On One More Light Linkin Park shape-shift again. Much has been made of their transformation over nearly twenty years from dour nu-metal band, to dour alt-rock band, to dour electro-clash band, and it’s been quite a ride. It’s a shame then that they’ve never addressed the issues and flaws that have stayed at the heart of their sound.
Those flaws were there for all to see as Mike and Chester, the band’s intrepid frontmen, announced the lead-off single early this year. They did this via a livestream which, for some reason I ended up catching a little of. Here they performed an acoustic version of their song ‘Crawling’.
Yes, the song that is literally a meme at this point. They decided that work of art deserved a stripped-back piano rendition.
Musically Linkin Park have been a strong band. Even as their sound changed drastically, in each iteration they really grew with their changes. In the early days it was about the riffs, whereas these days it’s been more about their mastery of slick electronica and ball-busting EDM.
However they’ve never been any good at writing. Linkin Park have always written trite nonsense and it’s only gotten more embarrassing as they’ve aged. With a band now comfortably in their forties still essentially writing about being mad at Mom, we’ve reached peak cringe.
Which is a shame, because One More Light is a well produced album, if nothing else.
It doesn’t help that neither Mike nor Chester can sing. Mike Shinoda can sing the softer numbers, but his rapping is bad. Mike Shinoda was never an on form MC and I never understood why fans bemoaned his decision to phase out the rapping in later albums.
That’s only confirmed on Shinoda’s one rap number here, ‘Good Goodbye’ where he raps bars like “Enemies trying to read me / You’re all looking highly illiterate” which is exactly the kind of thing my Dad would come up with if I tasked him with spitting some hot fire.
Chester Bennington fares even worse. His reedy whine lacks any sort of presence and completely fails to match the heaviness of his band’s sound and their ambition to make music that provokes.
‘Heavy’ met stiff fan resistance but it’s actually a tight little pop track, let down again by Bennington’s pinched warbling. He makes Tom Delonge sound like fucking Orson Welles.
‘Good Goodbye’ is fun enough and benefits from Pusha T and Stormzy, although even they sound off-colour here. Stromzy’s contribution (“Now I’m inside with my bro-bros”) is particularly bloodless, with all of Stromzy’s trademark wit and playfulness zapped out.
There’s some enjoyment to be had in the smoothness of the recordings and the little quirks here and there. It’s a very ‘now’ record, and features all of the production choices that have proved popular in recent months: pitch shifted vocals, distorted bassy synth tones and minimalist beats have a real sheen to them and, given the length of the album’s production cycle, puts the band slightly ahead of the curve.
‘Sorry for Now’ is probably the best track, even though it’s short and simplistic. I like ‘Heavy’ too.
The worst? A few contenders there although the dead-eyed, hollow enthusiasm on ‘Battle Symphony’ may be our winner.
One More Light is a smooth, edgeless, polished record, and while a strong pop singer might have been able to build it up, Bennington and Shinoda simply do not have the chops. Compared to how great Minutes to Midnight was, and how weird and interesting A Thousand Suns proved to be, this is a whimper.