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It feels impossible to overstate the impact of Linkin Park on modern rock. Even as the Los Angelenos’ extended hiatus (following the passing of iconic frontman Chester Bennington) sprawls out over another year, the genre-melding design of their patented Hybrid Theory feels ever more relevant to rock’s continued evolution and cross-pollination with other cutting-edge styles.
Dismissed by closed-minded critics as a ‘pop’ band with guitars, and by many apparent fans as ‘sell-outs’ following their numerous reinventions, retrospect has been kind, with the burning authenticity, machine-tooled efficiency and unabashed accessibility enduring long after the bluster has dissipated.
Those reinventions (and later albums’ demand for front-to-back playthroughs) make a ranking of Linkin Park’s finest individual songs a tricky, lop-sided affair. With the caveat that every album has its own place in fans’ hearts, however, there’s still a hell of a lot of fun to be had figuring out which from their arsenal of bangers is the one song to rule them all…
Described to us on release as ‘a fucking bizarre death-party-rap hoedown’ by mainman Mike Shinoda, Bleed It Out still feels like a uniquely illustrative snapshot of where Linkin Park were at on album number three. Playing faster and looser than fans had seen before, the song builds on a foundation of handclaps, unconventional percussion and simulated live energy with a beat straight out of Motown, and guitars that could’ve been nicked from U2. It was proof that they could grow up without losing a beat of that trademark urgency, or an ounce of their stadium-ready instinct for entertainment.
Influenced heavily by the raw-edged alt. inclinations Chester had been indulging with Dead By Sunrise, 2014’s The Hunting Party was a genuine attempt to reinject the true spirit and energy of real rock music back into a flagging mainstream. While the album itself makes for a compelling listen (we ranked it #4 amongst their LPs), it’s not exactly overloaded with easily accessible standalone hits. The sprawling, riff-heavy lead single holds its own, though, with a sense of uncontrolled momentum to match its Temple Run-inspired music video and that weightily climactic cameo from New York rap icon Rakim taking it to the next level.
By 2012’s Living Things, it felt like Linkin Park had entered something of a holding pattern, having seen the outright experimentalism of 2010’s A Thousand Suns win over critics but leave fans cold. The subsequent attempt to recapture the slick bombast of their trademark sound without altogether jettisoning electronic experimentation produced only a few truly memorable tracks, but Burn It Down still stands out. With Chester’s arms-aloft vocals and Mike’s strident rhymes anchoring the breezy synth sound, this might just be the most convincingly straightforward ‘pop’ cut of their careers.
The second single from Linkin Park’s fifth album is something of a curio: its shimmering, rave-centric electronica hinting at further poppy evolution while the cathartic vocal interplay between Chester and Mike harked right back to their early days. Graced with an enormous chorus and explosive emotional pivot two-and-a-half minutes in (‘THIS TIME I FINALLY LET YOU GO!’), it sticks in the memory as one of their most unexpectedly haunting moments. Its original music video (later replaced with the high-production cut below) was noteworthy, too, for its innovative ability to interface with viewers’ Facebook profiles to provide a more personalised experience. Typical of a band determined to stay ahead of the curve rather than, er, getting lost in the echo…
Still a staggeringly divisive record, 2010’s A Thousand Suns felt like the work of determined revolutionaries rather than the platinum-selling crowdpleasers we’d known before. In many ways a concept album about society’s descent into the unknown – from rampant technology and nuclear power to sociological evolution in the digital age – even its title (a reference to Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad-Gita as quoted by atomic innovator Robert Oppenheimer) came loaded with layered meaning and potent foreboding. When They Come For Me is the moment its explosive core begins to detonate, with a wave of tribal drums and sampled guitars providing the backdrop for Shinoda’s most ferocious vocal performance (openly indebted to heroes Chuck D and Notorious B.I.G.) and Chester’s Eastern-influenced earworm chant. This remains one of their most challenging (and, resultantly, rewarding) listens.
Originally conceived as an instrumental track by Mike, Breaking The Habit had been in the works for five years before eventually clicking over the course of a couple of hours to become a central showcase – not to mention the fifth and final single – for Meteora. A fast-paced, genre-melding prototype of the next LP era – with numerous layers to the sound and far more slickly-deployed production than before – at its core this became a reckoning on the personal cycle of self-destruction. Chester, at one point, even identified the track as a favourite Linkin Park song, feeling a deep personal connection with Shinoda’s troubled lyrics. The music video directed by Kazoto Nakazawa – who had recently worked with Quentin Tarantino on Kill Bill – is just icing on the cake.
A Thousand Suns’ lead single occasionally feels drawn in different directions: attempting to deliver the kind of radio-ready anthem for which the band were renowned, while also introducing the broader record’s unapologetically experimental new era. On the whole, the song delivers a successful balance, with the synth-led sound and dystopian aesthetic of the track (‘God bless us every one, we’re a broken people living under loaded gun…’) projecting an impressively rounded-out picture, as the band dived in at the deep-end of their most artistically and intellectually stimulating stage.
Taking the nu-metal bounce of Hybrid Theory, then dipping it in molten steel, Lying From You saw the band showcasing more momentous grooves and industrialised crunch, with dank atmospherics and Chester’s open-wound anguish (‘Let me take back my life, I’d rather be all alone…’) daubing on the darkness. Those levels of swagger and aggression – not to mention Brad Delson’s mind-mangling riff that throttles through two-thirds of the way in – ensure it still reverberates with the same stirring power today.
The heaviest – and, arguably, best – song on Minutes To Midnight is a serrated stand-out amongst the high-sheen of that third Linkin Park full-length. Rolling in on a revved-up punk-rock engine, dropping an F-bomb that gobbed on the band’s previously unblemished image and generally thrashing about like their lives depended on it, this was a chaotic counterbalance to the calculated polish elsewhere. Also, Chester’s lung-busting 18-second scream is still an utterly remarkable battlecry…
Perhaps the most nu-metal track the band ever recorded, this was proof that Linkin Park had the grit to counterbalance their platinum-selling glamour. There’s rabble-rousing quality at every turn, from Joe Hahn’s vinyl-sparking scratchwork to Brad Delson’s rumbling riffage and Shinoda’s all-attitude intro. At the heart of it all, though, is Chester’s cry: ‘You like to think you’re never wrong / You have to act like you’re someone…’ marrying adolescent angst and blockbuster bombast for something truly anthemic. The song was remixed as Pts.OF.Athrty (by Orgy’s Jay Gordon, obviously…) as part of 2002’s Reanimation project, but the original remains the superior iteration.
Seeking to emulate his hip-hop heroes, Mike Shinoda wanted to give A Thousand Suns a three-dimensional sonic makeup, largely unlike anything heard in rock before. Wretches And Kings feels like the ultimate fruition of that mission. Reworking Public Enemy’s famous Bring Tha Noize lyric (‘Bass, how low will you go?’ becoming ‘To save face, how low can you go?’) before dropping an avalanche of speaker-creaking electronic effects, it’s a thrilling sonic spectacle. Even better, the song delivers a potent political message, sampling workers’ rights activist Mario Savio before an almost feral-sounding Chester announces, ‘We, the animals, take control / Hear us now, clear and tall / Wretches and kings, we come for you!’ When the inevitable comparisons to Public Enemy’s seminal Fear Of A Black Planet came, this ensured they were deserved.
The lead single from Minutes To Midnight was a forthright goodbye to their nu-metal roots. (‘In this farewell, there is no blood, there is no alibi…’) Guided by legendary producer Rick Rubin, the band build over a beguiling piano riff, with a rawer performance fixated not on vocal interplay, but on the bare quality of Bennington’s delivery. Critics at the time saw it as a move away from metal altogether, in pursuit of the more middle-of-the-road mainstream appeal of outfits like U2 now that the initial subgenre bubble had burst. With the benefit of hindsight, its easier to understand it as an evolutionary step from a band with the daring to leave behind a formula with which they had conquered the world – and continued to win.
The initial single for Meteora dropped to unheralded levels of expectation in early 2003, with ravenous fans having waited two-and-a-half years for a proper follow-up to Hybrid Theory. In an era before streaming (or even YouTube) had properly taken off, a banner ran on Kerrang! TV to let fans know it had arrived and would be on heavy rotation. Hell, it even managed to crack the UK Top 10 singles chart. Perhaps not the best song on the record, it was nonetheless a towering musical statement with one foot in the high-angst of the Hybrid Theory era, while the other stretched forward, reaching for what was next. Although the lyrics are rooted in personal suffering (‘I want to heal, I want to feel what I thought was never real…’) they fit, too, with the band’s increasing need to stand apart.
‘There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface / Consuming, confusing…’ The second single from Hybrid Theory felt like the first really deep dive into the damage underlying the songwriting. A reckoning on guilt and self-loathing, it sees Chester attempting to come to terms with the demons of his past: namely a teenage abuse of methamphetamine, with its tendency to conjure hallucinations, anxiety and the unsettling sensation of something moving beneath his skin. Although the singer would note in later years that the song remained difficult to perform live, the anthemic quality – and lyrics left open enough to carry fans’ projections of their more everyday angst – ensured it became a favourite and 2002 winner of the Best Hard Rock Performance GRAMMY.
As has been noted endlessly over the past few years, it’s impossible to view the band’s final release with Chester without the tragic perspective of his loss. Even on their softest ever album, however, there was a compelling, heartfelt simplicity to One More Light’s title-track – a tribute to a friend who passed with cancer, an unguarded ode to resiliency – that made it stand out even before the subsequent tragedy. Listening now, of course, its message is overloaded with poignancy. As a final statement of Chester’s towering legacy, one has to believe it’s a moment of which he’d be proud. ‘We saw brilliance, when the world, was asleep, there are things that we can have, but can’t keep…’ Try not to tear up…
Hybrid Theory’s opening track feels, even 20 years on, like a showroom version of their genre-melding design, condensing a world of influence into 192 seconds of rampant music. Even then, Mike Shinoda’s proto-emo-rap (‘Why does it feel like night today? Something in the air’s not right today. Why am I so uptight today? Paranoia’s all I got left!’) felt a little on-the-chin, but complaints about a lack of subtlety missed the point. This was music overloaded with influence; with feeling; with world-beating ambition: the battering-ram opening statement from an outfit ready to take on the world right from day one.
On one hand, Hybrid Theory’s lead single did little to foreshadow Linkin Park’s full, genre-trampling potential. Boiled down, this was nu-metal in its purest form, with Chester’s immortal ‘SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!’ (lifted from an argument with producer Don Gilmore about the song’s direction) as much of a one-line encapsulation of the genre as anything spat by Jonathan Davis, Fred Durst or David Draiman. On the other hand, though, this was the band at their absolute best, with a laser focus on world domination as those crunching guitars, scratched vinyls and earthquake drums layer up into a momentous whole – capable of levelling anything in their path. 20 years (and thousands of rock club dancefloor demolitions) later, there’s not a second of this song that feels any less urgent, heartfelt or iconic than it did back then.
The second single from Meteora saw Linkin Park changing things up significantly. Hitting the ground running with a pulse-pounding beat almost reminiscent of drum’n’bass and layering up both the electronics and live orchestral input, it felt like a maturation and daring swerve as the band began to really unpack what might’ve been a ‘difficult’ second album. Rather than shrinking from the challenge, they streamlined their sound, delivering a sub-three-minute pop-rock masterpiece slick enough for mainstream radio yet – at it’s fiery peak – harsh enough to strip flesh from bone. The iconic Mark Romanek-directed video – featuring the band performing to a roomful of punters with arms aloft and backlit by a wall of lights – only built the sense of crossover cool as they continued to slip free from the nu-metal pigeonhole. ‘I WON’T BE IGNORED!’ they promised. Indeed they wouldn’t.
The story goes that Chester Bennington didn’t want In The End to make the final cut of Hybrid Theory. A slower, more expansive, piano-driven composition – albeit one littered with lung-busting power choruses – it didn’t obviously fit the harder edges wrapped around it. Becoming the album’s fourth single, however, it became the first to truly foreshadow their enormous mainstream-busting potential. Featuring one of Chester’s most iconic, exposed vocal performances (‘I’ve put my trust in you / Pushed as far as I can go…’) and accompanied by a surrealist music video that (at the time of writing) is on the cusp of a billion views on YouTube, it has doubtless earned immortality.
‘I’m tired of being what you want me to be, feeling so faithless, lost under the surface…’ If any doubts remained that Linkin Park were here to say, the third single from Meteora (and the closing statement on the record itself) was resounding proof that they were to be the enduring voice of this generation. Indeed, only more so as they were able to express themselves on their own varied terms. Despite Numb being a mega-hit in itself, the band’s 2004 Collision Course collaboration (Numb/Encore) with New York rap royalty Jay-Z eclipsed its profile in the mainstream consciousness. We reckon, however, that the song is best experienced on its own relatively stripped back steam (even the version featuring Chester’s isolated vocals is enough to raise chills). The legion of fans who made it the most-watched rock music video in YouTube history (toppling Guns N’ Roses’ venerable November Rain last year) would tend to agree.
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
The song from the nu-metal kings' One More Light era comes as part of a new compilation, Papercuts (Singles Collection 2000-2023), coming in April...
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