A look back on Linkin Park's harshly-recieved 'One More Light', a year on since Chester Bennington left us.
I spoke about 'One More Light' quite heavily last year but with last Friday (July 20th) marking one year since Chester Bennington passed away, I've been revisiting Linkin Park's final creation with their late frontman a lot recently. As such, I've had time and retrospect to think about this album - one that was hastily torn down by many - more than when I first covered it. The end result of that thought process is that I still like it and still think it received an unfair go. As I wrote before, I enjoyed their seventh LP and truly feel that it's a far cry from being the chart-topping band's worst album. (Despite what many disgruntled rock/nu-metal nerds would tell you). 'One More Light' is a fine enough record; a decent pop outing at that, and one that got a fuckin' brutal slaying from fans and critics alike in May 2017. It honestly received far harsher sentencing than it ever deserved. Of course, Chester's death doesn't suddenly make it a classic or anything of the sort - that would be super disingenuous of me to say so. But the vocalist's passing did reveal more about the record's heavier personal tone and emotional weight than these ten songs might've actually said upon initial release; just two months before Chester would sadly take his own life.
To start off my defense of a record that was savagely cut down by angry rock fans, let's talk about the stunning title track of 'One More Light'. This atmospheric eponymous song proved without a doubt that Linkin Park hadn't lost their touch nor their heart as songwriters. For me, "selling out" isn't a change of sound, but rather an upheaval and reshifting of the themes and lyrics a band or artist speaks of in their music. Following closely to the lyrics of 'One More Light' - both the song itself and the wider sentimental album - it's clear that the original soul of the band's lyrics was still present; still emotional; still human; still positive; still as heartfelt as ever. What was being sung about people, remorse, loss and humanity on older tracks like 'Lost In The Echo', 'Leave Out All The Rest' or 'Hands Held High', just to name a few examples, was being brought forward once again. In full and honest view for all too hopefully see. Sadly, I think many skimmed over that with this titular piece and many other moments from the record too. Because it didn't have loud, "rock" guitars or some such shallow requirement.
Last year Mike Shinoda, in the wake of losing his dear friend and longtime bandmate, said that "One More Light was written with the intention of sending love to those who lost someone." With he and the band now being on the receiving end of such an awful situation. I'd hate to call this song an "anthem" for the Linkin Park of now and of Chester's life and legacy, as that perhaps implies something less-serious, but I can't think of any other way to put it. The song's tribute music video, made up of recent and old archive footage of the band and Chester is just so heart-wrenching to watch nowadays. As a fan, it's hard to sit all the way through. Even more so given the Jimmy Kimmel T.V. performance of it, dedicated to the late Chris Cornell, of whom Chester was close with.
The album's first single, the emotive and catchy alt-pop 'Heavy', was what the world first heard of this then new Linkin Park album. 'Heavy' tells of hefty, anxious battles and struggles with one's own vices, inner-demons, and mental illnesses; topics that had been delved into before with the likes of 'Bleed It Out', 'Papercut', and 'Breaking The Habit'. The sharp negative reaction to 'Heavy' was understandable and foreseeable though given the drastic change in direction from their last record - the blandest and weakest Linkin Park album overall, 2014's 'The Hunting Party'. I do think the band anticipated this nasty response, but not quite to the degree that it actually hit. Suddenly because this new single had Kiiara as guest singer, the band were now deemed as trying to get on-board with the "female guest singer" trend (that's how I've seen some people stupidly define it), despite the track being written and produced a year earlier in 2016. Besides, Kiiara is what really helps to define the song with her back-and-forth vocals with Chester. Other than that, it's a well-produced, well-written pop-song with subtle rock undertones and real emotional impact to boot. Screaming and heavy guitars or not, this isn't any less emotional than 'In The End' or 'Crawling', no matter what you might tell yourself.
Whether they heard the full album or not, this was the "smoking gun" that deeply annoyed fans and longtime critics needed that the band had apparently "sold out". (Yep, here we go again). Which is really amusing to me, as how can a band sell out when they're already one of the biggest damn bands in the whole world? Linkin Park didn't need nor want to get on the radio; they'd already been played on the bloody thing years before 'One More Light' was even recorded! How many times have you heard 'Numb', 'Castle Of Glass', 'Burn It Down', 'Shadow Of The Day', or 'What I've Done' on the airwaves (or in ads) over the years? I bet that number goes up the longer and harder you think about it. And that will go doubly so for rock-orientated programs and stations too. My whole point being here is that 'Heavy' was and is a good song. Time won't ever change that.
While the bright, chirpy, and electronic sounds of 'One More Light' were widely different to much of their previous outings, the band's quality song-writing remained. Their talents were just now re-routed into new areas. Yet that's what made Linkin Park so good; their continual evolution on each new record. Linkin Park had been experimenting and changing things up stylistically since 'Minutes To Midnight' (2007) and given some of their past material, I was actually surprised we didn't see 'One More Light' release sooner. However, as I've said before, 'One More Light' is not perfect, and the record does have it's bumps along the smooth paradise road it tries to pave.
Is the determined and self-encouraging arena-hit of 'Battle Symphony' the best Linkin Park song ever? Absolutely not! But it's not a bad track, either, and it was a deeply personal song for Chester. As the song itself goes, "If my armor breaks/I’ll fuse it back together", which just hits so much harder now seeing that the man who penned and sang those very words could tragically not do that for himself. Final song 'Sharp Edges' is a summery, cutesy little stripped-back acoustic closer about making mistakes and learning from them - only you can learn from your own faults, basically. Does it have the sheer grandeur of an album's closing song? Not really, it's a little anti-climactic, and 'The Messenger' (from 2010's 'A Thousand Suns') is a much better closing acoustic piece. But it is in keeping with the album's overall tone and vibe, and it showed that Chester's breezy vocals were still as controlled, as delicate, and as real as ever. As for 'Good Goodbye', that's definitely the weakest track of the bunch. Despite Mike channeling the grittier rapping of his younger self - the only time you hear such a section on 'One More Light' - but it still feels bloated with both Pusha T and Stormzy guest featuring. 'Talking To Myself' is also the sole "rock" song off the record, but it doesn't fare much better either.
However, just as how a couple good tracks do not a great album make, a couple of off songs do not result in an overall bad album. So while not 'amazing' or a '10/10' release, 'One More Light' had its faults but these didn't make it fundamentally flawed as reviews like this, this and this would lead you to believe. As Chad Childers eloquently put it in his write-up of this album's live version last December for Loudwire, "It's a more restrained live set, but one that is no less impactful than what they have delivered in the past." And he's right - it's a different beat, but not a bad one, with some really great new songs to offer. Now, we've already mentioned 'Heavy' and the title track, so let's get into the rest.
The upbeat album opener 'Nobody Can Save Me' is chilling nowadays and has taken on a whole new weight and pain to it following Chester's death. On it, Chester's soothing vocals float over soft synth pads, subtle clean guitar licks, and electronic drums as he sings about dancing with his demons and hanging right over the literal and metaphorical edge. After a solid build-up, that all gives way to Rob Bourdon's pumping beats, some churning and distorted synth wobble effects, as Brad Delson's chords cut through and Chester's vocal performance reminds us why he became the voice of a generation for so many. It's a trendy, poppy song, no doubt, but if you cannot see the heart here, then I don't know what world you're living in, honestly.
Mid-album gem, the darker, sliding synths and open lyricism of the comforting 'Invisible', feels like an old Fort Minor track featuring Chester; whilst also showing off that classic LP vocal duality between the two that so many adore. This is also another song where Brad's guitar playing becomes a truly supportive element of the songwriting and the album's mix. No longer making pit-riffs and static chords, the guitarist's noodling adds a lot more than you think; without it, 'Invisible' (and other songs here) just wouldn't work.
'Hybrid Theory' was a heavy record not just through the screams, breakdowns and chunky riffs, but because of it's lyrical content. On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum from that album is a song like 'Halfway Right'. It paints a picture of broken homes, troubled childhoods, and self-destructive tendencies - experiences and moments that defined Chester's younger years, spurning much of LP's lyrics. Making one of the song's early lines of "Used to get high with the dead end kids/Abandoned houses where the shadows lived" that much more revealing; lyrics that would be harder to fit into older LP album's, I feel. Sure, the "Nana nana, na nana nana" in the bridge is really played-out, but that's a small gripe on what is a haunting song about Chester bearing himself and his insecurities for all to see. Which is perhaps why he lashed out so heavily against critics of the album in interviews, before eventually admitting that he needed to take a step back and "recalibrate".
'Sorry For Now' has got to be one of the best songs of Linkin Park's later efforts. It's one of my personal favourite songs, anyway. The trappy hi-hats merge so well with the infectious, distorted guitar hook, and the pitch-shifted vocals and instrumental layers swell up nicely for what is a grand piece. 'Sorry For Now' is also probably the best example of how superb the production and mix of this record is, with the clarity of sounds touched upon here being so clean and full in their width and depth. Structurally, it even saw Mike Shinoda take the sole clean vocal reigns on what is a beautiful love letter to his family and kids; about how he has to tour the world for his work so that he can give them the best in life, hoping that they will one day understand. Just as the case is for the other five members too. The song even features a switcheroo moment in the vocal roles, as Chester takes on the rapping (quite well might I add) and Mike sings throughout - a change-up that we sadly won't ever hear again from the pair.
Stepping back and looking at their wider discography, there's 'Hybrid Theory', which is the undisputed king of the lot. Aside from a few filler tracks ('Lying From You', 'Easier To Run', 'Somewhere I Belong', 'From The Inside'), 'Meteora' is a pretty solid effort that sits high up there. The sensationally consistent and varied 'Minutes To Might' is a fucking great record; the wonderful start of Linkin Park growing out of their musical shell. 'A Thousand Suns' was a slick and ambitious experimental record that saw the band at their most diverse and dynamic. 'Living Things' was definitely a mediocre effort but did yield us some individually great moments like 'Lost In The Echo', 'Castle Of Glass' and 'Victimized'. As for 'The Hunting Party', that was the worst LP album, an unmemorable rock record somehow talked up because it was a shallow return to their "heavier" roots as opposed to something actually genuine.
And as for 'One More Light'? Well, it was and is a genuine release of where Chester and the rest of the band were at in their personal lives and professional careers. It's different, but definitely not terrible. It's better than so many people will ever give it credit for and I guarantee you it hasn't aged as poorly as some reading may think nor that it's as "bad" as you might supposedly remember. It's not perfect, of course, but if you really give it another chance, I think you might find you were once too harsh on 'One More Light'.