Sound — 7
Linkin Park has gone in a very interesting direction - a mellower one - on its latest record "Minutes To Midnight", and the album tends to feel a bit too radio-friendly at times because of it. This is not to say the band set out to make an album of pop-rock songs, but there is not a lot new that is brought to the table this time around. While frontman Chester Bennington has never sounded better vocally, the ballads that do the most justice to his voice also slow the momentum down a bit too much on the highly anticipated record.
At the CD's opening, there is a slowly building synthesized intro called "Wake" that quietly (you can hardly hear it for the first half) creates a mood. When the intro cuts off and leads into the first vocal song, "Given Up", it doesn't quite explode with enough energy or originality. There is some interesting percussion at the start of "Given Up", in which the band seems to mix a basic hand clap with reindeer bells. The guitars are used minimally in the verses, with the bass, drums, and vocals taking over. Not much seems to happen throughout most of it, until there is a breakdown about halfway through, injecting a much-needed dose of metal into it.
"Bleed It Out" is the first track on the CD that introduces Mike Shinoda's rapping into the mix, and it thankfully livens things up a bit. There aren't a lot of changes in the musical format along the way and it almost has a party-like vibe, but the energy behind the performances on "Bleed It Out" makes it a worthwhile listen. Because there are so many ballads on "Minutes To Midnight", just hearing Shinoda rap breaks things up a bit.
It does feel like a more sensitive side of Linkin Park is being explored, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with taking a different turn. But a slower-tempo track like "Leave Out All The Rest" still is in desperate need of a big dose of passion. It has almost a generic feel and the band is capable of much more. "Shadow Of The Day" is a ballad that suffers from the same problem, and it slows down all the progress that was made on the track right before it ("Bleed It Out"). "Shadow" does include some very cool synth effects underneath, but the track could still use a bit more.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics are definitely one of the strongest points on the new CD. As usual, Mike Shinoda's rapped lyrics are clever and stand out on their own. In "Bleed It Out" Shinoda raps, "With a shovel up out to reach somewhere; Yeah, someone pour it in; Make it a dirt dance floor again; Say your prayers and stomp it out." Some listeners might not call it poetry, but Shinoda still makes things a bit more interesting.
There is a lot of inner turmoil and relationship talk found in the lyrics as well, and it's probably safe to assume it's coming from personal experience (Bennington went through a divorce since Linkin Park's last album was released). In "Shadow Of The Day" he sings, "I close both locks below the window; I close both blinds and turn away; Sometimes solutions aren't so simple; Sometimes goodbye's the only way." Even with a familiar topic like heartache, the band does do a pretty good job at not making it sound too cliche. Just the fact that it might have autobiographic meaning does make it an intriguing listen.
Overall Impression — 7
"Minutes To Midnight" does feature a few solid songs like "What I've Done", "In Pieces", and "Bleed It Out" that drive home the point why the band has made such a name for itself. There will also still be many fans of past albums who can adjust to the band's latest sound and embrace the ballad-heavy album. If given the opportunity to the listen to the album enough times, it's possible that some of the lackluster songs might grow on you.
More than likely the restrained sound heard on "Minutes To Midnight" will probably draw a wide range of opinions from fans of previous albums. While growth is always encouraged as a musician, it's hard to say if Linkin Park has moved forward with this album. There is nothing wrong with ballads, but those tracks never seem that original. Bennington uses a softer, sweeter style of vocal and it actually sounds great. Hopefully the songwriting can catch up with the musicianship by the time the next release rolls around.