Review: Linkin Park – "Minutes to Midnight"

Minutes to MidnightArtist: Linkin Park

Title: Minutes to Midnight

Release Date: May 15, 2007

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Favorite songs:

  1. What I’ve Done
  2. Given Up
  3. The Little Things Give You Away
  4. Bleed It Out
  5. No More Sorrow

Band composition: Chester Bennington (vocals), Mike Shinoda (producer, vocals, keyboards, guitars), Joe Hahn (turntables/beats), Rob Bourdon (drums), Brad Delson (guitars), Dave “Phoenix” Farrell (bass)

Musical styles and characteristics: mainstream rock, distinctive rough/screaming and rap vocals, heavy guitars, heavily-produced with beat sampling and other characteristics common to rap

Artist’s goal: With producer Rick Rubin, the goal for Minutes to Midnight was to “strip down” the Linkin Park sound, since the band felt they had exhausted their “old” sound, extracting the important elements of the band’s style into a more contemporary and more groundbreaking record.

My Thoughts

The band did a good job promoting the fact that this album would represent a paradigm shift for them.  They grew bored with their sound, and Mike Shinoda even left for a while to do his own thing with Fort Minor.  LP wanted to come back and unleash a more mature, evolved sound.  Unlike some bands that have pulled this off, this may have been a huge mistake for Linkin Park.

To me, this album doesn’t distinguish itself from what’s left of the hard rock landscape.  Gone are the distinctive dueling rap/screaming vocals, at least for the most part.  Gone are the powerful guitars and beats that characterized their sound in the past.  Putting it differently, what the world knew as Linkin Park is effectively gone.

Before I go any further, I want to go a little deeper into this “stripped down” sound.  Producer Rick Rubin is known for getting bands to strive for this ideal, presuming that less is more and that the artist’s talent will shine through.  That has been true, for the most part, although people forget he produced the misguided Results May Vary album that killed less-talented (but still popular) Limp Bizkit.  The problem now facing Linkin Park is that a stripped-down Linkin Park, without their trademark sound, doesn’t make them groundbreaking or mature.  As it did with Limp Bizkit, this new sound just makes LP uninteresting.

Let’s be clear: LP is not the most talented band individually.  Chester’s a pretty good vocalist, and Mike’s a decent rapper, but neither is spectacular.  Shinoda, Delson, and Phoenix leave something to be desired with the guitars, so it’s good that their sound has other things going on.  Rob Bourdon is about as competent a drummer as you’ll find, but the drummer doesn’t often make or break the band.  Despite all these caveats, the band decided to go for this new, presumably better sound, and in the process, they left behind what made them notable in the first place: a powerful rap/rock sound with a great beat.  Now they’re just another rock band, neither particularly good nor particularly bad.

It’s easy to get lost in discussing LP’s shift in style, though, and forget to notice that this isn’t a bad record.  It’s initially difficult to believe that a good track like “What I’ve Done” was barely an afterthought to the record.  The band explains on the DVD extra that initial listeners to the record without it were left, understandably, somewhat unfulfilled.  There are other solid songs, like “Given Up” and “Bleed it Out.”  If you can get past the hurdle of their new propensity to use the f-word, those would have been passable tracks on Hybrid Theory or Meteora.  “The Little Things Give You Away” is an interesting song in it’s own right, though again it doesn’t much sound like LP.  Most everything else wouldn’t have even passed as filler on a previous Linkin Park album.

Needless to say, I would be in the group of fans feeling left behind by the new sound.  Minutes to Midnight isn’t bad, but it’s not good, and it still leaves me with an itch for new songs in the old rap/rock fusion style.  The high expectations I had are partly to blame for this, but it’s frustrating to see a band I like go in a direction that I just don’t understand.  Hopefully I’m not the only one who was looking for more on this record, and perhaps LP will return to the studio next time and rethink what they were doing this time around.  My fear is that they will maintain their level of success with this album and not feel the push I’d like to give them.

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