Meteora, I thought that album was the last to represent the true talent, potential and passion of Linkin Park. The lyrics were personal, the music in your face and it was when they tried new methods, instruments and sounds without alienating what they built with Hybrid Theory. I thought Minutes to Midnight was the wrong move, and perhaps could’ve been avoided by going the direction of What I’ve Done instead of at least a third of the songs angering the fans, who accused them of selling out to a softer sound.
They never rebounded after that. A Thousand Suns deviated even more from their established sound, even when you take into account Minutes to Midnight. This was a concept album, more of an experiment, each song an eclectic mix of genres, from the obscure to the unthinkable for the Hybrid Theory/Meteora diehards. Living Things took some elements of those two albums but was more of a combination of all four previous ones, ending up with a futuristic-sounding record that honestly did sound like the modernized equivalent or at least a natural evolution from the two fan-favorites.
Then the epiphany came. The Hunting Party landed with a thud for many. Sales decreased, the singles weren’t popular, and there was a clear population that had a negative response to this attempt at making a Hybrid Theory prequel (one that played with the music that influenced that album). I tried to forget about it, and stopped listening to Guilty All the Same, Until It’s Gone and Final Masquerade. But somewhere along the path where Linkin Park switched to self-management, their albums were uploaded in complete form on their YouTube channel. The Hunting Party was too unique an album for an aging band to pass off another chance at redemption.
I gave it a try. And something mind-boggling happened: it grew on me. The songs I hated, I started appreciating from the perspective that this was the closest we might ever get to a true Meteora successor, and that this risky move to go back to a raw, stripped sound might have been possible only by their choice to self-manage.
I saw the poetic lyrics from the perspective of their backward recording process where they fill in the lyrics only after the song’s been made. It was only natural for them to be poetic, evolving into relevant topics like war and not teenage angst anymore. They’ve graduated from brooding rockstars to fathers that just happen to be artists that have no choice but to reinvent themselves to stay satisfied.
Going back to other underappreciated albums like Living Things, I noticed this trend that started in Meteora where a song or two provides contrast or a unique sound opposite the rest. Nobody’s Listening had these flutes (I guess) and also a hint of what’s to come with Fort Minor. Numb had a poppier sound that retained the NU metal feel that everyone loved. The Messenger was shocking in the way it was just an acoustic guitar and Chester’s moving voice giving you goosebumps. Roads Untravelled is another standout, a song I’ve never heard any other Linkin Park song be similar to.
Yet, none of these individual qualities can make a full album unique on its own. And that’s where the subject of being underrated artists comes in. It all started with Minutes to Midnight, where the softer songs were actually good, even great if they didn’t have the name Linkin Park attached to them. This Rap-Metal/NU Metal band can actually do alternative and soft music quite good (remember their top 10 hit, What I’ve Done?).
“But those aren’t even unique genres!” I know my high school self would’ve told me that. But few bands have the guts to do a 180 on half the successor to a career-defining album and have the talent to make hits out of it. You’d also think the new sound would be the new template for A Thousand Suns, but here’s when they threw everything away after a predecessor with a perfect, modern sound to riff on, just like The Hunting Party.
If you doubt Linkin Park’s artistry after the “emo” lyrics of yesteryear, I highly suggest you listen to A Thousand Suns. It’s free on YouTube along with their other albums. I remember one critic saying they might’ve invented a new genre with it. A concept album further deviating from the sound everyone wants them to adopt, I appreciate them doing that and following their gut.
You might have noticed by now that since Meteora every album they’ve churned out has had a different sound, even doing a 180 twice. And you know what? It’s not just the product of recording music where they seem underrated as artists, but in recent news Mike and Brad revealed they also did a 180 on their creative process, away from the backward one they’re used to.
I know, I just switched from being a hater of The Hunting Party to a diehard Linkin Park fan again, but sometimes it only takes an open mind and acceptance of the reality that bands are made of people too, and people change. It’s safe to expect every single one of them who follow their artistic desires to change at one point or the other, no matter how much money they want to earn from fans that want one, and only one sound. I hope you give Linkin Park another chance too, especially now that the next album is being worked on. It’s free and complete and contains some special content too, all on YouTube.