Despite repeated denials by the band themselves, some of the hype surrounding Linkin Park’s latest album would have you believe they’ve returned to their nu-metal roots. They could certainly be forgiven for doing so; after all, the group’s debut album sold an astounding 24 million copies worldwide, a figure future releases have paled in comparison with as the group worked an ever-increasing proliferation of ‘alternative’ influences into their sound.
Those in hope of Living Things being the long awaited triplet to Hybrid Theory and Meteora will come away sorely disappointed though – it’s nothing of the sort. What the band have managed to deliver instead is a brawling, aggressive exercise in once again pushing the trademark Linkin Park sound to its limits. But this time, the outré concepts and experimental interludes are gone – replaced by their most straight-laced incarnation yet.
Melodically speaking, Living Things is probably the band’s weakest effort to date – the tracks might be as pumped-up and weighty as ever, but they lack that characteristic shine that made the group’s last four records such involving listens. Through all the other assorted changes in the band’s sonic palette, one thing always seemed to remain – their skill at penning incredible, scalpel-sharp choruses. But here, it’s as if that blade has finally started to dull, becoming blunt and unwieldy.
In its favour though, there’s a punch to the record that could only ever have manifested itself in this simpler guise – a fair chunk of the tracks feel more closely aligned with Chester Bennington’s clean-cut side-project Dead By Sunrise. In that respect, the album feels loose and at ease, far removed from the pinpoint precision of the overarching nuclear holocaust themes painted on Minutes To Midnight and A Thousand Suns. Whether that’s to the record’s benefit or detriment depends on what the individual listener takes from Linkin Park as a group, but for what it’s worth, there’s a re-discovered enthusiasm bristling from the album that does a respectable job at plugging the gaps left by the lack of experimentation.
I’ll Be Gone sounds like a safe bet as a future single choice, a muscular straight-up bullet of a track; anthemic, sand-blasted choruses helping to elevate a rather predictable tread-through of riffs. It’s Linkin Park by the numbers, but as perfectly custom-tooled fodder for live shows, it’s spot on. Meanwhile, Victimized is practically Trent Reznor-esque in its brutal hotchpotch of industrial rage, an explosion of riot-ready licks that serves as a satisfying counterweight to the more agile poise of Burn It Down. And it is on Burn It Down that the album offers its best approximation for success – where Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda’s vocals achieve the smoothest of interplays, all underscored by an indelible, grinding synth rhythm.
It’s a template that sadly never re-emerges, and swathes of the album’s middle passages prove to be dangerously forgettable. Until It Breaks manages to salvage affairs somewhat – coming on like a steely retread of A Thousand Suns highlight When They Come For Me. As the track fades away into the lapping melancholy waves of instrumental piece Tinfoil, there’s the sense of changing tides and the filmic scope of following number, Powerless, ends up offering one of the album’s strongest moments – as if in affirmation, it’s already been snapped up to soundtrack the closing credits of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Likewise, the low-slung swagger of Lies Greed Misery and Castle of Glass have been tied, respectively, to the latest instalments in the Call Of Duty and Medal Of Honour franchises.
A casual observer might turn up their nose at the flagrant shipping out of the songs as hyper-commercialised media product, but the truth of it is that the band have always produced these kind of trailer-ready tracks so well it’s hard to fault them for it. Every beat, every riff, every snarled vocal – all of it revolves in a kind of ceaseless dynamism, a medley of cues to accompany an age of high definition visuals and enveloping surround-sound. Living Things is unsubtle, but it’s also quintessentially Linkin Park; albeit re-booted, regenerated, evolved. And while it lacks the finesse of the band’s previous work, somewhere in amongst all the bluster, soul-searching, adrenaline and anger, the record carves out a space where everything seems to fit together.