Linkin Park was a band born of teenage angst. Although a few years beyond high school, the band was able to resonate in the same way that Nirvana had nearly a decade earlier, or that scores of bands had prior to that. It’s a story, really, as old as rock and roll as a genre.
But Linkin Park, with 2000’s “Hybrid Theory,” a massive commercial success surpassed only by Adele’s “21” in terms of worldwide album sales by a 21st century album (excluding the Beatles compilation, “1”), brought their own unique spin to introverted teenage soundtracks.
They had turntables, two vocalists (Chester Bennington, a relatively conventional, high-pitched alternative metal singer, and Mike Shinoda, whose delivery was more baritone and rap-centric), and a heaviness to their metal rarely, if ever, heard on such popular music.
While the nu metal bubble burst and backlash toward rap-rock set in, Linkin Park had established enough credibility to follow a similar formula for 2003’s “Meteora.” But starting with “Minutes to Midnight,” and especially with “A Thousand Suns” and “Living Things,” the band got a bit more experimental.
2014’s “The Hunting Party” was a return to Linkin Park’s signature nu metal sound. Most responded positively to the album. But while it was technically respectable, it was never going to break new ground.
But with “One More Light”, Linkin Park’s seventh studio album, and their first of Bennington and Shinoda’s 40s, the band has done a complete 180. While the band had dabbled in pop before, it was typically just pop by their standards. But this time, the band has gone for a more, as crazy as it seems to say about Linkin Park, mellow sound.
To be clear, “mellow” for Linkin Park isn’t James Taylor. It’s just not angry teen music.
Which is fine, and which for original fans of theirs is probably a good thing, as the band grows up with its listeners.
The opening track to “One More Light,” “Nobody Can Save Me,” is a truly shocking departure from early Linkin Park. It’s admittedly less drastic when compared to their more experimental albums, but the pop sensibilities are still nearly unprecedented for the band. Chester Bennington, long the standout talent in the band, is restrained vocally. At his peak, he approaches the edge of breaking, but he never even pushes the boundaries here. Perhaps he no longer has that range, though I suspect he’s merely singing the material the he and the band wrote.
“Good Goodbye” is the kind of song that populated the band’s mid-2000s work, but instead of alternating vocals between Bennington and Shinoda, it is Bennington with guest rappers Pusha T and Stormzy.
“Talking to Myself” is alternative rock in a mall rock sort of way, which is to say that three tracks into the album, people expecting a return to vintage Linkin Park are going to be shocked. But the album is just getting started at this point.
“Battle Symphony,” the album’s fourth track, is a good encapsulation of the album’s problem as a whole. It’s Linkin Park writing a distinctly electropop song for a singer who is capable of performing it, but who is never going to be excellent at it. “Invisible” follows a similar path, just this time with Mike Shinoda (singing, not rapping).
“Heavy,” the album’s first single, which features pop singer, Kiiara, who was five-years-old when “Hybrid Theory” was released. The song does not suit its guest well. Her breakthrough single, “Gold,” was a dark and quirky bit of Lorde-meets-trap pop weirdness, while “Heavy” limits her to the role of straight-laced crooner.
“Sorry for Now” is the track on the album which best exhibits the potential mostly not fulfilled on “One More Light.” It is filled with layers from Linkin Park’s past tied together into a pop aesthetic.
“Halfway Right” lyrically digs into Bennington’s troubled past, and while there’s something to be said for his newly found introspection as opposed to screaming, it makes for an unfocused song. The album then closes with a dull title track and “Sharp Edges,” an ill-fated attempt at poppy folk.
Linkin Park deserves credit for trying. They really do. The band is wildly ill-suited at this point for a duplication of “Hybrid Theory” or “Meteora,” so trying something new was the right idea. Unfortunately, the execution here misses the mark, and the album doesn’t only lack the sound of peak Linkin Park -- it lacks the spirit of it.