We Listened To The New Linkin Park Album And It’s As Bad As Everyone Says
It's bad. Really bad.
So, there’s news in the Linkin Park camp. The band that soundtracked your primary and high school years with their PG angst and insanely catchy nu-metal bangers are still around and making new music – their seventh LP, One More Light, was released just this month. Their more recent output, however, may edge more towards ‘Closer’ than ‘One Step Closer.’ It’s polished, produced and poppy – and many fans aren’t having it whatsoever.
The singles from the album – featuring the likes of Kiiara, Pusha T and even Stormzy – have collectively received hundreds of thousands of dislikes on YouTube; with many noting that it’s remarkable that a mainstream major-label rock band have still somehow found a way to sell out.
“It’s remarkable that a mainstream major-label rock band have still somehow found a way to sell out”
The band themselves have responded in kind… well, perhaps ‘kind’ isn’t the right word. Vocalist Chester Bennington told fans in an interview to “move the fuck on” from their acclaimed debut LP, 2000’s Hybrid Theory.
Not content with that, he doubled down with this tasty morsel in a later chat: “If you’re gonna be the person who says like ‘they made a marketing decision to make this kind of record to make money’ you can fucking meet me outside and I will punch you in your fucking mouth.” How bow dah?
So Just How Bad Is One More Light? A Junkee Investigation
So that you don’t have to, I listened to One More Light to get some immediate first impressions. The notes for every track are written instantly after the first listen, with no repeats.
But before we begin, some disclosure: there was a period in my life from around 2000 to about 2010 where I considered Linkin Park to be one of my favourite bands.
Hybrid Theory and its follow-up, 2003’s Meteora, were instrumental in my pathway to discovering heavier music and locking into that tween/early teens aggression and confusion at the world around me. The albums that followed – 2007’s Minutes to Midnight and 2010’s A Thousand Suns – saw the band experiment and end up in territory considerably removed from where they started; and yet were still able to make relatively interesting, comprehensive music that was just as identifiably theirs.
The two albums that followed, however – 2012’s Living Things and 2014’s The Hunting Party – are anonymous blobs of total insignificance; and I couldn’t hum a single melody from a single track on either, even at gunpoint.
So – with trepidation, uncertainty and the underlying fear of being punched by Chester Bennington – here is One More Light.
‘Nobody Can Save Me’
We’re straight into the chipmunk/chopped-and-screwed samples that are so à la mode right now since DJ Snake and Diplo made them pop-chart must-haves.
It’s getting much harder to say that Linkin Park are not going for clean and commercially-friendly pop music now when you hear something like this. It’s nondescript in the most mammoth of fashions – it’s an imagined Imagine Dragons; grandiose in its grey matter. It’s also worth pointing out that at 41 years of age, Chester Bennington is singing lyrics that would probably be more fitting of a band like 5 Seconds of Summer.
That’s Jon Green on the co-write, coincidentally enough, who has also written for 5SOS and James Morrison (their James Morrison, not ours).
‘Good Goodbye’ (feat. Pusha T and Stormzy)
When Mike Shinoda first started dropping raps in Linkin Park tunes all those years ago, it worked as the perfect foil for Bennington’s big-swinging choruses – ‘In the End,’ ‘Papercut’ and ‘Somewhere I Belong’ all absolutely nail this dynamic.
Here, there are no stakes and no payoff – Shinoda’s flow has gone from calm and focused to needlessly braggadocios and yelpy. Bennington’s chorus is cheap and artificial, serving no greater purpose and leading way to one of the most uninspired beats the band has ever put its collective name to.
We’ll get to the anonymity of the rest of the band later, but for now let’s look at the other verses. Pusha T promptly phones in, while Stormzy manages to hold it down right up until the cringeworthy line “Mandem we’re linking tings in parks/Now I got a tune with Linkin Park.”
It’s got shades of “It’s Weezer and it’s Weezy,” Lil Wayne’s one-liner from his Weezer collaboration “Can’t Stop Partying.” Is that a compliment? Well, it’s from a song on a Weezer album after Maladroit and before Hurley, so you can take a stab in the dark there.
‘Talking to Myself’
Another great leap forth into the great vagueness with hollow bombast and wafer-thin song structure. What’s most interesting about this is one of the song’s co-writers is JR Rotem – you may remember him from such audio stamps as “J-J-J-JR” and bangers like Jason Derulo’s first couple of singles. What happened? Was he busy on his iPhone or something? Honestly, if it wasn’t for the guitar in this song this could easily have been mistaken for Some Generally Anonymous Scandinavian Producer feat. Chester Bennington.
Tell you what, nothing quite cries “Battle Symphony” like a plain, inoffensive pop ballad that sounds like a demo version of ‘Roar.’ Nailed it, gang.
It’s time for the first of two Mike Shinoda-led vocal numbers on the album, and boy does he make sure it doesn’t count.
We’re in for yet another mid-tempo plod, clumsy lyrics (“If you felt invisible/I won’t let you feel that now”) and muted, quantised production. What’s so genuinely confusing here is that Linkin Park didn’t go all out in their attempt to be pop-stars. Coldplay swung for the fences and became the biggest band in the world – where’s that motivation here? What are the stakes when you’re doing something as safe and plain as this?
‘Heavy’ (feat. Kiiara)
So Chester wants us to “move the fuck on” from Hybrid Theory? Okay, sure. But to what exactly? It’s worth pointing out that Hybrid Theory is a whole two minutes longer than One More Light. By the end of Hybrid‘s first half, we’ve already had ‘Papercut,’ ‘One Step Closer’ and ‘Points of Authority.’
On One More Light, we’re wrapping up a hat trick of ballads that are, for the most part, impossible to recall after listening. There should be a bit of credit for this song actually sounding as though there’s some semblance of the band in there – nice to hear drummer Rob Bourdon for the first time on the album – and for making use of one of the more intriguing emerging pop singers right now in Kiiara. One of the best songwriting teams in the game right now, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, are credited on ‘Heavy.’
It’s nowhere near their best work, but their presence definitely ups the song’s ante a little. We have a frontrunner for the album’s best song now, and even it isn’t all that great.
‘Sorry for Now’
Ooh, this is a fun one – this is the album’s first proper laugh-out-loud moment on account of its DJ Snake-aping post-chorus/pop-drop that lands roughly a minute in.
This is the only sole writing credit on the entire record, and it appears to be Mike Shinoda’s baby. He thankfully doesn’t return to the chipmunking over and over, but the fact it made it in there in the first place really makes you wonder what he’s trying to pull with this song. At the very least, this track actually sounds like it could make it on radio. They can try and pretend that’s not what’s going on with this album, but literally every sign points toward that being the end goal.
Is that… is that a fucking trap beat? Seriously, did Rob Bourdon just not show up? Where’s bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell, for that matter? This is Maroon 5 levels of complete band erasure. It almost makes you want to go to the Personnel list on the album’s Wiki page and put  next to everyone that isn’t Chester or Mike.
Nice to see Ross Golan – pop songwriter and host of the fantastic And the Writer Is… podcast – in the credits, but what on earth is going on here? This is a whole new level of faceless anonymity here, right down to the ill-advised ‘woah-oh’s.
‘One More Light’
Her is an absolute curveball of a track. No pop ambition, no chipmunk samples, no bullshit. Just a restrained, tasteful guitar melody, ambience and Bennington’s best vocal performance of the entire album. One could maybe critique the saccharine lyrics, but even they’re forgivable when one notes the conviction with which they’re sung.
The quality of this song is genuinely stunning after some of the lows this record has sunk to – it may honestly be the best Linkin Park song since the Thousand Suns era. Whatever went miraculously right here, one is possessed by the thought of what went so wrong with the rest of the album.
More like Lumineers Park, am I right? For whatever reason, the band decides to go for an electro-acoustic number to close out One More Light, sounding like ‘Wake Me Up!’ meets ‘It Ain’t Me’ without any of the appeal or lasting power of either. It’s very fitting that the most milquetoast, safe and bland Linkin Park album to date ends on an absolute whimper.
One More Light is not only the worst album that Linkin Park (or whichever members decided to turn up that day and call themselves Linkin Park) have ever made; it’s also one of the worst albums of the year.
It’s also mind-bogglingly inexplicable – it’s a total abandonment of their songwriting strengths and abilities as musicians in pursuit of something that holds absolutely zero guarantees for a new audience on the other side. It’s the death knoll for a key act from the turn of the century in both rock and pop, and for what? The slight chance of radio airplay?
Linkin Park selling out is like William Shatner doing a spoken word version of a rap song – they found a way.
David James Young is a freelance writer and podcaster. He tweets at @DJYwrites.