September 11, 2010

Album Review: A Thousand Suns

I don't understand it either.
A strange thing happened, Linkin Park's A Thousand Suns caught me completely off guard by not sucking. It's strange because upon hearing the first single off ATS, "The Catalyst," I had given up on the band. It was way too... crap to have come from my former favorite band. Then I heard another song LP released called "Wretches and Kings" and thought it was garbage. I heard a third called "Blackout" and thought it was loud and repetitive. Then "Waiting for the End." With that song everything changed. I began to think of the songs less like individual tracks and more like pieces of a puzzle. "Waiting for the End," "Blackout," and "Wretches and Kings" are all one after another on the album in that order. Listen to them together and they don't suck so much. Listen to the whole album together and you have something that's actually much more consistant and coherent than Minutes to Midnight. Track breakdown inside lies ahead.

  1. The Requiem- The album starts off with this strange atmospheric piece of piano and synth that has Mike singing the refrain later used in "The Catalyst" over and over in this strange high-pitched robotic voice. It's otherworldly but it's a pretty good opener.
  2. The Radiance- It fades into a snippet of speech paired with a whiny synth background.
  3. Burning In The Skies- That fades into the album's first real track. Again, atmospheric synth lies at the tracks base overlaid with piano. Milke starts off singing this one (he does that a lot on this album) with Chester coming in for the chorus. Guitars eventually wedge their way in with some percussion, minimizing the synth. As the song progresses Mike and Chester begin to sing in harmony. It's quite nice to have them singing together, actually. Overall, the song is light, airy, and mellow. It reminds me of tracks like "Leave Out All The Rest" on the previous album, but the sound is much more fleshed out.
  4. Empty Spaces- Track three fades out to the sound of crickets and this eighteen second track consists of explosions and screaming set to that background of crickets. Meant to sound like warfare contrasted with serenity or something I suppose. 
  5. When They Come For Me- At track five, we're really only at the second real track. It begins with some distorted drum and synth (or is that guitar?) and soon begins to take on a weird industrial Arabian sound. Mike raps on this track! Hooray! There's an interesting line where Mike says "I'm not... telling you to forfeit the game." The whole band contributed to the choral vocal of that kind of Arabian chanting (you know the one). Also, there's a lot of use of "motherfucker" in this song. It's not for children. Chester sings a brief chorus towards the end when the song really begins to let go and the drum line (timpani?) increases in loudness. The song end with that Arabian chanting. 
  6. Robot Boy- I swear when I heard the opening piano chords I thought I was listening to Journey. It sounded a hell of a lot like "Don't Stop Believing" for a second and it scared me. Soon the a chorus comes in with some backing provided by a drumkit (or heavily affected drums) and then Chester started singing and I started to get a weird feeling of Muse's "Undisclosed Desires." He's got some sort of echo-y melodic affect to his voice. I think Mike joins him at some point. So this song is pretty pop-y and doesn't have much going for it to start with. I swear there's some clapping in here too. But by the end of the track, I realized it's a lot better than "Undisclosed Desires." 
  7. Jornada del Muerto- Another short interlude piece that that last rack fades into. It's Chester (I think) singing with some synth and a weird warbley affect. 
  8. Waiting For The End- It, of course, fades into this track which starts off with guitar and a few piano notes before a strong beat comes in. Mike starts rapping and it sounds quite a lot like Reggae punk ska thing. Even stranger, when Chester comes in it ends up reminding me of the Beatles. So this track is basically Reggae Beatles. Yeah, that's a good way to describe it. Needless to say, it's a pretty memorable track for, if no other reason, it's strangeness. 
  9. Blackout- No fading this time! So this one starts off with a single synth chord and has a looping drum line before a low piano tune (I think) joins in with a synth melody. These sounds build until Chester comes in and (basically) raps the majority of the song's lines. Strange. The chorus consist of Chester screaming a few words. Joe really brings his DJ skills to the forefront on this one during the middle of the song as he mixes and remixes Chester's vocals. Then the song gets quiet and Mike comes in singing which builds with some synth and piano. This part of the song is quite pleasant. There's some really bloopy synth that comes in that reminds me quite a bit of oldschool game music. Chester joins Mike and the two harmonize on the remainder of the chorus until their voices distort away. 
  10. Wretches and Kings- And now for something completely different! This one starts off with some dude's speech before distorted guitar comes in. A heavy beat joins it and Mike starts rapping. I'm not crazy about his flow on this one, though. Even weirder is Chester's chorus. His voice sounds extremely strange here. It reminds me a bit of something from Fort Minor, but not quite as good. The speech comes back at the end along with some DJing from Joe. That's really all there is to this one. 
  11. Wisdom, Justice, And Love- Another soundclip of a speech this time set to piano slowly distorted until it fades into the next track. 
  12. Iridescent- A slow piano intro soon joined by Mike's voice starts this one off. Nice atmospheric synth in the background. Chester soon joins for the chorus, then Mike joins him for some harmonic action. This song has a lightness about it with the guitars and drums coming in. I believe Chester joins Mike in the next verse before Chester's chorus. The two switch off and harmonize a lot in this one. The whole band comes in again for choral effect. They really do make a nice chorus. The drums let loose at the end. Pretty great track, actually. This one is, lyrically, not depressing. It's actually kind of uplifting.
  13. Fallout- A low synth tune with Mike singing lines from "Burning In The Skies" in a robotic voice slowly fading away to his normal voice. 
  14. The Catalyst- That fades into arguably the most controversial song on the album. It's love it or hate it for most. A low synth tone summons a drumkit loop then Mike comes in repeating a few lines sometimes with the help of the rest of the band. Chester sings a few lines and the main synth melody cuts in. It's a pretty repetitive song and probably the least instrumental. Synth takes the forefront on this one, though you can hear guitars in the background. About halfway, Joe gets crazy with the synth machine but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It actually serves to make the track more varied and interesting. Then the piano comes in with Chester singing "Lift me up, let me go." Mike joins him as the drums come in and the song goes out with a full force BANG. I must admit that it grew on me, as many of LP's songs tend to do. It's definitely not as bad as it was the first time I heard it, especially in the context of the album as a whole. 
  15. The Messenger- Now this one is strange. The album finisher is a strictly acoustical affair with Chester singing singing it solo. No synth, no effects, just simplicity. Pino joins to create a lovely trio of sound. I'm not crazy about Chester's voice in general and he really lets go here. At times he's smooth and at other times he's rough. It works pretty well overall to cap it all off on an uplifting note. Very odd to hear Chester sing so intensely on such a soft track, though. The song seemed better suited to Mike's voice, but maybe that's the point. Everyone seemed out of their comfort zone here and it worked.
So this album really surprised me. Not only wan't it bad, it was pretty good! I felt a bit cheated that a lot of the tracks weren't real tracks, but I guess that's the price we must pay when dealing with a concept album. As a whole, the album works and it's actually pretty great. Not sure how the songs will hold up separately, though. All in all, I thought it was actually better than the disjointed and unfocused Minutes to Midnight. Mike said "It's more album than anything we've made" and I see what he meant by that. It's all one piece. It's all relative and everything is important. While most artists choose to release a collection of songs, Linkin Park chose to release an album. I never expected to say this, but I recommend a purchase.

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