You have to wonder if Linkin Park fans are maturing in the same manner as the band they love. Though I found Minutes To Midnight to be a solid rock record, many disagreed with me, throwing around curse words like “sell-out” and “radio rock” to describe the sound shift. On A Thousand Suns, Linkin Park ventures into both unmarked and familiar territory, utilizing qualities that made their debut record Hybrid Theory sell 10 million + copies and new sounds to expand their artistic endeavors. Some fans will stick around, others will return, and many will abandon ship for the similarities to Reanimation.
Two opening tracks is a bit odd, but LP doesn’t seem to compare. “The Requiem” should draw comparisons to The Receiving End Of Sirens’ “Epilogue” for both its sonic landscape and use of a repeated lyrical theme, in this case the verse from hit single “The Catalyst.” A feminine, robotic voice lets “God save us, everyone, while we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns.” haunt audiences as the opener. Segue “The Radiance” is mostly an electronic build-up with spoken word for the first real song.
The beat from “Burning In The Skies” would be at home on any Gorillaz record, which isn’t a bad thing. Each verse is full and interesting with a solid melody sang by Shinoda. For the first few seconds it seems that the Chester chorus will round out a solid track, but the hook comes off more dance-club remix than Top 40 hit. Bennington’s always-stellar vocals aren’t enough to offset the weak music.
Irony runs deep in “When They Come For Me,” the album’s second true track. Shinoda is flowing over verses just like in the old days while he ridicules those who demand Linkin Park repeat their history. The rapper seems annoyed as he delivers lines like ” ‘Cause even a blueprint is a gift and a curse / ’cause once you got theory ofhow the thing works, everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first.” Then we’re right back to the new, leading into a Middle Easter hum rather than the standard Chester chorus. The tribal drum beat and Shinoda’s talents will keep listeners around for more analytical reasons than actually enjoying the song. Capping things off is proof that Linkin Park has a masterful understanding of ending songs via the gorgeous last 40 seconds. Dueling vocalists may not be original, but few do it as well as Chester and Mike. The last line hung out by Bennington should send chills down everyone’s spines.
Promoting “Waiting For The End” as the second single is fitting, being the second strongest track and all. An interesting guitar lead and single delayed piano note welcome a fuzzed-out riff and…reggaeton. Or maybe it’s just reggae. Whatever it is, Shinoda delivers it well via harmonized rap lines. As soon as fans grasp what the rapper is doing, the beat cuts to welcome in Bennington, whose melody perfectly combines the need for a solid hook and the album’s experimental theme. As opposed to “When They Come For Me,” “Waiting For The End” develops into its full potential. Ambient hums back up big notes from Chester that need little musical support
Why Chester rapping (yeah, you read right) on “Blackout” reminded me of “Shut Up And Let Me Go” from The Ting Tings, I don’t know. It really rips at my soul to say this, but the screamed chorus partially channels Brokencyde. Though it’s a ridiculously weak track, it’s these absurdities that make A Thousand Suns an interesting listen. The songs are far too unconventional to digest on the first listen, yet by the third and fourth examinations the combinations of sound don’t seem so obscure.
I do believe “Wretches and Kings” as a pre-release track was a error in judgement. On its own, the beat feels far too Reanimation and b-side; the LP faithful were in no way ready for something this industrial and different before release day. Rick Rubin’s exceptionally crisp production saves face on another miscalculation from the band.
Thanks to the aforementioned interludes and smooth transitions between tracks, the 38 minutes that precede “The Catalyst” serve as the longest track-intro/build-up ever. Easily the best offering on A Thousand Suns, the track successfully blends the best aspects of Linkin Park with their creativity in the way needed across the whole album. My guess would be this will be the only song from ATS that ever sees any kind of greatest hits or best-of release, speaking to the song’s own strength and the quality of the rest of this record. My only qualm is that the chorus could again go a bit bigger; Hybrid Theory doesn’t let one chorus fall flat, no matter how cliche it is, while this album tries to restrain power, only causing irritation and wimpy hooks for listeners. Once again, a gorgeous outro more than makes up for my issues, where Chester’s repeated “lift me up, let me go” line should resonate in listener’s heads for centuries. This is where the album should have ended, rather than the 80’s power-ballad-wannabe “The Messenger” (who thought ending an electronic-influenced record with acoustic sappy crap was smart?)
Select an evening and block out a solid 90 minutes for your first experience with A Thousand Suns. It may only run 48 minutes, but you’ll need the extra time to compute, digest, and replay tracks without interruption. Many will claim the album a swing and a miss, and for good reason. Calling ATS a complete failure seems unwarranted though, with a few solid $0.99 downloads in “The Catalyst,” “Waiting For The End,” “Burning In The Skies” and the melodically enchanting “Robot Boy.” In the Linkin Park legacy, this record would be best served as the wild experimentation that causes record #5 to redefine music. Either way, the album deserves your ears for your own evaluation.