The all-important question concerning Linkin Park is not so much where do we start, but rather, where do we finish? No one can doubt that the Californian sextet - debatably the most infamous nu-metal act to come out of nineties suburban-scene America - are quick to catch anyone's stream of dialogue and exchange of opinions, regardless of whether the subject is centered around the music, or not. But whether they're continually used as the butt of people's jokes on teen life and being 'misunderstood' and all that malarky, or are criticized in equal measure for trying to branch out into more [politically] open territory with their music, it's the argument concerning the same-old argument 'yes, but are they good' is without end - the band somehow finding themselves in a bottomless pit without neither end nor means for escape. And even if we were to focus on the music in itself, would only draw deeper on the contrasting culture that their sound has created. On one side you have the passionate fans who openly claim - and sometimes, unaware they do so, subjugate - the music as if it were a milestone in creative thinking. And then there are others who effortlessly make a mockery of both the band and the music as if the two are interchangeable, content irrelevant in comparison to the context.
The fact remains Linkin Park have made their mark on music history, for better or for worse. 'Hybrid Theory' as I'm sure you're pretty knowledgeable on - I've heard it, you've heard it, everyone with an MP3 player or computer I'm certain, has heard it - was, to keep in subjectively neutral ground, a 'unique and memorable' experience in music listenability. Everything that has spawned from it: the joy and the hate; the respect and the criticism; the indulgence and the parodies, it's something that very albums and very few bands - less a solitary unit of output, and more a staple of young culture and the attitudes people grasp to - create to the point where it creates an almighty shift on what the subject matter presented really is. And while the band have progressed from simple-and-tired song structures to rougher electronic surges and later more politically-testing and experimental song (and album, more recently) structures, at the same time, an equal portion of the love:hate ratio keeps lingering in the swirl of social and cyber discussion. 'Living Things' can be interpreted as either a welcome, and nostalgic-inducing, return to form or be slandered as another bland uninteresting, unchallenging pile of ideas without heart.
If you've followed the band from their debut which now, amazingly, spans twelve years into the past, you'll know that both Chester Bennington & Mike Shinoda (vocallists in equal measure) have kept to their signature deliveries of vocals and subject matter albeit a shift in tone here and there. 'Lost In The Echo' begins the album by showcasing this normality of interconnecting exchange, the song here primarily electronically-generated, harmonics clogging up the background when Bennington steps up to deliver the seemingly predictable placement of uplifting chorus hooks, and surprisingly, it has its appeal in conjunction with the pace of the song. Shinoda's lyrics are equally repealable and forgettable in their content: 'Let me tell you how the odds are gunna stack up/Y'all go high, I go smart/How's that working out for y'all in the back, huh?' At face value, it's a fairly safe and workable format the band are used to playing, but considering their past three albums have all involved brief and scarce intro tracks, it's quite surprising to see the band open on something that feels a lot more extruded than previous attempts. 'In My Remains' sees the band take on more familiar rock instrumentation with Bennington providing main vocals here. But again, it's only at the choruses - which here feel more like break-away opportunities than essential components to the song - where interest in the song's overall sound and energy is taken note of. Away from it, the band sound too hesitant (too trusting as well) on moving away from synthesizers and beats to keep their songs moving.
Which here, is a shame, because 'Burn It Down' actually has quite a moderately accomplished beat to it and proves that the band know how to incorporate computers and electronics into a mostly rock-centred structure. But what's more note-worthy is Bennington's almost modest and believable sincerity in his voice, even if his vocals remain caught in a similar rehashing of war, destruction and the aftermath because of it - here talking about how 'explosions broke in the sky' and how 'flames climbed into the clouds'. And that's before Shinoda brakes what emotive construct the track tries to keep, with his tired rapping of being 'struck down when I kissed that ring'. 'Lies, Greed, Misery' then is Shinoda's attempt to consummate the track into purely beat and rhythm-driven, sacrificing once more both any hope of development in the music's sound and moreso how Bennington can support him without resorting to unneeded graveled screams. Quite the opposite entails when 'Castle Of Glass' passes by and demonstrates a more down-played lower-key less-exclaimed series of synth hooks besides Shinoda's - this time - more melodic and swiftly passing exchange of vocals. And the marching pace that slowly builds as the track progresses actually pulls off a well-deserved lead into more soaring sounds, guitars taking lead as the rhythm moves from a somber march to a manic thumping of bold, loud guitars and drums (synthetic and organic alike). And it's this same bold expression of guitars and drums that could have been so deservedly expanded had 'Victimized' not been reduced and limited to what feels like a brief interlude-like spell of exerted vocals courtesy of Mr. Bennington and the rapid drum-hits and buzz of guitars that accompany it.
Once more I feel like I'm waiting for that one track where the band completely drop all the synthesizer usage in favour of something a bit more raw and robust. But here, not only does it feel like the band have voted in favour (in a majority, I assume) of something more processed and rapid, but worse, it feels less like a rock-orientated sound and more electronic primarily. Don't get me wrong, my support and lenience with electronic sounds is clear to see - hell, the few tracks this band have put out that I find myself coming back to, have incorporated electronic elements into both the structure and the progression - but it seems more and more as if the string and percussion-based instruments they used primarily on debut, are limited now to 'bridge' placements, if they're even featured at all. And even when they decide on incorporating a more beat-statued electronic usage in their songs, the results sometimes come across almost lazily and lack-luster. 'Until It Breaks' feels as if even the song itself has no idea whether it's coming or going. What starts off as a sloppy attempt at something more hip-hop orientated in its tempo and rhythm seems to shift its attention to this simple piano-led intermission of more melodic composition, before Shinoda comes in again to spell out lyrics that, against what music is left, comes across less like vocals and more in the range of senseless, pointless drivel.
But if there is one stand-out moment on this album - and further to that, a track that I can admit to actually 'liking' in the context of actually enjoying what I hear - then it's the moment 'Tinfoil' starts - the scratchy erratic beats laying atop a fading screech of a guitar riff. And at the same time, while this somewhat nervy set-up continues to run its course, a simple but quite charming piano piece creeps its way into the mix, drastically ending...only to drop again into a more heavier hollowing of chords, leading us into the album's closer 'Powerless'. While Bennington's lyrics won't exactly strike us as provoking or admirable in their content - 'You hid your skeletons when I had shown you mine/You woke the devil that I thought you'd left behind', the way he opens up against the dropping of chords and the jittery synth still trailing along in the back, it gives the track some sense of an emotive and transcendent edge to it. This is showcased further when the song, much like previous examples on this album, lets loose with a full bellowing of both organic and inorganic sound alike. But it's the bellowing cry that follows onto this that catches the listener off-guard, so much so that it's actually conceivable that the band wrote this with some considerable measure of passion and commitment running through them. It's Bennington's final cries of the title lyric that demonstrates the track's raw and unequalled muster. Much like 'Shadow of the Day' and 'Robot Boy' did on the albums they featured on, it shows the band's willingness to strike a balance between Bennington's longing tone of voice and the mixture of simple beats and just-as-simple deliverance of consuming sound.
Despite this, moments such as these remain a rarity. A rarity that, despite its long-lasting appeal, is still stuck alongside tracks that are either missed opportunities, grave errors of judgement, or simply lacking in any originality. 'Living Things' is without a doubt the album that culminates all the band's previous exploratory outings in one brave-but-bold 12-track record. And so too is it a completed representation of the band, but that's only because it represents a seemingly limited palette of diverging ideas from an act who have made little attempt to experiment with their ideas and even littler effort in exploring them. There are some tracks here I'll come back to on this, but again, they are in the minority pile on yet another album that is filled to the brim, this time, with safety on structure rather than numbers. We may all be twelve years older - the nostalgia of that debut flooding back as much as the cringe-inducing context of it all, will so too in equal measure - but the eternal argument of whether this is objectively a good or bad album will continue on. And the answer is (subjectively) neither. It's OK, it's a mediocre album. And sadly by the look of things, that's as good as Linkin Park can hope to be.