In the pop world of fusion, somewhere between punk-ballads, supple rock and rapcore, there stands Linkin Park. Since overtaking the podiums in 2000 and going solid on rap collabs with the likes of mighty Jay-Z, Linkin Park has not rested. Four studio albums, a killion concerts down and a some explorations of style later, the band returned with A Thousand Suns in September and are currently taking their rocking babe touring hard. This guys are the true children of performing arts live.
The band had announced that this 15 track studio album would be a further metamorphosis, a gentle but firm movement towards other sounds while keeping the Linkin core intact, guitar grits, striking drums and the notorious play of Shinoda’s rap and Chester’s honey-d vocals.
This album is decidedly electro, to my delight, but no doubt caught many a fan unawares. The layers of electro-fied reverbs, synthpop games, drones and mash ups of statics is super yummy. A Thousand Suns is a concept album, with a consistent thread from hair to boot. A structured album produced by Rick Rubin.
The theme of A Thousand Suns opens a personal and general reflection on the subject of nuclear warfare. A Thousand Suns is taken from a J. Robert Oppenheimer quote, whose voice they use as a sample for “The Radiance” and an inspiration in “The Requiem”. It references a Hindu scripture – “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one” – taken to mean the atom bomb.
Other than Oppenheimer, there are other samples of famous political speeches used as supporting canvases to songs: ‘Bodies upon the gears’ by Mario Savio on the edgy jungle-rhythm of “Wretches and Kings” and Martin Luther King Jr. in “Wisdom, Justice, and Love” for a 1’38’’ extract discussing the use of napalm by the US.
This journey towards annihilation explores familiar tinges of rock, with flavours of late-U2 guitar licks “Burning in the Skies”. The benga tones of “When They Come for Me” was duly noted by fans who heard Shinoda swear for the first time (“mother fucker”). But one (me) is partial to swearing so no grudges borne. It is a militarily paced track set up amidst militia excursion sounds. The jungle-exotism is really well rendered by synth chords dripping like a monsoon rain onto Chester’s voice. Neat technique.
There are some very melodious ballads too: a piano-reverb “Robot Boy”, the acoustic-guitar “The Messenger”. They are both ‘lighters-up’ songs. Iridescent, not a ballad per say, is in the same vein. It is a choir-y, clapping sort of anthem, piano infused.
“Blackout” stands way apart. The fast paced banga drums resurface brought on by drones. Their rhythm wires a minimalist synth of 80s’ happy notes that directly contradicts the mood of the lyrics. All the while a rasping voice shouts it out ‘fucking are you listening’. Very Muse.
Perhaps the clearest electro pop track is “The Catalyst” which draws the sonic guns with plugged organs and a symphony construct. Jumping fast, it suddenly cuts to a strikingly sweet, theatrical, silky Chester who begs faith to, ‘Lift me up let me go’.
A Thousand Suns imagines an Armageddon announced by distorted guitars, punked-up Hip Hop and crisp minimalist synths. Linkin Park to me was always this side of pop-rock and although big Public Enemy fans, theirs are bubblegum lyrics, no offence intended. This album is another voyage opened by a fearless band who refuses to be chained by commercial success and always pushes beyond what they set.
A Thousand Sounds is out now via Warner Bros Records.