Two-time Grammy award-winning band Linkin Park’s new album A Thousand Suns dares to break barriers but traps itself beneath the wreckage. So what went wrong?
Stylistically, A Thousand Suns is a new direction for Linkin Park. The album is a throwback to many elements of the band’s earliest works, but adds a touch of the surreal.
The album combines atmospherics with synthesized voices and sound bites from the speeches of famous American political figures. The most notable example is the song “Wretches and Kings,” which opens with a recording of activist Mario Savio’s “Bodies Upon the Gears” speech. The band’s newest effort incorporates a variety of genres, leaping sporadically between progressive rock, hip-hop, nu-metal, and experimental.
A variety of tracks are meshed together by short, filler tracks that are meant to push along a narrative on the human experience. Sounds intriguing, right? Unfortunately, the concept falls flat when you step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is this: for an album with a run-time of about 48 minutes, nearly ten minutes comprises experimentation only. There are at least five filler tracks that contain nothing more than noise and sound bites. After being stripped down, what remains is a 15-track album containing only eight or nine full-length tracks.
What’s more, though the band claims they wished to incorporate “unorthodox ideas” into a “traditional album,” the filler tracks themselves are the only real experimental moments. The full-length songs aren’t particularly daring or interesting. The song “Burning In The Skies” is a calm, safe track that always feels ready to take off the landing strip but never quite makes it.
However, a handful of songs stood out strongly, most notably the hip-hop track “When They Come For Me,” which combines a bouncy, tribal dance tempo with a catchy chorus.
Unfortunately, the album is buried beneath a mess of experimentation. There’s nothing wrong with a band trying something new… if it’s executed properly. But mixing the sound bites of old speeches into music has become a clich?.
Many bands have used the idea before to better effect. Moreover, sound bites should enforce an album’s message, not contradict it.
Mario Savio’s “Bodies Upon the Gears” speech, used in the song “Wretches and Kings,” is about rising up against our problems. “You’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…you’ve got to make [the machine] stop,” proclaims Savio. And yet, only two tracks away, the song “Iridescent” contains lyrics such as, “remember all the sadness and frustration / and let it go.”
In “Wretches and Kings” we are told to fight against life’s problems. In “Iridescent” we are being told to forget about them. An album’s underlying political message is only effective if the message is consistent. This jumble makes Linkin Park seem egotistical in that they might believe they’re at a point in their careers in which the fans will accept their content without question.
In the end, the album presents a decent attempt at breaking free from the stylistic bonds the band has been straining against. However, the album never manages to become anything more than just that: an attempt. A Thousand Suns might be burning in the sky, but the mismatched, overzealous use of experimentation ultimately obscures the underlying concept.
1.5 stars out of 5