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On their last two albums— 2007’s “Minutes To Midnight” and 2010’s “A Thousand Suns”— the members of Linkin Park were feeling their oats a little, bucking the musical conventions that had made them a multi-platinum act, but now felt confining instead of defining.
For “Living Things,” out Tuesday (26), the Los Angeles band took a breath, regrouped, and returns with an album that pulls in all the elements that made millions of rock/rap fans love them initially, but they manage to shake it up plenty in fresh and sometimes surprising ways.
The angry young men on 2000’s “Hybrid Theory” may all now well be on the far side of 30, but they’ve still found plenty to get their dander up. Whether it’s betrayal or loss, as on opening track, “Lost in the Echo” or on the mindbendingly vitriolic “Lies Greed Misery,” there’s always some blistering screed they need to get off their collective chest that has been festering.
For fans of the Linkin Park template —Chester Bennington sings and then usually starts to scream his lungs out, before or after Mike Shinoda has rapped and some keyboards have tinkered around— that is still intact to great effect, as on “Burn It Down,” the album’s wildly successful first single.
However, then comes something like the aforementioned “Lies Greed Misery,” which sounds like an unholy alliance between Erasure, Kanye West, Skrillex and M.I.A. before it explodes wide open as Bennington repeatedly screams “You did it to yourself” at a level that will peel paint off the walls. “Castle of Glass” begins with a genial chugging that sounds downright countrified, as the band sings “I’m only a crack in this castle of glass” with a lulling resignation.
Linkin Park’s appeal to its followers, or this fan at least, is the catharsis its songs often provide. I was a recent transplant to Los Angeles from New York when Linkin Park broke through with “Hybrid Theory.” I remember playing songs like “Crawling” or “In The End” in my car and they matched every bit of anxiety and angst that comes with starting over. There has always been something about Linkin Park’s music from that day on that has always tapped into an underlying, hidden hurt and rage that feels left over from adolescence. It scabs over, but never heals.
As producer Rick Rubin, who worked with the band for the third time, explained at a Q&A and listening party for the band last week, they write piecemeal. He compared them more to programmers than a traditional band: each member brings in his part and they songs are Frankensteined together. For Linkin Park’s detractors, that means the songs sound disjointed with disparate elements coming out of nowhere and shape shift with seemingly no rhyme or reason, but given how much pop radio now throws in a rap on almost every pop song, in some ways it sounds like everyone else finally caught up with Linkin Park’s way of doing things.
One of the constants that holds “Living Things” together is Rob Bourdon’s drumming. He bring a military-like rat-a-tat to such songs as on “In My Remains” or “Until It Breaks,” especially when it feels like all the parts could come unhinged at any minute unless tied down.
Two of the tracks weigh in under two minutes each and all 12 songs amount to less than 38 minutes, but there’s a density and a thrash to the songs that make any stretching or filler not only unnecessary but undesirable. By the time the album wraps with the echo-y, throbbing “Powerless” (also the end title for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), you’ll be ready for a little breather.