The Evolution of Linkin Park
By: George Varga
Tampering with a winning formula can often be commercial suicide, especially in the intensely competitive world of pop music. But when Linkin Park recorded its latest album, 2010’s “A Thousand Suns,” the members of this top Los Angeles rap-rock band did more than just consider deviating from their winning musical approach of the past — they all but abandoned it.
Never mind that their major-label debut, “Hybrid Theory,” was the best-selling album of 2001, when its 4.8 million sales in the U.S. (and 3.8 million abroad) handily outpaced competing releases by U2, Britney Spears, Garth Brooks and Alicia Keys. And never mind that Linkin Park went on to sell 50 million albums worldwide over the past 10 years, a feat that led Billboard magazine to declare the group the No. 1-selling Rock/Alternative Band of the Decade.
Because when it came time to make “A Thousand Suns,” Linkin Park’s members felt not only that change was worth considering, but also that it was imperative. At least it was if the band was to avoid getting stuck in a rut, no matter how lucrative that rut may have been.
Or, as vocalist Mike Shinoda declares with equal parts defiance and irony in “When They Come for Me,” a standout song from the group’s new album: “Once you have the theory of how the thing works / Everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first.”
“The nice thing about our band is that everybody is open to change and new ideas, and there’s nobody stuck to a single idea of what our band is supposed to sound like,” said Shinoda. “So, if we decided to completely change directions again tomorrow, as long as all of us are into it, we will.”
For now, “A Thousand Suns,” provides plenty of change (if not much in the way of hope) on an album that ambitiously addresses no less a subject than the potential demise of humanity. Its title was inspired by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the famed Manhattan Project physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II.
Accordingly, Linkin Park’s once explosive, guitar-driven music and big, big beats are replaced on “A Thousand Suns” by understated keyboards and percussion. Densely arranged, the songs tend to eschew hard rocking in favor of, well, hard thinking.
“When the album came out, we knew it would be a polarizing record,” noted Shinoda, 33, who studied classical piano as a child before becoming hooked on hip-hop.
“We knew when we started just how different it was from our previous offerings. At this point, we’ve found peace with the idea that some people will love it and some people will hate it. But we wouldn’t put out a record unless we were sure we could stand behind it, and ‘A Thousand Suns’ is no exception.”
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