Own It or Disown It: #274: Linkin Park, Minutes to Midnight

OwnItorDisownIt

Linkin Park's third full-length album turned ten years old this year.

I remember being confused by the news that Linkin Park were going to put out a third album. I had enjoyed Meteora at the time, but the vibe I got from it was that there was no place left to take the music, at least not by this band. Their first two albums, as technically sound as they were, offered no hint that LP were willing to expand their sonic boundaries, and the four years between albums gave the impression that the band had their finger hovering over the button announcing an indefinite hiatus. The first album from Mike Shinoda’s Fort Minor debuted to surprisingly generous reviews; Chester Bennington was dealing with personal issues while getting another band off the ground; Joseph Hahn was making a name for himself with his work in television, film, and music videos; Brad Delson was, um, I don’t know, probably trying to master making a kickass soufflé. It seemed a perfect time to let things end, so when Minutes to Midnight was announced, my initial response was “wait, why?”

Now, I’ve written about how I’ve grown to dislike Meteora. I revisited the album this week for the first time since putting together that write-up five years ago, and while that write-up is a bit rough and weird, I stand by my sentiment that it is a boring, shitty album that I’m embarrassed to have ever enjoyed. That said, Meteora feels like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy compared to Minutes to Midnight. I complained about Meteora being unspecific, formulaic, and proceeded to all shit, but goodness, at least it has songs that are kind of fun, which is far more than can be said about Minutes to Midnight.

Oh, there are a couple of times Midnight tries to be fun, and there’s no more earnest example than “Bleed It Out”. Its intro actually serves as a welcome respite in the context of the album (hey, here’s something that isn’t Bennington complaining about how mom just doesn’t understanding), but it dies halfway through Shinoda’s first verse when the rest of the band tries to join that guitar and stumbles over themselves, seemingly afraid of stepping on someone’s toes. The drums have so much less kick needed to sell this that they may as well have never shown up, and Bennington screaming over the chorus feels compensatory rather than complimentary. You know a song is bad when mashing it together with an Avril Lavigne tune actually improves it.

That failure of a single is about as fun as Minutes to Midnight gets. The rest of it reads like a step-by-step guide on how not to make a mature, thoughtful, and interesting album. Step one: “swear constantly after putting out entire albums devoid of cursing”. I’m sure that seemed interesting on paper, but Bennington’s consistently poor word choice combined with an ill-fitting potty mouth makes the already-weak material sound like Korn leftovers. Step two: “have several shitty ballads in a row”. Meteora, as bad as it was, exhibited understanding that consistently switching lead vocalists could trick dummies into thinking the album was more interesting than it was. Here, Bennington gets multiple tracks in a row to recite lyrics as insightful and interesting as a fourth-grader scribblings (okay, that’s a bit unfair—fourth-graders have the capacity to accidently write something good). I know I’m harping on Bennington’s lyrics, but for fuck’s sake, the chorus on “Given Up” goes “I’ve Given Up / I’m sick of feeling / Is there nothing you can say? / Take this all away / I’m suffocating / Tell me what the fuck is wrong with me”. The next track, “Leave out All the Rest”, begins with “I dreamed I was missing, you were so scared / But no-one would listen, ’cause no-one else cared”. Do I need to explain why this is trash? No? Good. Step three: “write a lazy political song that doesn’t have an ounce of bite to it and have the rapper of the group sing the refrain”. I was going to joke that Garth Brooks put out a better anti-war song when he was doing his Chris Gaines shtick, but you know what, at least the song where he went “Maybe it’s the high schools, maybe it’s the teachers / Tattoos, pipe bombs underneath the bleachers” displayed some degree of understanding and wit, unlike “Hands Held High”, the most boringest thing that ever bored through Boresville.

Step four: “have Rick Rubin produce your album during the time when he was actively hurting every project he touched”. Rubin’s golden touch around this time had turned to fool’s gold, with him somehow thinking that “99 Problems” by Jay-Z, De-Loused in the Comatorium, Out of Exile, and Make Believe were worth the tape they were recorded on. Maybe that’s why the backing music sounds so drab, or maybe I’m fishing for a way to not rag on Linkin Park any harder than I already have. Let me be clear: Minutes to Midnight is trash, the sort of album that makes other shitty albums sound amazing by comparison, with not a single good song worth listening to. The beats suck, the songs are poorly written, the whole thing is a dour slog to get through, and, to quote reviews published by Rolling Stone and IGN, is “honed, metallic pop with a hip-hop stride and a wake-up kick” that is “definitely a step in the right direction and a stepping stone for things to come”, best album of 2007, Animal Collective are fucking hacks.

VERDICT: DISOWN

I tried to find some way of conveying the following in the proper write-up without bringing the piece to a crashing halt, but since I couldn’t do it there, I’ll do it here: I am immensely saddened by Chester Bennington’s passing. For all the derisive things I said about him above and elsewhere, all suicides are tragedies in my eyes, and Bennington seemed to be the rare rock star that maintained a personable relationship with his fans. If you’re struggling, please seek help. The number for the National Suicide Hotline for the United States is 1-800-273-8255; if you don’t live in the United States, consult this list of international suicide hotlines.

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.