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Linkin Park, ‘One More Light’, Pop Music, & Fandom

22 May 2017 | 1:25 am | Alex Sievers

We look at Linkin Park, their new album 'One More Light', pop music, bands moving towards a poppier sound, & fandom.

We look at Linkin Park, their new album 'One More Light', pop music, bands moving towards a poppier sound, & the nature fandom.

A prime influence on my writing is The Escapist’s residential angry chip on his shoulder, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw. Towards the end of his 2008 Zero Punctuation review video for Silent Hill: Homecoming, the fast-talking video game critic and author penned one of his all-time greatest quotes: “Fans are clingy, complaining dipshits who will never ever be grateful for any concession you make. The moment you shut out their shrill, tremulous voices the happier you will be for it."

I quote Yahtzee here (as he universally prefers to be called) because I understand his point of the creator's 'damned if they do, damned if they don't' position, as well as the entitlement that comes with rabid fandom. For you see, Linkin Park are one of my all-time favourite bands and have been so for well over a decade now. During each new album cycle of theirs, my ears yearn with lust for the return of their older, heavier nu-metal/hard rock sound. Yet while I know that won't happen, I will happily settle for something different from this Californian sextet; not because of some ill-conceived notion of "it's better than nothing", but in accepting something that furthers their surprisingly varied discography into new territory. For change can be a good thing.

I also think that that second half of Yahtzee's statement also represents where Linkin Park currently is at in their career; writing music solely for themselves, fans and critics alike be damned! After all, the band has stated many times over the years that they wouldn't make another 'Hybrid Theory' (even though that album's following release, 'Meteora', was more or less 'Hybrid Theory' part two with a couple filler tracks).

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But what does one do when your debut album - the first full-length that the world hears from your band - has since its release in 2001 sold over 30 million copies worldwide? Sure, you could simply repeat it time and time again and become a safe, repetitive cash cow and be criticised as such. Or you could experiment and go in other directions and explore new ideas; for better and for worse. Besides, what the fuck else was there to lose for the band? Linkin Park was already an immense commercial success 16 years ago - something they've maintained ever since, might I add - with having created the best-selling debut of the 21st century, and they sure as shit weren't about to break-up following such a massive debut.

Linkin Park is at a point now where they can take a few years to experiment, write, and record a new album with a different sound from their previous release, and then do it all over again on the next cycle; with a different or new sound no less. That's exciting. In many ways, I really respect that artistic approach, for while it doesn't always work (admittedly 'One More Light' isn't perfect), it's a brave one to take. Even if I really would settle for the old Linkin Park coming back.

[caption id="attachment_1090439" align="aligncenter" width="760"]James-Minchin_LP_170111_low Joe Hahn was the only one who didn't get whatever the joke, sadly.[/caption]

If you look at the comment sections on literally any article or Facebook post about Linkin Park lately (even the sponsored album ads from the band and their label), you will see fans complaining about this pop direction; decrying how Linkin Park “owe” their old fans, about how this is a sell-out move, and calling this album a "betrayal" to the core fanbase or some such noise.

First off, Linkin Park doesn't owe me, you, or any other fan out there shit. Secondly, it's kinda hard to "sell out" when you're already one of the biggest fucking rock acts on the planet that also transcended nu-metal's time in the sun. Thirdly, what's most interesting here is when you consider the other bands who have also shifted into poppier, lighter-sounding territories recently - like Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, and Paramore. For those bands, there's been a wide array of responses from their fans, but on average, nowhere near as harsh as LP's fans have been.

Well, that's not totally true; Fall Out Boy fans continue to be severely disappointed in their heroes as the band continues to not redeem themselves with their overdone, over-edited, pop-electro style. Elsewhere, All Time Low's upcoming album, 'Last Young Renegade', eases right back off of the pop-punk accelerator and applies the pop brakes hard. However, this new album isn't that much of a change from their previous work, bar a couple songs. Plus, while some All Time Low fans aren't taking to 'Last Young Renegade' as well as their past works, they aren't being alienated on mass like the LP fanbase is of late.

More recently was Paramore's latest album, 'After Laughter', which saw the trio ditch their rock/pop-punk sound completely for a "quirky" 80's new wave sound with strong influences of pop, funk and reggae. A point of contention by some towards my brother's recent review of 'After Laughter' was that it came off as an overblown whinge-fest. But let me point out that Matty's lengthy and indeed angry review came from a place of love - not hatred. For with Paramore's latest album, he, as a longtime fan, finds it to be a grave misstep from a once great band; a band whose newest work is essentially background music. While there are some fans disgruntled at Paramore's sound-change, there are many that also praise the group's new work, yet Linkin Park fans are tearing down 'One More Light'  in much higher numbers.

Smalltime YouTuber Eric Champlin, in his recent album review video of 'One More Light',  presents a question about why Paramore and Linkin Park have stepped into the pop arena but how one fanbase is supporting such a change while the other is angrily rejecting it. However, he was unsure of the actual answer and instead passed it off onto the comment sections. Personally, I think the answer lies in the origin of each group. Paramore, similar to that of All Time Low, came from the radio-friendly pop-punk world and have gone on to become one of the world's biggest bands. Fall Out Boy, on the other hand, and despite their successful career, have now moved so far away from their underground punk roots and into the realm of The Chainsmokers that most fans don't expect a return to the sound nor quality of 'Infinity On High' or earlier. But out of all of these bands, Linkin Park are arguably the bigger and most successful act, commercially speaking anyways. They've also been around longer than each other band, save for Fall Out Boy, and perhaps most importantly, Linkin Park came from a heavier music scene.

My point here is that rock and metal fans tend to be far more loyal to the band's they like but also to the actual sound and genre that said bands adhere to. I'm not saying that fans of those other three bands in this equation aren't loyal followers - they most certainly are - but Linkin Park's earlier material holds such nostalgia and such a firm place in many's hearts that newer, poppy tunes like 'Heavy', 'Good Goodbye' and 'Battle Symphony' are considered to be war crimes by "true" metal and rock fans. So when a band - in this case, a group that comes from a similar scene as Korn, Limp Bizkit, Coal Chamber, Slipknot, Disturbed, among others - releases an electro-pop album, that's a cardinal sin in many's eyes.

As for myself, I don't begrudge the capitalistic endeavours of such moves; of trying to sell one's music to ever-widening audiences and in whatever accessible format possible. It's what's sustained Linkin Park for many years. But as for the artistic integrity of such actions? That's another matter, however.

Those who don't have an attention span of a few seconds will be aware that the pop-style of 'One More Light' has perhaps been an eventual inevitability for this band, as they've been moving into an even more "mainstream" sound from 'Meteora' onwards. But even so, while they've softened their angsty musical edges over the years, Michael Bay's favourite band still retained the occasional heavy moment whilst also keeping their lyrics honest and personal.

2007’s consistent and chart-storming ‘Minutes To Midnight’ contained the dark, late game cut of 'No More Sorrow' and of course, what has since become one of their live set staples, 'Given Up'. 2010’s slick, varied and electronically focused ‘A Thousand Suns’ features one of my favourite LP songs to date; the churning and pumping 'Wretches And Kings'. 2012’s solid ‘Living Things’ also showed heavier shades with bangin' opener 'Lost In The Echo' and the short but heavy-affair of 'Victimised'. And then there's the entirety of 2014’s decent rock record, 'The Hunting Party', which was a complete 180 musical shift from where 'One More Light' now stands and is the worst LP record, honestly.

So, if you’re looking for Chester Bennington’s powerful screams, Mike Shinoda's gritty rapping, old Joe Hahn moments, the screaming-rapping chemistry of yesteryear, blood-pumping rock riffs, and hard rock/nu-metal senses, ‘One More Light’ will let you down. However, what you will find on this to-the-point 10-track record, along with a truly impeccable mix and killer production, are:

  1. - Warm, wobbly electronic stabs and churning synth bass lines.
  2. - Uplifting major-key melodies and infectious pop choruses.
  3. - Bennington's fantastic singing voice still being utilised very well throughout.
  4. - The first time a female singer has guested on an LP track, with Kiiara featuring on 'Heavy'.
  5. - Shinoda taking the lead vocal role on mid-album 'Invisible'.
  6. - The rapper only having one actual rapping section on this entire record in 'Good Goodbye'.
  7. - Occasional pitch-shifted pop-vocal edits that are the current pop music trend ('Nobody Can Save Me').
  8. - Brad Delson's soft, clean guitar lines pushed to the back of the mix for supporting roles.
  9. - No actual distortion present in the riff department.
  10. - Atmospheric programmed drums mixed in with Rob Bourbon's live drumming.
  11. - A cute little laid-back indie acoustic tune a la Twenty One Pilots with closer 'Sharp Edges'.
  12. - A solid switcheroo moment between Shinoda and Bennington on 'Sorry For Now'.
  13. - And the truly beautiful ambient-vocal cut that is the album's titular track.

All of which musically translates to this album's artwork of a gleaming bronze-laden beach - not unlike the weather that the States is experiencing now as they come into their summer - quite well. Which makes me really think that 'One More Light' is meant to be consumed during summer times, in the hope of it creating seasonal pop-anthems for your sun-bathed L.A.'s and to accompany warm, late night city drives. (Doesn't help that we Aussies are heading into our winter right now, though).

External from the actual record, however, were Bennington’s recent comments (and these) about how nostalgic fans should just simply forget and move on from ‘Hybrid Theory’ and how they should “go stab themselves in the face" completely asinine? Of fucking course they were! And they were comments that will not help the band's case during this album cycle. Were Bennington's comments as egregious as say, Eddie Hermida's regarding the recent Suicide Silence garbage fire album? No, not quite... but they weren't far off. Sadly, slamming his foot into his mouth with such comments (while not as aggressive as they actually sounded), will mean Bennington and his bandmates now have some repairs to make with a large portion of their fans. Something that the singer is trying to do now.

[caption id="attachment_1092797" align="aligncenter" width="760"]linkin-park-press-photo-credit-james-minchin-2017-billboard-1548 #justlinkinparkthings.[/caption]

In her recent review for NME, writer Anita Bhagwandas scored this album 1 star out of 5, equating to a 20/100 score here on KYS. So is this record that god-awful? No. No, this isn't a trainwreck, this isn't some shite-tier record; it's just a simple, digestible pop album from a rock band marking their first full foray into such waters. For me, the true criticism of this record is not its style, but that this average album is the diet-pop versions of older tracks like 'Leave Out All The Rest', 'Waiting For The End', 'Castle Of Glass', 'Iridescent', 'Shadow Of The Day', 'The Messenger' and so on.

Yet the beauty of Linkin Park's music is that come to their next release in two or three years time, we may get a completely different record to this current pop iteration. For the key distinction to make of ‘One More Light’ is that it’s an albeit shallow, but decent, trendy, sonically polished, relaxing pop record; just far from a career high point for Linkin Park.

'One More Light' is out now. Man, I really seem to be in the minority on this album in terms of positive opinion. 

Also, this video "interview" with Mike and Chester for Impericon explains a lot about this new record.