There are two sides to every fandom: the “die-hard” and the “true” fan. The former sticks with a band through thick and thin, while the latter longs for the good ol’ glory days. With the release of Linkin Park’s seventh studio album, the rift in fandom has never been more potent, or hostile. While fans (including myself) are fretting over where they stand, either with this new poppy iteration of the band or the one that gave them Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park has made a firm commitment on where they reside artistically with One More Light.
“I’m dancing with my demons,” the first lines uttered in the dance-y opening track, “Nobody Can Save Me,” flirting along the lines of EDM. “Sorry For Now” is perhaps the track that tips them over into Chainsmokers territory. That alone is where fandom will take issue (I’m not well-versed in EDM so Chainsmokers is as far as I go).
They’ve dabbled in electronic before with Living Things. But whereas Living Things was experimental, One More Light is decidedly more pop. “Battle Symphony,” “Invisible,” and “Halfway Right” are oddities for a band known mostly for their thrash and head-banging. There’s very little of that, let alone anger, for that matter. Linkin Park has traded in the screams and vitriol for something more hopeful.
“I’ve been dragging around what’s bringing me down/If I just let go I’ll be set free,” Chester sings in the lead single, “Heavy,” perhaps a comment on the weight of expectation. Virtually every song appeals to the simplest denominators in pop’s vocabulary – catchy hooks, anthemic choruses, and an upbeat vibe, making the band more radio-friendly than ever before. The fault in One More Light lies with an over-familiarity in sound (the album is Living Things-polished, basically).
For all of the greatness instilled upon the band, Linkin Park has had a bit of an identity crisis. They once considered dropping out of Ozzfest for being dubbed “not metal enough,” and they’ve felt an insurmountable pressure to impress critics after garnering lackluster reviews on Hybrid Theory (which, in hindsight, is fucking outrageous). They’ve spent the first leg of their career wondering where they belong and have since dipped their toes into various subgenres.
Where are they now, or rather, what are they given today’s radio climate? Do they keep singing about what pisses them off? This is where factions will draw the line. Die-hards will profess their willingness to mature alongside them. True fans will want their angst-ridden band to stay angry.
Yet One More Light is a natural progression for Linkin Park, whose previous singles have hinted at a pop edge in their songwriting. The difference now is mood. Lyrically, the album is driven by the intended visual of the title track, that brief wavering of light just before the sun dips below the horizon. The album was both dedicated and inspired by the passing of a friend, and has since taken on a more poignant tone with the passing of another. This is where the brilliance of One More Light shines. “Invisible” may run the band in circles in terms of sound, but emotionally it’s quite uplifting (and sees Mike Shinoda taking over lead vocals in bold fashion). And the title track, “One More Light” is subtly affecting, Chester’s screams of sorrow a mere echo. Both Mike and Chester have ditched the MCing and have chosen to belt their hearts out (replete with na-nas and woahs).
There are tracks that will please even the most cynical fan. “Talking to Myself” is cut of the same cloth as “Bleed It Out,” and “Good Goodbye” is the only recognizable LP track with any actual rapping (and perhaps an intended farewell). Then there’s an anomaly like “Sharp Edges,” which may strike some as too Mumford and Sons, but it’s the band in their most stripped-down form and could very well describe them across the entire record. There’s little turntable work by Joseph Hahn, if any, and guitarist Brad Delson’s arrangements are subdued, which results in often beautiful melodies, others frustrating or nonexistent. That’s the underlying sin for Linkin Park’s latest. For all of the changes made in sound, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in terms of structure or composition or style (Minutes to Midnight, and later, The Hunting Party, boasted a political edge not unlike Rage Against The Machine, and A Thousand Suns was driven by the anxieties of nuclear warfare).
One More Light is above all a release, a cathartic moment for the band. The fandom may be split, but there is no right or wrong answer; only tried and true. Linkin Park will always be expected to return to their roots. This album signifies that they are no longer burdened by fan expectation; they’ve moved on. As conflicted as I am, I can’t fault Linkin Park for making music they’re so clearly passionate about. “Sometimes things refuse to go the way as planned/There will be a day when you will understand,” Shinoda sings in “Sorry For Now.” Written as an ode to his children (whom he is often away from during their lengthy tour cycles), perhaps the song is a plea to the fans as well. I’m convinced One More Light is a great album. I’m just not entirely convinced it’s a great Linkin Park album. Maybe in time we’ll understand.