Friday, September 17, 2010

Minutes To Midnight Might Not Sound Like Other Linkin Park, But It's Still Short/Repetitive.

The Good: Politically smart, Decent instrumental accompaniment.
The Bad: SHORT, Many lines are oft-repeated.
The Basics: A very good album, Minutes To Midnight illustrates that Linkin Park can be both emotive and political, melodic and noisy.

Back in June, I listened to a LOT of different musical artists and my wife took the opportunity to push some of her c.d.s onto me. For years, she has tried to sell me on Linkin Park and so I took out Minutes To Midnight and I listened to that on pretty high rotation the last few days. Despite some issues with repetitive lines and the fact that the album is dreadfully short, I am able to give the album a very enthusiastic "recommend."

Minutes To Midnight is an album that oscillates radically between the deeply personal ("Leave Out All The Rest," "Valentine's Day") and the political ("Hand Held High," "The Little Things Give You Away"). There is a pretty generic sense of teen rebellion and angst in "Bleed It Out," but much of the album actually makes musical a scathing critique of the failures of the Bush Administration. The result is an album that is slightly dated, but more often than not resonates with an educated anger for those growing up in these times.

With only a dozen songs occupying 43:28 on c.d., Minutes To Midnight is arguably best known for the single "Shadow Of The Day." This album is very much the creative work of the band Linkin Park, who wrote all of the songs on the album and the men of the band provide all of their own lead vocals. They also play all of the major instruments and Mike Shinoda - who has some lead vocals on the album - is credited as a co-producer. It is hard to argue, then, that this is not the album that the band intended to make.

What that album is is a very contemporary rock album with a few more traditional rock ballads thrown in. There is screaming for some of the vocals, but it is offset by a greater number of tracks where the band is careful to let their voices be heard in ways that are not harsh to the ears. Minutes To Midnight is a very produced-sounding guitar and keyboard-driven album punctuated by bass and percussion. The songs tend to be riffs that build into a more traditional melody and the songs vary greatly between the amelodic chant/rap "Bleed It Out" to the hummable and danceable "What I've Done." Oftentimes, Linkin Park allows the melody to become musically submerged to a single line or refrain which then dominates the listener's impression. For example, while "Valentine's Day" features a whole musical story, the tune is utterly forgettable in the face of the lead singer belting out the titled two words. While "No More Sorrow" might be less stellar in its vocals (it's a screaming song), the guitar riffs are energetic and fun to listen to.

Vocally, the band moves between the polar opposites of yelling and singing with surprisingly smooth tenor voices. While some of the raps, like the bulk of "Hands Held High" are less melodic than they are informative, the ballads "What I've Done" and "Shadow Of The Day" are presented as perfectly musical storysongs. Linkin Park might scream and shriek through some of the songs, but the bulk of the songs feature the guys actually trying to be heard and clearly understood. As such, the vocals are frequently produced so they hold their own with all of the instrumental accompaniment. In fact, it is only on "No More Sorrow" I found myself cringing to the vocals.

And what the band is trying to say on Minutes To Midnight is largely smart and empowering. Take "Hands Held High," for example. At a time when youth are facing an uncertain economy, a political landscape that is particularly unfriendly to their survival and prosperity and wars, Linkin Park may be heard singing “Healing the blind I promise to let the sun in / Sick of the dark ways we march to the drum and / Jump when they tell us that they wanna see jumping / Fuck that I wanna see some fists pumping / Risk something, take back what's yours / Say something that you know they might attack you for / Cause I'm sick of being treated like I have before / Like it's stupid standing for what I'm standing for / Like this war's really just a different brand of war / Like it doesn't cater the rich and abandon poor" ("Hands Held High"). Rather than trying to sulk or hide youth in fear, Linkin Park here attempts to engage the young people and get them involved in the process. That is admirable.

And beyond youth, it is always refreshing to hear songs that have an almost Folk sense of politics and political observation. The band calls out George W. Bush with lines like "And now there will be no mistaking / The levees are breaking / All you've ever wanted / Was someone to truly look up to you / And six feet under water / I / Do / Hope decays / Generations disappear / Washed away / As a nation simply stares" ("The Little Things Give You Away"). The lines may have come too late to do anything, but it is always reassuring to hear that people were awake and observing at the time. Despite the new political climate, Minutes To Midnight does not seem dated in its sense of politics.

It does, however, feel a bit dull at times. Songs like "Bleed It Out" might appeal to the metal/goth crowds or teenagers with an inflated sense of pessimism and angst, but as one who listens to a lot of music, I find songs with a lot of repetition to either be lazy or trying to stretch a good idea. In "Bleed It Out," the repetition of "I bleed it out digging deeper / Just to throw it away" ad nauseam suggests the latter more than the former.

Ultimately, Minutes To Midnight is a good album and one that I enjoy listening to, but it holds up poorly over multiple listens in a compressed time. Moreover, there is a sense that the band has a multiple personality disorder to them in the way they put the soulful "In Between" right after the frenetic "Valentine's Day." There is a good mix of songs on the album, but the sense of transition between them is sometimes unpleasant to the ears.

Even so, I enthusiastically recommend Minutes To Midnight and those looking for something good that doesn't quite sound like anything else, this is a good album for that!

The best track is "The Little Things Give You Away," the low point is "Wake," the instrumental opening.

For other groups that are primarily male, please check out:
They Might Be Giants – Then: The Early Years
Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet


For more music reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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