Linkin Park’s fourth album isn’t a radical departure from its predecessor, 2007’s awful stadium rock effort Minutes to Midnight, but the California six-piece have made enough changes in the right places to warrant a re-appraisal of their slipping position in the mainstream rock hierarchy. Pre-release whispers billed it as a return to the wall-to-wall greatness of debut record Hybrid Theory, but that’s not quite accurate. It’s more a mid-way point between the brash youthfulness of that record and the thoughtful reflection of the last album, but it’s a much more convincing fit.
Gone are the overt U2/stadium rock pretensions (only briefly resurrected on the ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’-aping ‘Iridescent’), and in their place come the more enduring features of their early records: the Rage Against the Machine-like righteous anger and DJ-style guitar effects, while mooted single ‘Wretches and Kings’ explicitly channels Public Enemy with its “bass, how long can you go?” refrain.
Where Minutes to Midnight always sounded like a band trying to be something other than what they were, A Thousand Suns is a far more original record. Lead single ‘The Catalyst’ channels AFI with riotous gang vocals and subtle electronics, while acoustic closer ‘The Messenger’ is reminiscent of early Against Me!, but the overall effect as that of a group comfortable enough in their skin to incorporate unexpected influences without dispensing of their core sound.
The only occasion where the rulebook is well and truly flung out the window is on the mid-album ‘Robot Boy,’ where Bennington takes the lead on a track that can most accurately be described as a hybrid of the band’s more sedate electronic material with some straight-up ‘90s boyband action – think East 17 crossed with Hybrid Theory’s ‘Crawling’ – it’s that good. There are some dodgy parts – the vocals are routinely over-produced, particularly during Bennington’s screamed vocals on ‘Blackout’ and ‘The Messenger’ – but they’re minor kinks.
All things considered, A Thousand Suns is a somewhat unexpected return to form for a band that had seemingly lost their way under the tutelage of Rick Rubin. It turns out to be as much an exoneration of Linkin Park as it is Rubin, who was made a career on telling bands what is and isn’t awful, and who got it so badly wrong last time round.