A brief history lesson for the uninformed. Linkin Park is an Agoura Hills, CA based rock outfit, emerging in the height of popularity of other “rock-rap” acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit, but have arguably seen more success and longevity than their peers in the genre. Perhaps this credit is owed to frontman Mike Shinoda, who doubles as the group’s producer and emcee, and also has a true understanding of hip-hop music. This fact became evident on 2002′s Reanimation, a Linkin Park remix album, which tapped the likes of Pharoahe Monch, Black Thought, Jurassic 5, Alchemist, and Evidence, rather than using whatever “hot” producers in hip-hop of the time. The point was further driven home on Shinoda’s 2005 solo hip-hop record, Fort Minor, which found him joined by various members of The Demigodz, as well as Common, Ghostface Killah, among others. And there was that little Collision Course mash-up album with some guy named Jay-Z.
All of that being said, with the production for Linkin Park’s new album, Minutes To Midnight, being handled by legendary Def Jam producer Rick Rubin, hip-hop fans are ready to give the group a chance – but is this album for them? For those living under a rock, Rubin may have cut his teeth producing classic acts like The Beastie Boys and Run DMC, but he’s also softened up a bit in his later years. Most recently receiving accolades (read: Grammys) for producing 2006 albums for The Dixie Chicks and Red Hot Chili Peppers – so this could go either way.
Truth be told, Linkin Park’s Minutes To Midnight may be the album that finally got the hip-hop fans to listen, but in essence this is their most rock oriented disc yet. It begins with the abrasive, explosive “Given Up”, which finds lead vocalist Chester Bennington doing what he does best – screaming his emotionally charged vocals, in key. Focusing less on the rapped Shinoda vocals the group is usually accompanied with, the LP features many well-executed, aggressive rock tracks in this vein. Case in point is the album’s lead single, “What I’ve Done”, featuring trademarked Shinoda eerie pianos and snapping funk drums; or again on the politically charged “No More Sorrow”. Politics rear their ugly head later on the album’s last track, the Hurricane Katrina inspired “The Little Things Give You Away”.
Shinoda’s rhyme element hasn’t been completely sacrificed here, as two of the LP’s best tracks feature him getting his Fort Minor on. After the album’s first few straightforward rock tracks, the beautifully executed “Bleed It Out” features Shinoda exercising a Luda-esque flow with a barrage of poignant lyrics (“candy paint on his brand new hearse”), while Chester’s addictive hook eggs him on. Later on “Hands Held Out”, Shinoda speaks inspiring words on the fucked-up state of affairs the world is in, over marching drums, while the crew backs him up like a tattooed and messy-haired men’s choir.
The other side of Linkin Park is their soft ballads, which offsets Chester’s scream and Shinoda’s attitude. But some of these tracks work better than others. “Leave Out All The Rest” is too much of a downer after being sandwiched in between the energetic pair of “Given Up” and “Bleed It Out”. “Shadow Of The Day” is a bit of an improvement, however seems a bit too lovey-dovey for the rest of the LP (guess they can’t forget those female TRL fans). Treading the line between hard and soft cores is potential hit, “Valentine’s Day” – however next February may be too far off to market that one. The best of the bunch is actually “In Between”, which finds Shinoda taking up the singing chores from Chester, almost channeling RJD2′s “Making Day’s Longer”.
It’s hard to pick up on Rick Rubin’s influence on the new Linkin Park album – so those expecting them to go all Beastie and turn out another “99 Problems” throwback jam, look elsewhere. It seems more like Rubin sat back and worked more as a composer, rather than programming a drum machine. With Minutes To Midnight, Linkin Park has definitely matured, and perhaps this growth will land them the Grammy nods they are obviously striving for – but truth be told – we miss the rhymes.
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