Sometimes it feels as though Linkin Park have no idea how successful they actually are. Maybe they did at one point, considering how Hybrid Theory rode nu-metal to mainstream heights to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time, a formula which they tried to recreate with Meteora in 2003. But beyond that it’s felt as though Linkin Park have been actively bending over backwards to appeal to a wider audience, embracing an electronic direction that left later albums like A Thousand Suns and especially Living Things feeling cold and lifeless. Even their heel turn back to heavier rock on 2014’s The Hunting Party felt like a calculated way of appealing to old fans they had alienated, regardless of how much of an improvement it was. But with One More Light those assumptions seem to have become text, particularly with the much maligned lead single Heavy, downing tools for downtempo electro-pop and recruiting Kiiara for a guest slot to get the name recognition of who’s popular right this second. For all the jokes that have been made about Linkin Park’s ‘band as a business’ ethos, they aren’t exactly doing anything to combat it.
But then again, it’s tempting to give Linkin Park the benefit of the doubt here. With a hard shift to mainstream pop like this, it’s at least easy to see how One More Light would appeal to fans of acts like The Chainsmokers or Twenty One Pilots. But therein lies the problem, in that this is the clear, rigid mindset that Linkin Park have gone into this album with, and even then, any attempts feel so weak and flimsy, almost like they’re not even trying. It’s not bad because it’s a pop album; it’s bad because it’s a lazy pop album.
It’s worth really acknowledging that too; ‘pop’ isn’t a dirty word, and when Linkin Park bring some energy and effort to the table to actually buoy this sound up, it makes for easily this album’s best moments. Pusha T and Stormzy bring a greater deal of intensity to the heavier hip-hop beat of Good Goodbye, and Talking To Myself veers in a more propulsive pop-rock direction, actually bringing in some guitars and providing scant evidence for how much more of an attractive direction that would’ve been. Instead, One More Light feels so flimsy and malformed, drowning in rinsed-out synths that have no colour of spark, lumbering, needlessly heavy percussion and a thinner vocal performance from both Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda than ever before. Even the most cop-out piece of praise of being ‘well-crafted’ doesn’t apply here; Heavy is, in that it can actually build up some swell that at least has the illusion of power, but that’s thrown majorly off balance by the chopped-and-screwed drops of Battle Symphony and Sorry For Now, the strangled acoustic guitar of Sharp Edges and the general nothingness of the title track. That’s not even touching on a production job that feels unforgivably cheap, dousing everything in a film and sounding so forced and underweight as a result; as an album, this just doesn’t sound good.
Which is a neat segue into the lyrics, where Linkin Park try to empathise with the young people by examining feelings of depression and self-doubt. Points for the idea, but when it culminates in Shinoda addressing his own children on Invisible and Sorry For Now, and Bennington’s ham-fisted attempts at being relatable on Heavy and Battle Symphony, and it transpires that One More Light is little more than entry-level ‘angsty teen’ pandering. And with the language and phraseology being just as uncreative and threadbare as the music it’s paired with, any trace of One More Light evaporates as soon as it hits.
Just for some perspective, Linkin Park have currently been a band for over twenty years. Writing a semi-decent album at this point shouldn’t be much of a stretch; depending on who you ask, they’ve got at least one all time classic under their belts. As such, One More Light can be viewed in one of two ways – an experiment in breaking out of a set mould that’s more drastic than virtually any other band has ever attempted, or an exercise in parting an audience from the last few pennies in their pocket. From the evidence here, it’d be difficult to say either is really true. It may be hugely different but stil fails in every conceivable manner, and sounding as fed up as this is hardly going to inspire anyone to get on board, let alone longtime fans whose opinions have already been mixed at best. One More Light may finally be the moment where Linkin Park have painted themselves into a corner, and though sheer brand recognition means that this is certainly not the end, how long they can convincingly keep this up is another matter entirely.
For fans of: The Chainsmokers, Twenty One Pilots, Halsey
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘One More Light’ by Linkin Park is out now on Warner Bros. Records.