This total lack of fun is Minutes to Midnight's most egregious sin.
I'll stop beating a dead horse. Minutes to Midnight is the great disappointment in Linkin Park's catalog, and by far their worst album to date. I'm not even going to post a sample song from it because I hate it so much. THE END!!!
1. Wake 1:40
2. Given Up 3:09
3. Leave Out All the Rest 3:29
4. Bleed It Out 2:44
5. Shadow of the Day 4:49
6. What I've Done 3:25
7. Hands Held High 3:53
8. No More Sorrow 3:41
9. Valentine's Day 3:16
10. In Between 3:16
11. In Pieces 3:38
12. The Little Things Give You Away 6:23