So one of my many loves is music. I've always been very into music and with a background that has included working in radio, I've got some history with a lot of different artists and songs. I've often been accused of being a human jukebox, able to break into song relating phrases in conversation to song lyrics. Most of my music background is in rock, although I've got some hip hop and country thrown in for fun as well. And I'm embarrassed to admit, a childhood steeped in terrible pop music. I'd like to think that I've grown out of a lot of that but it hasn't been erased from the old jukebox upstairs. (I'm not afraid to admit that my first cassette was Billy Ocean's Suddenly, although any hope for credibility I'm sure is dashed).
Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to try a CD review. I've never done one but seems like it could be fun. Let me just say that I'm certainly no expert on the band I'm about to review, although I am a fan with several of their CDs. So, I hope I don't offend anyone with the comments to follow. We'll see how this goes, if I enjoy it and/or get positive feedback, I may try another in the weeks that follow. When I think of critics, I generally think of being stuffy or trying too hard so I'll try not to make it too pretentious despite my love for big words.
The CD is Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight released on Warner Bros Records and produced by Rick Rubin. Rubin is a legendary producer (Wow, look at that list of titles!) and this is his first work with Linkin Park. I've been a big fan of Rubin's, particularly his work with Johnny Cash. I'm also partial to a few of the other CDs he's worked on, including BloodSugarSexMagik from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Toxicity from System of a Down.
The band admits in the liner notes that Rubin pushes them in the making of this CD. His influence can be clearly heard in several different spots on the CD, which I'll point out later. One other item before getting to the music: the liner notes for this CD are fantastic. I'm fascinated by the art of music making and the play by play provided in the margins of the notes really provide a lot of insight into the band's creative process.
The opening track is called Wake. It's one of those brief, instrumental openings. While the music is fine, I generally don't care for these type of openings. I'm much more interested in the more substantive songs. The song is about 2 minutes long and builds energy and momentum for the real opening of the CD.
Track 2 is Given Up - a nice adrenaline burst of a song that Linkin Park is known for. Chester Bennington's unmistakeable voice adds a lot to this song. The lyrics are a little simplistic but minus a few f-bombs, this would be a modern radio hit. There are some strong similarities between this song and a couple tracks on Toxicity in how the music changes direction dramatically for a short stretch about halfway through. It definitely makes the song more interesting.
Track 3 is Leave Out All The Rest - this is about as ballad-y as you're going to get from Linkin Park. Not a favorite in the first few early listens. Lyrically the song is ok but there doesn't seem to be a lot of heart in Chester's delivery.
Track 4 is Bleed It Out - finally we get to hear from Mike Shinoda, the other singer in the band. Even though it is only the 3rd song with lyrics, it feels like a long time to go without hearing Shinoda. This is LP at it's best - Shinoda rapping the verse and Bennington belting out the chorus in a frenetic burst of energy that you can't sit still through. This will be a hit.
Track 5 is Shadow Of The Day and is extremely interesting. The beginning smells a bit of Nine Inch Nails (you get me closer to God!) and then I swear turns into With or Without You from U2. Sometimes I hear so much other music in what I hear. I also liken this a lot to what Green Day did when they came out with that "I hope you had the time of your life" song. They were mostly known for a bit of an underground punk sound and really went very mainstream with that one song. I see this song doing the same for LP. This is a very catchy song and one that is very likely to get annihilated with overplay from modern radio. By the end of the song you'll be singing along to the chorus - a very strong effort.
Track 6 is What I've Done - funky beginning with a piano hook that sounds a bit like the music from the movie "Halloween" (also similar to piano in a Local H song from Pack Up The Cats). This song wasn't particularly striking in any other way but solid.
Track 7 is a different story - Titled Hands Held High, it's a war protest song. It's very interesting to me how many songs I've seen come from the current Iraq war. Besides this one, I'm aware of the new Capital G from Nine Inch Nails, President Forever from Local H and an entire album of protest song remakes from A Perfect Circle. I'm sure there are many more but it's interesting to see how much reaction there has been from the music community. I'm interested too that there haven't been many songs in support of the war. I suppose that's pretty typical but strikes me as a bit strange. This is a good song, with some nice effects like the military sounding drumbeat at the beginning and the church choir like ending.
Track 8 - No More Sorrow - The heavy industrial guitar and drums in this song are pretty dark - there's another SOAD-like mid-song transition. I guess it's Rubin's way of inserting a bridge in the song, certainly a pretty unique device. Angry song, just the kind I sometimes like! This is not the best song on the album but not too bad.
Track 9 - Valentine's Day - another keyboard/piano sound, I like the music in this one. This song has a nice pace and features Bennington. I like the lyrics a lot in this one although the Valentine's Day thing is a little cliche. Very melancholy.
Track 10 - In Between - wow, I really like this song. I like the way the lyrics are similar in sections but then altered near the end. I've always found this to be an effective way to emphasize a point and have used in some of my own writing. This is another softer sound from LP and seems to be a real departure from previous CDs. This one works well.
Track 11 - In Pieces - great line "Your lips say that you love but your eyes say that you hate" - fantastic! Bennington mixes up the lyrical delivery very well in this track, from straight singing to his more aggressive, guttural sound. The music is quick and there is a slightly almost reggae sound to parts of it. The guitar inclusion really adds to the sound and turns this into a complex mish mash of sounds that I liked. Another very nice effort.
Track 12 - The Little Things Give You Away - I was stunned to hear some acoustic guitar in an LP song! Some argue that all song lyrics are poetry but this song strikes me as a poem that was written and later turned into a song. Bennington tries to stretch his vocal range with the singing in this song - not sure if I like it yet or not. I'll probably need to give this one a few more listens.
Overall, this album is much different from Linkin Park CDs in the past. There is much more of a mixture of sounds, from classic LP to more pop-infused tracks and a lot slower overall tempo. It sounds to me like a group of guys that are maturing in life and their music is reflecting that change. Rubin's influence definitely plays to that quite a bit as well I'm sure. There are several definite high points in the CD, surrounded by several others that didn't really stand out to me. I would have liked to have heard some more songs with both singers participating as this record is very Chester-heavy. One of the things I like most about LP is their ability to blend the 2 different singer sounds together and this record gets away from that. Overall, I like the CD and will give it a solid B.
Wow, that was pretty fun. I think I'll do that again although I may try for a bit more brevity in future efforts. I welcome all feedback and would be happy to take suggestions on future CDs to review.