In Defense Of Linkin Park’s New Generic Pop Sound

Linkin Park are pop now.  With their last three tracks – “Heavy,’’ “Battle Symphony’’ and “Good Goodbye’’ – they are one step closer to becoming an all-out boyband.  Even for a band who are hated by a significant portion of metal circles, the new tracks have incurred the wrath and mockery of haters and fans alike.  But it’s not that much of a grand departure either; Linkin Park has always been rooted in pop music to an extent.  When they arrived on the scene during the apex of nu-metal, they brought a polished shine to the genre that was much more accessible than that of their peers.  Hybrid Theory was a groundbreaking album in many ways, but it lacked the abrasiveness of Limp Bizkit and Korn records, offering a squeaky clean alternative to many of their peers.  While pop elements can be found in the music of most popular nu-metal bands from the genre’s heyday, Linkin Park embraced them more on a grander scale from the get go.

“In the End’’ immediately springs to mind when it comes to the band demonstrating their poppiest sensibilities early on.  Every element of the song is structured to sound simple and catchy.  It only takes a few listens of “In the End’’ before every word is imprinted in your memory for years to come.  Almost every track on Hybrid Theory is presented in such a way, but “In the End’’ abandons most of the heavier elements contained within the album’s other tracks, making for the “rockier’’ accompaniment to Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird’’ and Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again’’ that was popular on pop radio and MTV in the year 2000.  Every album since has been cut from a similar cloth.

Pop leanings have followed the band around since their debut, and while they’ve never strayed off the path leftfield enough to distance themselves from mainstream acceptance, Linkin Park’s career does boast some creative risk taking and the desire to evolve somewhat with each album.  A Thousands Suns (2010) marked somewhat of a grand departure from the nu-metal sound that made them famous, with many critics even comparing it to Radiohead’s Kid A (2000) as it featured a more experimental, electronic rock-driven sound.  Living Things (2012) continued with the electronic experimentalism, but added some of the aggression of old with some dubstep swag.  However, it still boasted enough alternative qualities to garner them some respect. With their latest output, however, there’s nothing alternative or respectful about it in a traditional sense; it’s generic, radio-friendly pop that would sound like most other artists in the charts right now if it Chester Bennington’s and Mike Shinoda’s distinguished vocals were not present.  It’s actually pretty admirable and kudos to them for taking this step.

“Heavy’’ isn’t the best song they’ve ever made, but according to the band it represents the backbone of the new album, One More Light.  If it was the only song they released so far then I probably wouldn’t be here defending them, because it just isn’t good enough to warrant an effortful response apart from commending them for doing their thing.  “Battle Symphony’’ is the most metal-sounding song title in their discography, but the song itself is a summer pop ballad.  And you know something? It’s pleasant; the type of easy listening that sounds fine in a coffee shop when you’re reading a book, or imagining yourself cruising on the California coastline on a sunny day with the girlfriend you’ll never know, in a vehicle you’ll never have.  “Good Goodbye,’’ which features Pusha T and Stormzy, on the other hand, is anthemic and boasts some solid rapping and a catchy hook.  So, for a band who just want to make some simple pop jams now, they’re efforts have been noble at least.

Let’s face it, Linkin Park haven’t sold out.  They arrived on the scene with mega star ambitions and it didn’t take them long to reach their desired heights.  Fair play to them.  Sure, by the time they started experimenting with new sounds they were set for life financially and could afford to take risks, but no artist – whether they sell out stadiums or jam in basements – should be expected to adhere to any other principles other than their own, even if the music turns out to be bad.  I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest Linkin Park fan, but I don’t dislike them either.  To me, their music is inoffensive and mostly fine, but they do have some tracks I highly rate.  However, they have shown enough diversity in their music throughout their career that they’ve at least earned their place in the spotlight.  If nothing else, new Linkin Park music warrants a listen just to see if they’ve evolved any since their last album.

For a band who could coast by for the rest of their careers making rap rock that caters to a fan base and enjoy heaps of success, Linkin Park’s new direction is risky and brave on their part.  By creating safe, generic pop music, they stand a chance at losing their core audience.  For pop artists, songs like “Heavy,’’ “Battle Symphony’’ and “Good Goodbye’’ would be easy bets for success. For a band like Linkin Park – who have a huge fan base expecting some guitars – they risk losing more current fans than they will gain new ones with the new record.  So, you might think it’s some “pussy pop shit’’ or whatever, but it’s a massive gamble nonetheless.  Good on Linkin Park for doing what makes them happy.  In the end, it doesn’t even matter what haters think.  One More Light probably won’t make the Heavy Blog best of lists at the end of the year, but let’s give it a chance.

You have your fear, which might become reality; and you have Godzilla, which IS reality.