The version of Linkin Park heard on One More Light, the band’s seventh album, is entirely unrecognizable. After a 10-year journey that began with collaborating with Rick Rubin for 2007’s Minutes to Midnight, the band no longer resembles the nu-metal/rap hybrid who helped define a chunk of the early ’00s in any form. The band flirted with EDM and pop before, notably on 2010’s A Thousand Suns, but the sugary hooks, booming synths, and vaguely inspirational lyrics mark a drastic reinvention for a band who, even at their nadir, always retained their identity.
On 2014’s The Hunting Party, Linkin Park decided to reach back towards their roots with a heavy, abrasive nu-metal record featuring collaborations by Tom Morello and System of A Down’s Daron Malakian, to mostly diminishing returns. After what in retrospect feels like a concession to fans, the band have now moved boldly forward with a drastic reinvention. Chester Bennington’s screams have been replaced with dramatic “na-na-nas” layered with background vocals. Soft piano lines and acoustic strumming are present more than anything close to heavy metal, and where the band’s use of electronics once was built off broken glitches, it’s now filled with the same basic progressions you’d find with any DJ at Ultra.
Bennington has always had a memorable voice, a squealing upper register that burned underneath the skin and gave his shrieks the exact right dose of adolescent fury. As he matured, and went off on a three-year stint as the replacement singer of Stone Temple Pilots, he took a fuller command of his voice that allows him to embody power ballads like the title track. The problem he faces here is a lack of connection, whether he’s adopting a conversational Chainsmokers-like cadence on single “Heavy” or a breezy drawl on “Sharp Edges”. As he belts out sweeping choruses like opener “Nobody Can Save Me”, he could be swapped out with the singer from any other top 40 band without anyone noticing.
Even more lost in this latest incarnation of Linkin Park is Mike Shinoda. His rapping amounts to a single verse on single “Good Goodbye”, where he fumbles through an awkward El-P impression before getting marginalized by a half-awake Pusha T and Stormzy’s hilarious attempt to work the band’s name into his verse. Instead, he takes on lead vocal duties on two tracks, “Invisible” and “Sorry For Now”, the latter of which he wrote for his children. The songs are fairly rote emotional treatises on self-confidence and forgiveness, and his indistinct singing voice keeps them grounded. The surprising turn keeps him involved in a band that frequently doesn’t seem to need him anymore, even if it feels boilerplate.
In 2015, the members of Linkin Park launched a venture capital firm named Machine Shop Ventures with the goal of investing startups like Lyft. It was a savvy business move for the band, looking to diversify their interests and expand into a new industry. Investing in startups in Silicon Valley likely has a lot in common with running a major label band at this point, built around making strategic moves to maximize returns. Through that lens, One More Light makes sense as the band works to chase the trend of pop-EDM in an attempt to capitalize on its ubiquity. All the formulaic flourishes that build the framework of the record, complete with a feature from electro-pop singer Kiiara, are carefully designed to make an impact on radio as if they were selected by committee. The problem is that they’re entering an already saturated market, and there’s nothing here that gives the band an edge on any of the DJ/vocalist combinations they’re now competing against.
The band rebuked fan complaints that they were selling out, with Bennington admonishing fans in an NME interview to “move the fuck on” from Hybrid Theory. “If you’re saying we’re doing what we’re doing for a commercial or monetary reason, trying to make success out of some formula .. .then stab yourself in the face!” Bennington exclaimed. To his point, One More Light certainly sounds like a record the band wants to make. Even if they sound hopelessly lost as they meander through the pop charts, Linkin Park genuinely appear to be enjoying their new role. Songs like “Halfway Right” and “Sharp Edges” find them reflective and nostalgic, looking back at their younger days spent “getting high,” ready to offer advice like an overeager father figure. The problem is that Bennington’s comments in that interview are far more affecting than anything on One More Light, which is a muddled mess of a record from a band that completely abandoned any sense of identity.
Essential Tracks: “Heavy”