Linkin Park have been one of the most dominant forces in rock music over the past ten years, since helping to define the now derogatory ‘nu metal’ label with their debut album Hybrid Theory at the turn of the decade. Needless to say, then, as a lovechild of the era in which they earned their stripes, I was extremely excited when I heard the band’s plans for their newest record, A Thousand Suns; when someone says they intend to make a “genre-busting” album, you know it’s gonna be worth checking out.
A Thousand Suns is a concept album in every sense of the word: it features ‘experimental’ or ‘alternative’ music; it is built around a narrative with a common theme; and it is best listened to as one body of work, rather than a collection of individual songs. The theme in question is one of political unrest, of nuclear war, of human fears of world events, but it is done tastefully and effectively unlike the practice of the many Rage Against the Machine wannabes currently over-saturating the amateur music scene. There’s even a Martin Luther King quote thrown in for good measure, although refreshingly it is not the famous “I have a dream” speech.
The album essentially features nine full-length ‘proper’ tracks, surrounded by six fillers and extended introductions. Individual songs on the album (or ‘movements’ of the ‘opus’, if you will) nod to one another a couple of times, most notably with the repetition of lyrics from ‘Burning in the Skies’ in ‘The Fallout’, and from ‘The Requiem’ in ‘The Catalyst’. While the album presents a bleak outlook on the state — and the fate — of the human race, it ultimately presents a comforting message at its conclusion: “When life leaves us blind/Love keeps us kind.”
Throughout the album, Chester [Bennington, lead vocalist] and co. articulate their views with delicate, efficient, emotive lyrics against a backing of impressive, delicate, thought-provoking instrumentals, with second vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist Mike Shinoda appearing more clearly to take the reigns on the record. In the end (pun intended), Linkin Park have built on what they started with their previous album, Minutes to Midnight, by changing people’s views on what their music is about. Aside from one or two tracks (‘Blackout’ and ‘Wretches and Kings’ spring to mind), A Thousand Suns is a much more mellow, ‘easy-listening’ release than the band’s previous offerings. And I, for one, feel that it has worked in their favour. As a massive fan of the band since the beginning, I welcome this shift in sound with open arms.
Strengths: The music is subtle but coherently brilliant, and would make a great album in and of itself; the separate vocal performances are arranged perfectly, giving the album two very different dimensions.
Weaknesses: Some fans may feel the album lacks ‘punch’ when considered alongside the band’s previous releases; no songs stand out as particularly noteworthy, and the album may be considered monochromatic or boring.