For many people, Linkin Park's experimental electronic album A Thousand Suns was where the band started to polarise fans and critics with their directions. Having become accustomed to their nu-metal vibe, audiences definitely got a shock when in 2010, the Californian band whipped up this electronic effort filled to the brim with synthesised beats, speech extracts, and sample-ridden songs. Fair to say, people became confused, which unfortunately gave this album a mixed to negative reception by fans and critics alike. I'll admit, the album definitely struck me as odd when I first listened to it, but over time it has grown on me massively, so much so that it's up there in my top 3 favourite Linkin Park albums. And, to be honest, it should be one of your favourites too. Don't believe me? Read on and see if I can convince you that this album is one of Linkin Park's best efforts yet. As per usual, I will be doing a track-by-track review.
01. The Requiem
The opening introduction track of the album is an interesting one at that, comprised of elements from every song that follows it on the album. Rather then throwing listeners into Linkin Park's new direction blindfolded, this opening helps to slowly introduce the listener to the band's new sound, and what a job it does! About midway through the track, ominous auto-tuned vocals sing lyrics from one of the album's later tracks (The Catalyst), and it was here where the album really grabbed my attention for the first time. The haunting gang vocals alongside the somewhat soothing yet creepy main vocals makes this intro track one of the best the band has ever done. Being a fan of electronic music myself, this track mixed and combined everything in a pleasurable way. And this is only the INTRO track! I can't wait to see what's next!
02. The Radiance
Oh. What's this? Ah. Another interlude with a speech extract from J. Robert Oppenheimer. Get used to these speeches from important political figures, because there's a lot of them. To be fair, this album's theme is about war, so it's not surprising that the band chose to insert a few historical references in their album, but did they really have to waste space on the album with them? This track solely consists of Oppenheimer's "Now I Am Become Death" speech against a generic pulsing beat, but I can't help but feel it should have just been part of The Requiem. There's not even a clear transition between the two tracks, so when I first listened to this album, I assumed they were all one track. But alas, I was wrong.
03. Burning In The Skies
The first real song on the album is somewhat of a bore compared to what Linkin Park are known for, but that in no way means it's bad. Mike Shinoda's and Chester Bennington's vocals coincide wonderfully as per usual, and Brad Delson's guitar work at the end of the track has to be admired. But other that, this track is unfortunately mostly forgettable when compared to other tracks on the album due to its mellow piano segments and generic drums. The fact that I had more to say about the intro tracks than I do about this one isn't a great sign.
04. Empty Spaces
Already, ANOTHER interlude track follows Burning In The Skies. 4 tracks in and we only have 1 real song? Not a good sign. And this track only consists of the sounds of crickets and bombing. Why, oh, why couldn't they have just stapled this onto the next song on the album rather than giving it an entire place on the tracklist by itself? I think I know what Linkin Park were trying to do here. As this album is their first about war, they wanted to hammer in that idea as much as they could, so much so that they dedicated entire tracks just to fillers containing speeches or sounds of war. Unfortunately, I don't think it worked as much as they wanted it to.
05. When They Come For Me
What seems to start off as an electronic garbled mess ends up being a surprisingly well structured and catchy song. The bursts of noise that accompany the repeated metronome may be unwelcome at first, but once the song finds its feet (which, admittedly, takes a while), it becomes an epic, tribal wave of noise ridden with tribal drums and bass. Shinoda's rapping is top notch and even the lyrics contain a fair amount of creativity. The choruses and the bridge is where the song really gets going, though, as Chester's war cries give the song a whole new layer. What starts off as a fairly negative song ends up as a surprisingly uplifting and bombastic one.
06. Robot Boy
Uh-oh. I hear generic piano riffs again. Unfortunately, this song is mostly a bore, with Chester and Mike's vocals sounding very restrained. The lyrics are also simplistic and too mellow for my liking. The song does pick up during the last quarter though, as synths and screams finally come into play, and Chester sounds brilliant. It's a shame he's mostly drowned out by the synths and generic chorus vocals.
07. Jornada Del Muerto
Though a better sounding interlude than most others on the album, it's still not a very welcomed addition. This interlude does contain some nice vocals from Mike and Chester, but they're gone too soon and we're left with more synthesised beats. Good, but not needed.
08. Waiting For The End
This is where things get good. And I mean, REALLY good. Mike's somewhat reggae-style rapping may seem weird at first, but it soon helps add to the general mood of the song. Then in comes Chester's harmonious vocals, and it is here where A Thousand Suns gets ten times better. I said I wasn't a big fan of the mellow songs, but this one manages to combine that with powerful vocals flawlessly. The drumming is catchy, the synths are noticeable but not distracting, and vocal interplay is the best it's been. It is truly a blessing to the ears when Chester belts out vocals with all the energy and emotion he can. This is definitely present in this track, and what we end up getting is a song that slowly and steadily builds into a wonderful ballad full of heart and soul. And yet, this isn't my favourite track on the album. That title goes to the next one.
A steady, militaristic snare beat over deep synths and bouncy electronic keys helps grab the listener's attention immediately. The song even starts to sound somewhat happy and joyful. Then Chester's vocals enter the scene and the result is like a gunshot. No longer restricted, Chester scream-raps his vocals. This may be jarring to some, but for me, the energy in his vocals against the bubbly synths makes this song brilliantly unconventional. Just like Waiting For The End, this song builds and builds with layers, but so very much faster. By the time the second chorus kicks in, Chester is screaming, pianos are playing, synths are plucking, and I am loving every second. Something about the hard-hitting vocals against the joyful wall of noises appeals to me massively. Seriously, out of all of Linkin Park's library of music, this song pumps me up the most, leaving me full of adrenaline and dying for more. Joe Hahn is given a chance to shine just after halfway through the song with some mixing, though this is definitely the weak point of the song, as it just feels out of place and slightly grinds the song to a halt. After that, though, Mike Shinoda takes the wheel, and if this isn't some of his best vocal work, I don't know what is. As he slowly sings his vocals, the drum beat gets louder, the synths get thicker, and the keys get more prominent. All of this crescendos into a beautiful final effort filled with excitement as both Mike and Chester continue singing until the song draws to a calm close. I felt like I had been hit by an ocean of biting cold water after listening to this song, and I loved it. The band definitely took a risk with this song, and not everyone will appreciate its jarring vocals, but, for me, this song defines what A Thousand Suns is: a musical risk that works oh-so brilliantly. I'd give this song an entire review by itself if I wanted to, and perhaps I will in the future, but for now let's stick to the main focus.
10. Wretches And Kings
A Mario Savio speech (which I'm honestly surprised it didn't get its own track on the album like previous speeches) leads into a electronic frenzy of rapping and screaming. Unfortunately, it's not as well done as Blackout. It still retains some catchiness, with Mike's rapping and Chester's scream-vocals standing out well and Hahn's mixing improved. The final third of the song is easy to chant along too and helps make this slightly underwhelming song just a bit more powerful.
11. Wisdom, Justice, And Love
Oh, boy, more interludes. This one contains a Martin Luther King Jr. speech against a calm piano riff that leads into the next track. Unlike some of the other interludes on the album, this one feels like it actually slightly deserves its own space on the album as it has a clear message and bleeds in well to the next song. It's its own entity without being an anomaly
Mike was really on his A-game when doing vocals for this album. Iridescent is impressive in many aspects as, like previous songs, it slowly builds on its layers but this particular song is much more acoustic, dropping many of the electronic elements that album mostly consists of, and yet it still works. The harmonies flow with the guitars and piano ostinatos seamlessly, and the lyrics are some of the strongest on the album. The drum work is also very catchy and impressive. Finally, gang vocals chant the chorus, adding a bombastic, almost cinematic, element to the song. A truly epic masterpiece full of emotion and hope.
More interludes! This slow, atmospheric addition to the album contains remixed vocals from Burning In The Skies. It sounds nice, but is pointless.
14. The Catalyst
The standout single of the album definitely divided fans and critics. For many, this was the first glimpse into Linkin Park's new sound. At first, I was not a fan, but time did its job and I grew to love this song due to its bouncy beat, creative lyrics, chant-able vocals, and impressive mixing and sampling from Hahn. A Thousand Suns is very good at defining each band member's role by giving them chances to shine, and this is very clear in The Catalyst. Almost as adrenaline-pumping as Blackout, but also catchy and energetic in its own right, the song eventually mellows down into a piano ballad that builds with Mike's wonderful vocals and Rob Bourdon's chilling drum segments. The keyboards wail and the guitars demand attention, making this single a standout one and a powerful, perfect end to the album.
15. The Messenger
Huh? What's this? I though we were done? Apparently not. The final track on the album unfortunately ends it on a negative. Whereas The Catalyst would have been a memorable and fitting end to the electronic parade that is A Thousand Suns, The Messenger decides to end it mellow and unfortunately, it doesn't work. Chester's screamed vocals against the acoustic guitar just doesn't work (although the final "oh"s from him definitely work well when the song has finally had time to build). I know that Chester dedicated this song to his children, and I feel that if this song had been released as a standalone song rather than part of an album it would have gained slightly more attention. But it only serves as a confusing and pointless end to a fantastic album.
When I think of A Thousand Suns, or just new Linkin Park in general, one word springs to my mind: creativity. Sure, I love their early stuff very much, but there's no denying that if they had continued with the same old angry, I-hate-everyone teenage attitude, they would have died out. Like their fans, Linkin Park grew up and so did their music. They started trying new things and mixing the expected with the unexpected. To some, this didn't work, but for me, it paid off brilliantly. A Thousand Suns may be filled with many pointless elements, but the band's ambition and desire to be different has to be admired. Plus, when this album gets good, it really, REALLY, gets damn good. Focus more on the positives and I believe you will enjoy this album as much as I do.