Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Linkin Park Is My October Artist Of The Month! I Start With Hybrid Theory!

The Good: Moments of sound, Some of the lyrics (level of diction), Some of the vocals
The Bad: Frequently overproduced, Short, Yelling, A couple very stale rhymes
The Basics: Hybrid Theory began the mainstream popularity of Linkin Park and is where I begin my exploration of their musical works for the month of October!

My wife puts up with a lot of musical crap in our household as a result of me being a reviewer. I have a ton of music on each year that is not her style and some that she outright loathes. After a month of Selena Gomez recordings (check out the review of For You here!), I gave my wife a chance to pick what would be in heavy rotation for my reviews next. Without hesitating for even a moment, she suggested Linkin Park. So, Linkin Park is my October Artist Of The Month, which is interesting to me because Flobots was recently my Artist Of The Month and stylistically there are many similarities between Linkin Park and Flobots. As it stands, until today, I had only listened to and reviewed the Linkin Park album Minutes To Midnight (reviewed here!) quite some time ago. With making Linkin Park my October Artist Of The Month artist, I decided to go back to their beginning and review Hybrid Theory.

For my review of Hybrid Theory, I picked the fifteen track deluxe edition of the album. As it turns out, there are at least five different versions of Hybrid Theory, plus a live recording of the album. When I put Hybrid Theory on, my wife prompted me for multiple songs - like "Crawling," "A Place For My Head," and "One Step Closer" - saying that I had heard them before . . . from mixes she made at the beginning of our relationship. And yet, the only song I would have sworn I had heard before today from Hybrid Theory was "In The End." For me, that did not bode well for Hybrid Theory and the truth is, many of the songs had a similar sound and feeling to them, which made them blend together more than stand out.

And Hybrid Theory was just not my thing, which might bode poorly for the rest of the month for reviewing Linkin Park.

With fifteen tracks - fourteen songs with a second, live, rendition of "Papercut" - clocking out at 49:03, even in its deluxe rendition, Hybrid Theory is not overly long. Despite that, for a debut album, Linkin Park got a lot of creative control over Hybrid Theory. All of the lead vocals come from the band members and the group wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, save "My December," which is just credited to lead singer Mike Shinoda and not the full band. The group plays all of their own instruments. The only major credit that the group did not get for Hybrid Theory was producing the album; Don Gilmore got that honor.

Instrumentally, Hybrid Theory aged somewhat poorly. The average Linkin Park song on Hybrid Theory includes a general rock and roll sound with vocals that blend rap and screaming. The instrumental accompaniment is a mix of keyboards, guitar, bass, percussion and sampling. The most recognizable and musically complex tune is "In The End" which might have all of the elements of a typical Linkin Park song, but it also has a melody and harmony to it that easily balance with the vocals to create something musical. "Papercut" has a generic guitar-rock sound by comparison and while it precedes "Valentine's Day," it is hard not to feel like the quiet instrumentals and haunting vocals on "My December" were just reused for the later track. Most of the rest of the songs are fairly musically indistinct with angry guitars thrashing somewhat amelodically and providing more of a baseline for the vocals than making musically distinct tunes. "With You" opens with an almost techno sound to it before transitioning into screeching guitars that are very metal before the song goes into more of a rap song. The issue with some of the music on Hybrid Theory is that it sounds more sloppy; like the band is trying to figure out what instruments will work for a song before they settle on the sound, rather than sounding like a well-constructed musical composition.

On the vocal front, Linkin Park offers a lot of intrigue on Hybrid Theory. The vocals are an intriguing mix. The live rendition of "Papercut" proves that the lead vocalists can hold notes and make surprisingly beautiful harmonies together. Most of Hybrid Theory does not allow either of the lead vocalists to present their smooth vocalizations that the album's lone live song allows, but it is clear that when they want to, the men of Linkin Park can carry a tune. "One Step Closer" opens very well, for example, with vocals that are clear and smooth and sound like those from a traditional garage rock band. And the raps on Hybrid Theory are competently executed with fast vocals that are fairly articulate and well-executed.

Then there is the screaming. Yeah, Linkin Park has a rage sound to several of its songs on Hybrid Theory where the vocalists just let loose with lines that transition into yelling or just random screams. The percussion and yelling on Hybrid Theory establish Linkin Park as an emotional, angry, group of young men.

Lyrically, Hybrid Theory has a lot of anger in it, which means the words fit the music and vocals well. With lines like "I hit you and you hit me back / We fall to the floor, the rest of the day stands still / Fine line between this and that / When things go wrong I pretend the past isn’t real / Now I'm trapped in this memory / And I’m left in the wake of the mistake, slow to react / So even though you’re close to me / You’re still so distant and I can’t bring you back" ("With You"), Linkin Park tells a musical story about bad human relationships.

Anger aside, Linkin Park actually has a decent level of diction on Hybrid Theory. There are few artists with a poetic sensibility and vocabulary as extensive on a debut album as Linkin Park has on Hybrid Theory. When they sing "There’s a place so dark you can’t see the end / Skies cock back and shock that which can’t defend / The rain then sends dripping / an acidic question / Forcefully, the power of suggestion" ("Forgotten"), the men paint a very vivid picture.

Despite that, not all of the lyrics are intense and great. The rhyme schemes in "Points Of Authority" are not particularly complex. Opening with "Forfeit the game / Before somebody else / Takes you out of the frame / And puts your name to shame / Cover up your face / You can't run the race / The pace is too fast / You just won't last" ("Points Of Authority") the simplicity of the rhyme scheme is off-putting.

Linkin Park nails the angsty sound and feel with Hybrid Theory. Perhaps I'm just not at that place in life anymore where that grabs me or I'm past it for songs about relationships - I, for example, enjoyed some of the angsty yelling on Flobots albums when the band is singing about chaos in the world. That said, a number of the songs on Hybrid Theory rapidly grew on me and I could see why Linkin Park was a band my wife wanted me to listen to (and why it would have been the soundtrack to her teen years!). Hybrid Theory is a decent album for angst and chaos where the sound matches the lines well, but too much of it is just too noisy to satisfy me.

The best track is "Crawling," the low point is "Cure For The Itch."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month works, please check out my reviews of:
The Circle In The Square - Flobots
Modern Times - Bob Dylan
18 Singles - U2


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

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