ALBUM REVIEW: Linkin Park – ‘One More Light’
Linkin Park were the first band I really loved as a teenager. I probably wouldn’t be writing about music on this website if it wasn’t for them. They started as a heavy rock band when “nu metal” peaked, with hits like ‘In the End’, ‘Numb’ and ‘One Step Closer’ on their first two albums. From their third album onwards, each record has sounded different, but they’ve continued to rack up hits such as ‘What I’ve Done’ and ‘New Divide’. Despite the different sounds of their music over the years, they were still a rock band – until now.
Their seventh record One More Light is at times generic pop music and at other times interesting pop music, creating a record that’s almost confused. In some ways it’s one of the most pure albums the band has ever produced, but in other ways it’s the most manufactured.
On the manufactured front, the band worked with songwriters who have written pop hits with the most mainstream artists imaginable. It’s not surprising that the first single ‘Heavy’, which polarised fans and critics with an almost textbook example of how to write a radio pop hit.
One More Light opener ‘Nobody Can Save Me’ is a decent enough pop song. It’s the first time we hear “chipmunk vocals”, which are scattered all over the album. I don’t know if this is the cool thing right now, but it was definitely trendy in Aussie hip-hop over a decade ago when Hilltop Hoods had such vocals in “Nosebleed Section” …although I doubt Linkin Park follow Australian hip-hop.
Speaking of hip-hop, ‘Good Goodbye’ is the only song to feature Mike Shinoda rapping. It’s also one of the most aggressive, and one of the few times the band shows their edge. ‘Talking to Myself’ is the closest to rock on the album, and so will likely be embraced by fans.
‘Battle Symphony’ is another pop cut featuring Chester on lead vocals, which leads to another pop number titled ‘Invisible’ which sees Mike Shinoda singing lead vocals the entire song. Both are well-made pop songs but both lack the strengths of the band’s past catalogues.
I do like “Sorry for Now” which flips the typical Linkin Park song formula of Chester Bennington singing lead vocals with Mike Shinoda rapping in the bridge, like on ‘Burn It Down’ from the Living Things record. Instead, Mike Shinoda sings lead vocals and Chester sings a rap verse in the bridge. There’s an electronic backdrop throughout the song that acts as a hook, something the band has done in the past with songs like ‘Faint’.
‘Halfway Right’ is one of the most boring songs the band has ever written. It has “na na na na” refrains, as well as “whoa ohs” and who isn’t sick of those?
The title track, ‘One More Light’ is the best song on the album. It’s the centrepiece and may become a fan favourite. It’s quite similar to other ballads the band has released like the b-side ‘My December’, ‘Iridescent’ from A Thousand Suns and the stripped down piano versions of songs that the band performs live. Notably, the band played it on Jimmy Kimmel Live as a tribute to the late Chris Cornell, showing how effective the band’s personal lyrics can be. Contrasting with the sad title track is the beautiful album cover, which seems to be a message of purity and innocence.
‘Sharp Edges’ is an optimistic way to finish the record. It does fail, like the rest of the record, to avoid certain cliches like the plague. Does anyone want to hear the lyric “what don’t kill you makes you stronger” again? Young people love the “coming of age” and “loss of innocence” stories in songs, but Chester is in his 40s now.
The band’s previous album, 2014’s The Hunting Party, went back to the band’s roots, while also making a statement. The Hunting Party was aggressive as a reaction to weak pop music on the radio…so why is One More Light exactly that? There’s some genuinely good songs on One More Light, but it doesn’t feel like Linkin Park. The band is famous for combining rock, metal, hip-hip, pop and electronic music in their songs, but also for Chester’s aggressive vocals that contrast his soul singing, Mike’s rapping and DJ Joe Hahn’s samples and scratching. None of these strengths make a big presence on this album, it’s almost as if the band threw out everything that fans liked about them.
Words by Stefan Bradley.
Linkin Park’s One More Light is out now.