Linkin Park outlives nu metal

07.05.2008
Though its rap-rock brethren have fallen from favor, Linkin Park endures thanks to having a strong pop element in its music. Rap rock, or “nu metal,” is dead.

It had a fierce, strange hold on rock radio circa 2001, subjecting us to the mook-tastic sounds of Limp Bizkit every hour on the hour; but the backlash thankfully kicked in right on time, sending Fred Durst and company to the bargain bins, like disco and hair bands before them.

So what to make of the continued success of Linkin Park, Wednesday’s main attraction at the White River Amphitheatre and biggest band to wear that “nu metal” tag?

The chart-topping sextet had one of the biggest smashes of the decade with its 2000 debut album, “Hybrid Theory.” And it sold 35 million records over the next five years, popularity bolstered by a string of radio hits that included “One Step Closer,” “Crawling” and “In the End.”

But a fall seemed likely with rap rock long out of style and four years elapsed between the sophomore album, “Meteora,” and this year’s “Minutes to Midnight” (with legal wrangling with Warner Music partly responsible for the delay).

Sure, fans still knew they were alive, thanks to “Collision Course,” a hit mash-up album with Jay-Z. But four years is an eternity in the fickle world of pop music, long enough for the band’s teen fan base to grow up – maybe graduate to emo.

But far from fizzling out, Linkin Park seems poised for one of its biggest years yet.

In May, the band’s new album sold 623,000 copies in its first week, making it the strongest debut of 2007. And the band’s Projekt Revolution tour – which also features My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, Placebo and other acts – is expected to be one of the biggest treks of the summer.
And go no further than singer Chester Bennington if you want to know why these guys have succeeded as their peers have fallen off. “We definitely don’t sound like any other band, even including ones that are in our genre,” he told The News Tribune in 2004.

And it’s true. While Linkin Park bears many of the hallmarks of nu metaldom – Mike Shinoda’s rapped vocals, an amalgam of metallic riffs and electronic beats – the tag was always more convenient than accurate.

Linkin Park’s sound has always been more pop than metal. And its success lies in its seamless fusion of styles – arena rock, rap, techno – into slick, angsty and radio-friendly anthems.

And Linkin Park is capable of nuance, unlike many of the band’s ham-fisted peers. Delicate melodies co-exist with arena-searing riffs and guttural screams. Bennington’s gravelly, vulnerable wail is the perfect flip side to Shinoda’s swaggering rhymes, adding depth and variety.

It’s a winning formula for sure, but also one that Linkin Park was bound to shake up given the stigma against rap rock and its aging fan base. But would the band record the dreaded “mature” album that’s been the death knell of many a teen favorite before them?

Pretty much. As expected, there’s less Shinoda on “Minutes to Midnight.” While he is prominently featured on a few tracks – including one of the album’s most rockin’ ones, “Bleed It Out” – the rapper spends a lot of time on the sidelines. (Before you think he’s been too marginalized, he does share a production credit with industry giant Rick Rubin.)

But the band’s biggest risk is muting the guitars, especially on the ballads (and there are more than usual). This approach works in spots, as with “The Little Things Give You Away,” a sweeping ballad that closes the album.

But stripped of the satisfying riffs, Bennington’s tortured sensitive-guy act wears a little thin. And some of the songs have Linkin Park sounding more like Coldplay (or worse, the Backstreet Boys on “Shadow of the Day”) than any of their Summer Sanitarium tour mates from a few years back.

This doesn’t bode well for longevity. Not that the Linkin Park guys expect to be doing this at the Rolling Stones’ age. Read what you will into the album title. Maybe the plan is to give it one more go-round before the band gets Dursted. You know, to call it quits while they’re still on top and just in time for all those solo projects that you know must be on the way.

Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389

What: Projekt Revolution featuring Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday and more
When: 12:45 p.m. Wednesday
Where: White River Amphitheatre, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Road, Auburn
Tickets: $29.50 to $75
Information: Ticketmaster, 253-627-8497 in Tacoma, 206-628-0888 in Seattle or www.ticketmaster.com

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