It’s a tricky thing growing up and playing music. I don’t mean “former child stars gone bad, next on TMZ”. Most bands that hit the mainstream have something catchy, visceral, and often a magic quality about their talent. The problem is that once you’ve gotten a taste of that hot hot spotlight, usually a band or artist ends up uncompromising to stay in front of it. The few that don’t ever sell out, fight an uphill battle the rest of their careers. This is the fight Linkin Park have been in since about album three, and now they are in it again on album seven in almost 20 years, One More Light (Warner Bros.)
Few bands have been able to be artists, wear their maturity on their sleeves, grow up gracefully and still be relevant. It’s a short list of bands that were able to do it without alienating their fans. Linkin Park are at their rawest emotionally on One More Light in a way they always are, but also through a lens they never had before. The baggy jeans and frosted tips that were the fashion then they hit like a bomb when they were young are gone, and now they have dad bods, wrinkles, families, loves, losses and all that goes with adulting. On the flip side, musically Linkin Park still has trace elements of what makes them compelling musically, but after the anger and toughness of 2014’s The Hunting Party, they have dialed that down and added the sheen of pop, EDM, rap, and RnB.
One More Light has a wistful feeling of a grown-ups mindset, but the sounds meant for the youth. I knew going this record wasn’t really going to be up my alley all the time musically, but I went in with open ears. Opener ‘Nobody Can Save Me’ starts with a rap beat with frontman Chester’s Bennington’s ageless voice carrying the melody, full of hope beyond the dark. It is a straight-up pop song, more in line with pop and EDM than anything else out there today. It’s also catchy as hell. Not a total curveball from the band, but certainly not the jarring rock and danceable openers the band is known for.
‘Good Goodbye’ is a slick piece of rock, pop, and rap and features Pusha T and Stormzy. If that sounds like a dream team of talent for you, then you will love this track. I tend to avoid pop cliches like auto-tune and too neat production this genre favors, but it’s a tight track. Chester’s melodies will hit you hard, even if the song doesn’t grab you. ‘Talking To Myself’ is great and one of the more typical LP songs on the album. Slick guitars, great melodies, hip-hop beats to rock out to all come together with a great sing-along chorus.
‘Battle Symphony’ goes back to the introspection of the earlier tracks but strips away some of the gloss in the best way possible. Another great track. ‘Invisible’ is, on the other hand, is pretty homogeneous sounding and more like a cute pop song, that I’d rather the band not tried their hand at. After this track, ‘Heavy’ drops and it’s night and day. Featuring pop songstress Kiara, the track hits on every level. It’s a great song, has enough backbone to rock, and the tandem of Chester and Kiara is explosive. It makes me wonder what a full EP from these collaborators might sound like. ‘
‘Sorry For Now’ and ‘Halfway Right’ mean well, but fall a little flat. One thing you can say about Linkin Park, when they embrace something like faint swells of trap beats, original samples that ape the mid-1980s synths, and more “snaps and claps” rhythms, they go really hard to sell it.
Fortunately, the album finishes strong. The title track will make grown men cry with its self-actualization and emotional accounting of a lifetime of issues. ‘Sharp Edges’ is a tune I am not sure other bands could pull off. When you find yourself humming song weeks after hearing it, you will bow down. Just an amazing folksy pop song, and really the most left turn thing they could do considering the rest of this material. Hearing the band out Dashboard Confessional the originals, I can see entire stadiums of people losing their shit to this one.
True to form, the entire album is a blink of short tracks and you miss it. Linkin Park definitely achieved the album they were going for, and it works on a massive level about half the time. Those songs, all the lyrical power and the dominance of Chester’s singing are enough to carry it over some seriously down moments.