Sound — 8
With the news that Linkin Park's fourth studio record A Thousand Suns was about to be released, it was difficult not to feel a little bit of trepidation. Chester Bennington and the boys had veered into more commercially viable, pop-driven material than ever before with Minutes To Midnight, trading in experimentation with benign melodies. While this move certainly didn't hurt them on the charts (What I've Done earned the #1 spot on the Mainstream Rock chart and was nominated for a Grammy), it all seemed a far cry from the creativity heard on the debut record. Linkin Park opted to go the concept album route with the latest release A Thousand Suns, and that artistic path perhaps allowed for a more grandiose scope musically. In the end, the original idea to explore the topics of war and nuclear warfare works beautifully for the band, who at the very least has lessened their infatuation with the pop-rock formula.
Filled with interludes and computerized vocal effects, Linkin Park' A Thousand Suns could in some ways be deemed self-indulgent. To add fuel to the fire, the title was inspired text from the Bhagavad Gita that states, If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mighty one. That type of reference could also provoke many to think Linkin Park has ventured into territory that is perhaps a bit too deep for them, but it's certainly an intriguing subject that is enhanced by inspired arrangements and melodies. Even more importantly, it all adds up to a much, much more interesting listening experience than the instant radio singles heard on Minutes To Midnight.
Beginning with understated electronica with a solemn twist, the instrumental The Requiem morphs into another mini-interlude The Radiance. The latter, along with several of the interludes on the album, utilizes sampled speeches. In the case of The Radiance you hear the words of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, but elsewhere the voices of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mario Savio are featured. The incorporation of various sampled interviews/speeches and the affected computerized vocals of Chester Bennington (Robot Boy, Fallout) relay almost a soundtrack-like feel to A Thousand Suns. So much so, in fact, that the album almost seems to be brought down by the very few typical rock arrangements included in the tracklist.
The highlights of the CD actually incorporate a healthy balance of Bennington's vocals and Mike Shinoda's rapping. Shinoda, who co-produced the record with Rick Rubin, has never been more confident with this approach and at times channels Chuck D (Wretches and Kings) with a bit of an industrial metal twist. Bennington's more angelic vocals do get center stage on tracks like Iridescent, and while there's no arguing that the singer has never had a more impressive range, it's his powerhouse belting that usually makes the lasting mark.
Lyrics — 8
Although Linkin Park's A Thousand Suns is a concept album supposedly revolving around warfare, there are still the universal subjects of love and self-reflection that rule supreme on the record. Bennington's lines tend to be fairly standard, but Shinoda's raps are the moments that deliver the most original lyrical content. The golden moments arrive with lines like, I came in the ring like a dog on a chain; And I found out the underbelly's sicker than it seems; And it seems ugly / but it can get worse; 'Cause even a blueprint is a gift and a curse (When They Come For Me) Like many a concept album, the messages are often blurred and rather vague, but it's actually the music that drives A Thousand Suns in the end.
Overall Impression — 9
A Thousand Suns may never be considered Linkin Park's work of genius, but it's still a welcome offering from the sextet. The band didn't rein itself in for a radio format, and that in itself is a godsend. Some listeners will undoubtedly be taken aback by Linkin Park's sudden, jolting left turn musically, and there are a few tracks on A Thousand Suns that do seemed to have a forced epic quality. On the whole, however, the album is refreshing, multifaceted, and at long last daring.