It's not the saddest part of today, but it's still absolutely heartbreaking that Chester Bennington didn't live to see rock's history writers come around on Linkin Park. It would have happened -- absolutely would've, eventually. The band was too big, too influential, too talented, too smart, too innovative. Sure, they had the misfortune of their commercial and artistic apex coming at a peak for mainstream rock music at its most blunt and least imaginative, and the double misfortune of being directly influential on a lot of the bands responsible for making it so.
But that was never Linkin Park themselves. Their best music was electric, boundary-pushing and undeniably vital. Dismissing them along with the thudding misogyny that marked nu-metal deep into the '00s is no fairer than writing off Nirvana with the middling bands of '90s post-grunge. Chester Bennignton, who was found dead Thursday July 20 at age 41 of an apparent suicide, didn't dominate Linkin Park the way most frontmen of his time did -- at their best, the band's nervous system was directed in equal parts by Bennington's paint-scraping primal scream, Mike Shinoda's keep-calm-and-carry-on rhyming and Joe Hahn's lucid-nightmare samples and soundscapes.
But that's not to say that he was inessential, or indeed that he was anything less than epochal: His shredded-throat shrieking was the whiny, guttural, unignorable voice of a musical generation, as inextricable to the sound of '00s rock as, well, Chris Cornell's voice was to the '90s.
He was the band's not-so-secret weapon, capable of unleashing holy hell at a measure's notice, making their songs captivating even when they otherwise sounded like they were just spinning their Xbox controllers. But it wasn't always about brute force with Bennington: His yawp had a piercing clarity to it, too, which helped facilitate Linkin Park's eventual evolution away from the nu-metal moment that birthed them into more straightforward stadium rock, and in recent days, to something more resembling alt-pop.
Subtlety would never be his strong suit, but his voice was more malleable than he was often given credit for: Had he come up a decade earlier, he could've growled with James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine; had he come up a half-decade later, he could've out-emoted Chris Carrabba and Patrick Stump standing on his head. A full decade before they courted sell-out accusations on No. The full Collision Course defense will have to wait for another day, but suffice to say, when JAY-Z decides you're enough of an artistic peer to spend a mini-album intertwining your back calatog with his, it's not a memory that you run from.
Skankin' Park! For all their instrumental and rhythmic strengths, Linkin Park rarely made boogieing a priority -- "I will not dance, even if the beat is funky," Shinoda strangely protested on A Thousand Suns ' "When They Come for Me" -- leaving this ska-inflected penultimate M2M cut something of a catalog anomaly.
Not that too many fans in Vans were gonna be screaming " Pick it up, pick it up! A seeming anomaly in the LP catalog, but really just an unusual consolidation of their undersold strengths: the band's burgeoning Coldplay aspirations mixing with their old-school hip-hop fascination and latent reggae toasting instincts passed down from '90s forefathers Not to mention a swipe of the "Runaway" piano plinks that must've left Kanye livid if they ever passed through his radar.
It was a little too confusing to be massive, but so were most of the best Linkin Park songs of this period. Traditionally, it was the very big things that gave Linkin Park away, as they seemed to lack the patience for the interludes and ballads of creeping quietude that made the more riotous songs on Nine Inch Nails albums land with such viciousness. M2M closer "The Little Things Give You Away" doesn't get there either, but there is a sense of restraint to its sinister grandeur that at least puts it in league with the best Brand New deep cuts, unfolding slowly enough that the title phrase doesn't even really make its presence felt until it builds as a chant nearly five minutes in.
If there's such a thing as Linkin Park for non-Linkin Park fans, it'd probably be this. Despite beginning with Mike Shinoda counting off "Here we go for the hundredth time The song was enough of a reflexive fist-pumper to cut through some of its musical contradictions -- becoming their second of three platinum-certified singles off the underrated Minutes to Midnight -- but a decade later, it still feels like the band at their most unsafe, and uniquely thrilling for it.
It sounds like Linkin Park as produced by Porter Robinson , except that Robinson wouldn't even release his debut single for another year.
It's still pretty irresistible, though, even when it gets swallowed by static at the midway point and resumes with another ahead-of-its-time dubstep breakdown. Linkin Park's subsequent club excursions have never totally convinced, but "Blackout" shows how they could've been far more effective leading the EDM pack than following it.
LP at their most weaponized: "Points of Authority" wasn't even a proper single until its inferior Reanimation remix by the dude from Orgy , go figure was released in '02, but it stands as one of their early signature songs because it scorches at every turn: Shinoda's carnival-barking intro, Brad Delson's rumbling-belly fretwork, even Hahn's blisters-on-mah-fingers scratching.
The song whose half-time drum-n-bass beat made a lot of ears not previously attuned to Linkin Park perk up for at least three minutes. The song's skittering beat and wire-taut guitar picking made something inscrutable out of one of the band's most Incubus -like melodies, while the lack of any Mike Shinoda rapping was an early sign that the band would not allow themselves to be consumed by established formula.
Bennington's repeated insistence of "I'm breaking the habit tonight" seems to show newfound fight for the often fatalistic frontman, until you listen closer and realize his solution for doing so is a permanent one -- his doom spelled out by his final "tonight" dissolving into the ether, a final futile shout. Linkin Park never took more chances than they did on 's A Thousand Suns , an album that sounds like a band self-consciously trying to make their masterpiece and very nearly getting there.
With its proggy structuring and remorseless forward drive, It won't be the first Chester song anyone thinks of today, but it might be the one that keeps him on their mind until tomorrow. No band ever need accomplish more than that on their debut single. The first true about-face of Linkin Park's career came with this lighter-waver, whose coruscating guitars, soft bass rumble and fading-firework synths served as the zephyr lifting the most straightforwardly soaring vocal of Chester Bennington's career.
It was a pretty big risk at a time when metal was still a mainstream enough proposition for a band to have something to lose by abandoning it, but Linkin Park had the melodic instincts to make it sing and the instrumental support to make it massive, the song letting in more light with each verse and chorus until the guitars push the blinds all the way open, bathing the chorus in glorious, undeniable sunlight.
Before abandoning their shiny reupholstered version of grunge's loud-quiet formula, Linkin Park perfected it on "Faint," of the most pulse-raising rock music of the '00s. At the time, it was frequently mashed up with the similarly narcotic violins of Britney's "Toxic" -- just further proof that Linkin Park had the ammo to hold their own on pop's battlefield. You know that Limp Bizkit never even had a Hot top 40 hit? That Korn only had one, and if you can name it in fewer than eight guesses you probably work for Billboard?
And they were able to take a fundamentally top unfriendly genre one spot from Hot immortality for a simple reason: "In the End" was one of the best pop songs of the 21st century. So many parts of "In the End" have become iconic that it's easy to take one or more for granted. The opening piano riff is iconic, of course.
The opening line is iconic "I tried so hard The chorus "But in the end YOU" is at least iconic-adjacent. And the last piano echo, a final sob over the tear-stained track, is iconic. Few songs in any genre have this much care put into their composition; for early '00s rock, it towered over the pack like Chester himself, perched on the gargoyle in the song's video. Of course, it'd be myopic to not mention at this point how "In the End," like so many of Bennington's songs, seems to hint very clearly at suicide.
There's no triumph over adversity to be found in the song, no strength in self, nothing but trying so hard and it all falling apart anyway -- even sonically, the slow bleed of the song's outro leaves little to the imagination. As with Chris Cornell , depression and fatalism was such an inextricable part of Bennington's lyrics and persona that we eventually became desensitized to them -- to the point where, despite our familiarity with songs like "In the End" and "Breaking the Habit" and "Heavy," his suicide still comes as a total shock.
Still, despite the relative explicitness of its subject matter, "In the End" has an inherent solidarity and beauty to it that stands apart from Bennington's real-life story.
The song's sentiment may sound like quitting, but no Linkin Park fan would ever say it felt that way when singing along to it. LP songs like these served to validate the feelings of total hopelessness its young fans may have been going through at the same time, to find some kind of fortitude in admitting and sharing them, and watching them prove relatable enough on a mass scale that the song comes one Jennifer Lopez and Ja Rule duet away from being the biggest hit in the country.
No one could ever say, not even after today's events, that it didn't even matter. The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard. To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.
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