Linkin Park – Minutes To Midnight
Record Label: Warner Bros. Records
Release Date: 15 May 2007
It’s been nearly four years since the last Linkin Park release (2003’s Meteora), and 2007 finds the band in a state of flux. Already one of the biggest-selling and most-popular bands on the planet, Linkin Park is at the top of the music world, commercially speaking. Critical success, however, has largely eluded the band over the course of their short-yet-spectacular career. It comes as no surprise that their new album, Minutes To Midnight, is their first salvo towards that which has eluded them. However, their status as a multi-platinum selling band also necessitates that they keep pumping out those radio hits that the kids seem to love. But can the band mature into respectable songwriters and remain a TRL staple? How will the band handle these dual expectations?
Pretty well, it turns out. With Shinoda teaming up with producing legend Rick Rubin, Minutes To Midnight features both some of the most mature songs the band has yet written as well as some of the catchiest, most anthemic tunes in their oeuvre. While LP has largely abandoned the rap/nu-metal formula that made their two previous albums monster successes, it has been replaced by a leaner, more stripped-down approach. This allows the band’s instrumentalists (guitarist Brad Delson, bassist Phoenix, and drummer Rob Bourdon) to show that they are more than mere platforms for leadmen Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda’s vocals. Gone are the crunching power chords and almost non-existent bass of the band’s past releases, replaced by guitar solos and blistering drums and bass. The result is a more collaborative effort than the previous LP albums, with each band member making their contribution felt equally… except, curiously, for DJ Joe Hahn.
Minutes To Midnight is the first decidedly rock-oriented LP release, as evidenced by the album’s first song, “Given In.” After the atmospheric instrumental opener, “Wake,” the album kicks into full swing with the aforementioned track (after a handclap intro that, well, doesn’t quite work). With aggro punk-influenced guitar and some fierce drumming, “Given In” contains none of the layered, nuanced hip-hop elements that much of the band’s previous work contained. It does, however, contain the first (but not last) f-bomb of the band’s career as Chester growls his way through the track.
Even with the new sound, however, “Given In” – both lyrically and structurally – could have been on either of LP’s first two albums. The f-bomb feels contrived and out of place, as if the band wanted to let people know that they are here to “rock” right off the bat. “Given In” is followed by the unbelievably generic “Leave Out All The Rest.” This three-and-a-half minute snoozefest is just begging for a video with Chester looking angsty over a CGI backdrop, perhaps in the rain.
The album picks up considerably after a pretty stagnant beginning, thankfully. The album leaps into the uptempo “Bleed It Out,” which just begs the listener to tap their feet and nod their head. The instantly-catchy Shinoda rap (in which the f-bombs actually fit) gives way to a traditional Chester chorus. The track is complete with handclap percussion (that actually works here) and background crowd noise that makes it sound as if the band is actually… having fun? The impression of Shinoda’s hip-hop side project Fort Minor is indelible here.
The record shifts smoothly (albeit incongruously) to the low key Chester ballad “Shadow of the Day.” The percussion is restrained and the vocals smooth, “Shadow of the Day” is nevertheless one of the high points of the album, and one of the most accomplished songs the band has written. It also features some excellent guitar work by Delson, including the first guitar solo LP has recorded.
From there, we go to the album’s first single, “What I’ve Done.” The track does what it’s supposed to and should rocket up the charts, but is ultimately rather basic, sounding like it could’ve been a Meteora castoff. The next track, “Hands Held High,” more than makes up for its predecessor, however. Hymn-like and slow, it is Shinoda’s anti-war song, and the band’s first attempt at tackling subject matter with some weight. While it walks dangerously close to being contrived, Shinoda delivers the verses with enough conviction that the track is a definite success.
“No More Sorrow” is the final track of the heart of the album, and features one of the best riffs on the record. Its air raid siren influence is appropriate as the lyrics (screamed more than sung by Chester) touch again on the war. Bourdon’s drumming is pronounced on this track, and some of his best. The chorus is ultimately generic, however, preventing the song from being one of the album’s true highlights.
“Valentine’s Day” is the album’s one true misstep, and a severe one at that. The opening lyrics: “My insides all turned to ash / So slow / And blew away as I collapsed / So cold.” Emo much? A weepy, schlocky pseudo-ballad, it’s sure to be a hit with the black-clad androgynous crowd, regardless.
The album ends solidly, however, beginning with the Shinoda-sung (yes, sung) “In Between.” It plays like a counterpart to Chester’s “Shadow of the Day” – mature, polished, and affecting. And while Shinoda’s voice lacks the range of Chester’s, it is nevertheless as smooth as his usual rapping. “In Pieces” is an odd track – it begins with Chester’s vocals accompanied by percussion, adds an almost-reggae-like riff, then crescendos to a full-fledged balls-out rocker complete with a scintillating guitar solo by Delson. The final song, the six-and-a-half minute “The Little Things You Give Away” is LP’s longest track to date, and the first to feature acoustic guitar. Despite its length, the song keeps your attention for the duration with an experimental (for LP) structure, great guitar work, layered vocals, and a smooth outro.
Despite some obvious highs, Minutes To Midnight nevertheless suffers from some of the same problems that has plagued the band since its inception. The majority of the lyrics feel hackneyed and stale. One of the main problems here is that the songs are filled with vagaries and clichés. While this no doubt helps the band stay relatable to its younger listeners, it robs the songs of almost any emotional depth – you never get the sense that the songs are about someone specific, or a specific moment in Chester or Shinoda’s life. While songs like “Shadow of the Day” and “Hands Held High” seem to break away from this, the theme of generic emotional trauma still dominates the album. Like Shinoda says on “In Between,” “Trying to be genuine is harder than it seems.”
The band also seems to have trouble breaking away from the familiar verse/chorus/verse structure that has been their norm. While this structure does make for easier radio hits, more mature listeners will quickly grow bored listening to the album. More tracks like “In Pieces” and “The Little Things Give You Away” are needed. These tracks also help make Minutes To Midnight LP’s longest, well, LP, clocking in at a respectable 43:50.
While the production duo of Shinoda and Rubin gave the release a slick vibe – each song is tight and the instruments all sound crisp -- the general hit-and-miss nature of the album suggests a band in search of an identity. Rather than making Hybrid Theory 3.0 (which would have been easy to do), the band abandoned their rap/metal roots to make their “we’re serious musicians” album. While the decision should be lauded, the album is definitely missing something – and that something is Joe Hahn. As Mike Shinoda has seemingly cured his hip-hop itch with Fort Minor, Hahn was lost in the shuffle, and Minutes To Midnight definitely could have used his keen ear for a beat and his not-inconsiderable skills on the turntables. While Rubin has guided the band into the early stages of critical respectability, I imagine it will take a revisit to their hip-hop roots to get them closer to that goal. But, hip-hop or no, Minutes To Midnight seems destined to sell a whole lot of copies.
i stopped listening to this band awhile ago, i just sort of grew old of their style, but when i heard they made a new cd i of course checked it out. if i was still as big a fan as i previously was, id have to say this would be a big disapointment even though i do enjoy 2 or 3 tracks for the time being. never the less, good review.
Good review. I echo your views really. I particularly like your description of Leave Out All the Rest "three-and-a-half minute snoozefest", that did make me laugh (And when listening to it, it turns out it is a true representation)!
After a listen to the album, it is very odd. I really didn't like it (and I'm a self-confessed LP fan). It just sounded like 2 steps back. They made themselves original and unique with Hybrid Theory, and with this album I thought they'd build on from Meteora but they've just became ordinary (partly to blame would be Rick Rubin I think). Also Mr Hahn is very underused (as you pointed out), which is a real shame.
However, one high point is Mike Shinoda on this album. Very good. 'Hands Held High' is very listenable. And (in my opinion) one of the only successes on the album. 'In Peices' was the only other point when listening to the album that I "enjoyed". Almost reggae sounding "kick-in", which is really quite brilliant.
This has turned into a mini-review All in all though, very disaponiting for me....especially after 4 years wait.