It seems about right that in 2014 Linkin Park could be a rallying point for “New Sincerity,” as loaded as the term may be. The band has bore the brunt-end of jokes throughout the previous decade, but isn’t it obvious to hate on Linkin Park? At this point, the position of “the hater” should be a cheap, uncritical mentality rooted in middle-school classical conditioning that demanded you to stop listening to what gave you those “naïve shivers” in favor of some flaccid form of indie rock. Rap-rock electronica? Tinges of nu-metal? These categories have aroused the disgust and disdain of anyone seeking an “authentic” musical education. So, most likely, Linkin Park was the first to go, as the “student” took on Pavement, started record shopping, began reading Alex Ross and post-structuralist literary criticism, and eventually moved on to advanced tastes in Braxton and Coleman.
Regardless, “Numb” was a huge success, loved by thousands of people — probably empowering many in moments of nighttime lucidity. This kind of teary-eyed, staring-at-the-ceiling-with-ear-buds-on sort of shit is sincere, formative, and important. But instead, there is a Toy Story style rejection of these tendencies; and, next, an immersive education in irony begins that is so systemic that any line between what’s actually hated or loved is smudged beyond recognition. We all know this process is usually taken to a logical conclusion — a 360-degree reversal between “sincerity” and “irony,” where the irony becomes a sincere value unto itself. Cultural reference gets piled upon cultural reference, until the point where you’re blasting “Numb” through your expensive adult-ass studio monitors, scratching your chin saying “Wait… I might feel something. What the hell is going on? Do I love Linkin Park?!”
There’s no judgement in the above description. Instead, it’s a state of affairs that we’re all wrapped up in. It’s a culture strung out in between authenticity and aesthetic cohesion, as TMTer Nick Henderson aptly put in his feature essay. Hence, LINKIN PARK could be a reservoir of aesthetic GOLD or some sort of sick meta-modernism for everyone to pilfer and feel on referential levels. Linkin Park’s vocabulary is just waiting for a musical future where any forgotten thing could be a conceptual payload for any artist who’s simply paying attention.
But using irony as a means to fix belief, affirm identities, or reach aesthetic cohesion has always been tricky territory. And this is where I’ll draw a line in the sand: Linkin Park’s The Hunting Party is a difficult, painful, rarely rewarding album. In fact, I would love for this album to be much better than it is, to be something that hits as hard as “Numb” or even Michael Bay-banger “What I’ve Done.” Given all the mumbo jumbo I’ve written above, I feel that my listening experience was inevitably stacked against me; I had to to cope with the raw musical fact that, despite the record’s “conceptual ripeness,” it might just be a caricature of all the band’s qualities that are most difficult to swallow. The album has capitalized on the more “rock” elements of their discography. Although the scratches of Joe Hahn and rapping of Mike Shinoda are here, they’re more restrained. If anyone’s taken the lead, it’s guitarist Brad Delson, who is most likely responsible for scattering harmonized riffs and chunky triplets all over the record. Heck, even lead single “Guilty all the Same” has a minute-and-a-half exordium before Chester Bennington starts wailing and waxing philosophical. But quickly enough, the legendary MC Rakim delivers a feature verse proclaiming:
“Drained, manipulated like artists, it’s real deep/ Until no more remains, but I’m still me/ Like authentic hip-hop and rock/ ‘Till pop and radio and record companies killed me.”
Bummer, huh? But maybe true? I don’t know; this is where things start to get sticky. I derive some sort of weird pleasure from the “sincerity” of the above verse. Oddly enough, I also genuinely smile at Tom Morello loosely noodling over the cinematic, melodramatic piano on “Drawbar.” And I definitely LAUGH-OUT-LOUD at Shinoda’s goofy verse on “Wastelands”: “This is war with no weapons/ Marching with no stepping/ Murder with no killing.” He goes on to extend the metaphor to a perfect punchline, “A John with no Yoko.” (!). I don’t care what anyone says or what sick response is activating inside me, but I love that. This process extended so far as to give rise to some pretty disgusting cultural musings, such as: (1) “Man, this agro anti-music industry verse on ‘All for Nothing’ really reminds me of Kanye, and (2) “I wish this nu-metal breakdown sounded more like Skrillex’s contribution to Spring Breakrs”. Wow, Bennington is right: we’re truly in a “wasteland of today.”
But, despite any justifications I might cook up, The Hunting Party definitely wilts as a whole. There are no straight-up “singles” or “aha” moments, and the whole thing’s self-produced (NO RICK RUBIN?). Instead, there are longer and stranger sections of guitar-work, arbitrary drop-outs, and weird lo-fi recordings that begin and end nearly every song. As a listener, there were times I felt like shock-magician David Blaine, locked away somewhere trying to accomplish some absurd task like being submerged in ice for days. I guess Blaine’s hope is to come back with some kind of wisdom, but my result is more of a “Hey everyone, I did it; I listened to The Hunting Party.” *applause*
Given the disappointment that I wasn’t getting a new fist-raising single on the level of “In the End,” I even started looking for excuses to like it. I mean, when I saw the incredible album art, the Ridley Scott-looking CGI archer, I literally dreamed of the figure shooting arrows through both big-budget robots and Oneohtrix Point Never-style Blender animations alike, proclaiming itself as the CGI “king.” As hilarious and stupid as that sounds, Linkin Park is ripe for this sort of ironic fetishization since the band is sincere and a perfect little bundle of aesthetic triggers. If you want, you can listen to the record, find those nuggets, and enjoy them. Otherwise, there’s just a new Linkin Park record out.
“New conspiracy theorie: Linkin Park are musicly talented psychologists who want to see how well people deal with change, but the reaction were much worse than expected [sic]”.
– Youtube commenter