Linkin Park exploded onto the scene in 2000 with Hybrid Theory, an album which would become a hit of monolithic proportions as it enjoyed enormous commercial success, and a fair amount of critical success to go with it. Their 2003 follow-up Meteora continued in much the same vein, and was also received reasonably well. However, 2007’s Minutes to Midnight marked a significant turning point for the band and for its fans. In a move which sparked a significant backlash among their fans, the band moved on from their nu-metal roots and adopted a more experimental, alternative rock sound. Fans cried of how the band had sold out, abandoned their roots and gone soft, whilst music journalists branded it bland and a failed U2 rip-off. That being said, it’s now time to begin our defense of Linkin Park’s most underrated album.
The first criticism to address here is that the band changed their sound. When looking at this argument, context is crucial: by 2007 nu-metal was dead. If they had tried to make the same style of record again, not only would critics have lambasted them as being one dimensional, but coming seven years after their debut, many of their fans may have simply outgrown their sound. Thus, in order to stay relevant, the band had to evolve, and whenever that happens there are always going to be people who don’t like the change. Luckily, they need not fear, for the old records still exist, and so rather than complaining about Minutes to Midnight, they can save their breath and go listen to the old stuff.
The next two criticisms are somewhat entwined: that the band had gone soft and, in the process, that they had sold out. The latter is a laughable allegation when one considers that Hybrid Theory has sold over 28 million copies worldwide. The entire band can live more than comfortably off of that record alone for the rest of their lives, and the entire world knew they would never be able to replicate those sales no matter what they did next, so the argument that they sold out is simply invalid. As for the statement that they and gone soft, this is true to a certain extent, but the argument often has two problems with it. Firstly, many write the entire album off as being soft, which is simply not the case. The punk rock anthem “Given Up” is as aggressive as anything the band have put out, featuring an enormous 17-second scream which is one of the highlights of the record. “Bleed It Out”, one of just two tracks to feature Mike Shinoda rapping, would’ve been right at home on either of their previous records, whilst “No More Sorrow” is also one of the heavier tracks from their entire catalogue.
Moving on to the second potential problem with this argument, softer songs are not necessarily bad songs, nor were they absent from previous records. “Leave Out All The Rest” is a beautiful track which bears resemblance to Meteora’s “Somewhere I Belong”, and even the mid-tempo rocker “What I’ve Done” is one of the album’s better tracks and plays the same sort of role that “Numb” had done four years earlier. Finally, the vocal delivery on hidden gems “In Pieces”, “The Little Things That Give You Away” and, in particular, “Valentine’s Day” lend them an emotional power that simply cannot be present in half-hearted nu-metal, which is what would have been the result if the band had forced themselves to make the same album for the third time.
Finally, tastes and opinions will always differ and it’s probably fair enough that some may feel the album is bland. Tracks like “Hands Held High”, “In Between” and “Shadow of the Day” generally stick to the same tempo throughout, and don’t have enough variation within the underlying music to keep them interesting for their entire runtime. While it can be argued that a few tracks of filler shouldn’t lead people to writing off the whole record, ultimately different people will view this point in different ways.
Minutes to Midnight may not have been the record that many people expected, but that doesn’t make it a bad album. It contains some of the most aggressive and emotional songs that the band have written, and it was a bold statement which showed the band were not afraid to experiment and evolve. The band got creative with new sounds like clapping, jingling keys, choir-like harmonies and marching-beat drums. Arguably, it also had the best flow track-listing wise from their career-to-date, as they strove to make an album rather than a collection of songs. Mike sang lead vocals for the first time on two tracks, whilst “In Pieces” features their first ever guitar solo. The band took risks and, in the process, set a platform from which they could move in whichever direction they wanted. Whilst the quality of that future direction is a discussion for another time, we can conclude that Minutes to Midnight is a good album, and one which came at just the right moment in their career.