Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review This Again: Minutes To Midnight By Linkin Park!

The Good: Good lyrics, Most of the vocals (all of the vocals are, at the least, expressive), Some wonderful tunes
The Bad: Short, Moments of flat-out noise.
The Basics: Minutes To Midnight by Linkin Park holds up surprisingly well as an angst-filled and politically-charged album.

There is a big meme in the art community going around now called "Draw This Again." In the meme, artists illustrate how they have grown in their chosen medium by putting side-by-side pictures of art they created in the past and now. My wife had the great idea that I should do something similar with my reviewing. So, for the rest of 2016, I will be posting occasional "Review This Again" reviews, where I revisit subjects I had previously reviewed and review them again, through a lens of increased age, more experience, and - for some - greater familiarity with the subject. Music reviews are generally ideal for me for this project because the bulk of my music reviews are based upon my listening to an album eight times in a row on heavy-rotation. Most of my music reviews are not based upon listening to the album over the course of several years. So, without going back and reading my previous review of the subject, I am now re-experiencing several works. Today's is the Linkin Park album Minutes To Midnight, which was originally reviewed here!

Minutes To Midnight was Linkin Park's third album and it is an interesting transition from the first two albums the band produced, in that it marks a departure from songs that are mostly about personal and relationship angst. Instead, Minutes To Midnight infuses the familiar themes with a few tracks about political disenfranchisement and angst . . . and the band works harder to present more overtly musical songs. Opening with guitars that are doing more than thrash on "Wake" and songs like "Hands Held High" and "Shadow Of The Day" have traditional melody and harmonies to them; in other words, they are easily recognizable as music, instead of musical accompaniment to the vocals.

Despite infusing some of the songs with overtly political lyrics and having instrumentation on some songs that clearly carries a tune, Minutes To Midnight is not a complete departure from the sound and feel that earned Linkin Park a fanbase. "Given Up" is exactly the incoherent, primal, screaming and guitar thrashing that one might expect from Linkin Park when they are worked up about something. The contrast between the familiar Linkin Park and its more evolved sound makes for a fractured album that nevertheless progresses well and is surprisingly enduring.

With only a dozen tracks, clocking out at 43:23, perhaps the biggest strike against Minutes To Midnight is that it is short. For a band that clearly had grown between albums, Minutes To Midnight seems like it would have been chock full of material from the band! That said, Minutes To Midnight appears to be the album that Linkin Park intended to make at the time. Bandmembers Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington wrote all of the lyrics and they collaborated with the full band to compose all twelve tracks. The bandmates provide all of the vocals and, outside some of the backing strings for the orchestral accompaniment on a handful of tracks, they play all of the primary instruments on Minutes To Midnight. Shinoda worked with Rick Rubin to produce Minutes To Midnight, so if any creative control was ceded, it seems like Linkin Park's members at least had their voice in the process.

Musically, Linkin Park seems very much in a transition period with Minutes To Midnight. Minutes To Midnight has remarkably traditional sounding pop-rock ballads, like "Shadow Of The Day" and (more on the rock side) "Valentine's Day." The raps go from the musical and socially-active like "Hands Held High" to the more traditional "Bleed It Out," which calls back to the Beastie Boy style sound that Linkin Park had established itself with on earlier albums. Minutes To Midnight is an odd mix of the beautifully-composed - "Leave Out All The Rest" - and the noisy (I keep coming back to "Given Up!").

Vocally, Minutes To Midnight presents the men of Linkin Park in a good light. On songs like "What I've Done," the singers harmonize and the lead vocals are not incoherent screaming. Indeed, on Minutes To Midnight the men of Linkin Park not only are able to carry a tune, but they hold notes! In addition to raps that involve speaking fast with music in the background, the men of Linkin Park sing out on Minutes To Midnight. The bulk of the vocals are actually smooth-sounding male vocals that sound like very traditional pop ballad vocals.

One of the biggest surprises for me in returning to Minutes To Midnight was how well "Hans Held High" held up over the years. With lines like "For a leader so nervous in an obvious way / Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay / And the rest of the world watching at the end of the day /In their living room laughing like 'What did he say?'" ("Hands Held High"), Linkin Park clearly made a song that illustrated their discontent with the Bush Administration and the policies enacted during that time period. That seemed like it would put a shelf life on the song. Instead, the universality of the observations ". . . this war's really just a different brand of war / Like it doesn't cater to rich and abandon poor / Like they understand you in the back of the jet / When you can't put gas in your tank / And these fuckers are laughing their way to the bank and cashing the check / Asking you to have compassion and have some respect" ("Hands Held High") make the song as relevant today as it was when it was first produced!

Blended with songs of political angst are songs that are thematically familiar to fans of Linkin Park; songs that are about personal emotions and relationship dysfunctions. While the level of diction is familiar in the lines "You promised me the sky / Then tossed me like a stone / You wrap me in your arms / And chill me to the bone / There's truth in your lies / Doubt in your faith / All I've got's what you didn't take" ("In Pieces"), the poetics are new.

But, not all of the lyrics are winners. "Leave Out All The Rest" has some wonderful sentiments, but is hampered by the predictable rhymes "When my time comes / Forget the wrong that I've done / Help me leave behind some / Reasons to be missed / And don't resent me / And when you're feeling empty / Keep me in your memory." None of the lines on Minutes To Midnight are truly bad, but some do not rise to the memorable quality of the bulk of the songs.

In the (new) final analysis, perhaps as a result of having heard the album so many times now or hearing music that incorporates anger into it more effectively, it is hard not to listen to Minutes To Midnight and appreciate it. Minutes To Midnight has angst, but it is presented in a surprisingly musical way that holds up well over the years.

The best tracks are "Hands Held High" and "Shadow Of The Day," the low point is probably "Given Up," which seems a desperate attempt to keep Linkin Park sounding like it originally did.

For other reviews of Linkin Park albums, please check out my reviews of:
Hybrid Theory (Deluxe)
The Hunting Party


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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