Evolution in music is a divisive phenomenon. The risk of alienating a particular portion of an artist’s fanbase simply comes with the territory of sonic and stylistic progression. As such, the choice to grow artistically is a respectable and even admirable decision for any musician, especially if it is sometimes against their better judgement from a business perspective. Whilst not all tone shifts are quite as audacious and met with quite the same controversy as some exceptionally memorable examples, like Bob Dylan’s choice to go electric, it’s nevertheless understandable why stylistic maturation would be so contentious for those fans who retain a special connection to a single sound of the artist in question. This being said, plenty of bands have built their career on reinventing their sound every few albums whilst still retaining their core fanbase, and although not as radical as, say, Ulver, Linkin Park are one such group who have made a conscious effort to update their stylings every record or so. Although largely celebrated for Hybrid Theory, the rock outfit’s debut and one of the most lauded nu metal albums of the 2000s, Linkin Park have continued to revamp their sound upon the release of new material, particularly amongst their most recent output. 2010’s A Thousand Suns saw the band incorporate a super slick electronic sound into their usual rock stylings, whilst their previous record, 2014’s The Hunting Party, displayed a Linkin Park who had abandoned any electronic elements to their music and had doubled-down on a hardened and fully-fledged rock sound. Given that this record was supposedly intended as a statement against contemporary mainstream and active rock bands who were “trying to be other bands and playing it safe”, according to the group’s co-lead vocalist Mike Shinoda, it could at least be assumed that Linkin Park, regardless of where they would next take their music, would never try to be anyone other than themselves. Yet, here we are in 2017, less than three years after the unveiling of The Hunting Party, and Linkin Park are trying to be any band other than Linkin Park on their latest release, One More Light.Specifically, it seems as if the ex-metal outfit is trying to be The Chainsmokers, Avicii, David Guetta, or any other pop-tinged EDM artist to attempt to appeal to the emotions of club-goers with melodramatic, life-affirming lyrics, in which case, although Linkin Park are “trying to be other bands”, whether or not they are “playing it safe” is another matter, at least from a financial perspective. Indeed, who the intended target market is for One More Light is quite a thorny question. With the group abandoning any semblance of the core appeal that made them interesting in the first place, and with frontman Chester Bennington telling fans to “move the fuck on” from Hybrid Theory, it would seem that Linkin Park have little attachment to their key source of income for the past decade and a half. On the other hand, however, One More Light is such a half-baked album that pursues a sound that does not lend itself at all well to the band members’ individual styles, it’s hard to see why any pop lovers would choose this over a record from one of the many artists from whom Linkin Park appear to be taking cues. Therefore, it would seem that One More Light is pointless overall. Linkin Park have seemingly abandoned their core following in exchange for a contrived commercial move that is unlikely to draw in any new fans, due to the complete lack of cohesion they demonstrate when attempting to pull off this change of pace.
If the music on One More Light was to be summed up as simply as possible, it would be best to describe it as the brand of radio-friendly pop with EDM elements that emphasises driving, sullen, electronic beats and smooth vocal melodies with pseudo-inspirational lyrics over any interesting qualities on the instrumental and production side of things. This isn’t necessarily entirely horrendous, nor is One More Light especially egregious, but many of Linkin Park’s traits don’t translate well into this new format. Credit where credit is due, on the surface, it at least sounds as if the band knows what sound they want to achieve, and based on the end product, it’s probably not a stretch to imagine that they possess a fair amount of knowledge on this style of music. However, that doesn’t change the fact that, atop these plodding, dour instrumentals, the frailty of Bennington’s clean vocals is more apparent than ever, which is especially true considering the frontman, as one would expect, uses no screamed vocals on this album, allowing his sung vocals nowhere to hide. It seems that perhaps Bennington is aware of this, as he seems to attempt to make his vocals as rudimentary and generally indistinct as possible on songs like Heavy, which just so happens to have been the lead single from the record, potentially because of how inconspicuous it would sound sandwiched between other pop songs of its ilk on mainstream radio. Indeed, Bennington chooses to sing with a thin breathiness, making his vocal inflection as vague as possible in the process, which only draws attention to how feeble his voice can sound, particularly towards the beginning of the track, as his voice quivers around his lower register. Talking to Myself is the only cut in the tracklisting to bring any rock veneer into the compositional equation, so it would be safe to assume that Bennington’s singing would be more at home here than at any other point on One More Light. Yet, for some reason, the singer saves his most melodically-lacking performance for this song, specifically during the verse, and, once again, this only works to the track’s detriment by highlighting the flimsiness of the singer’s voice. On the other side of the spectrum, Halfway Right sees Bennington approach his delivery with a forced raspiness in a way that simply comes off as a faux emotiveness that the listener has no real reason to resonate with. The help brought in from outside artists on One More Light hardly raises the vocal standards of the album either. The guest verses from Pusha T and Stormzy on Good Goodbye are nondescript to the point that there’s nothing to really be said about them, with the exception of how desperately Stormzy forced Linkin Park’s name into his verse. To be fair to Stormzy, however, with the rapper seemingly giving Quavo a run for his money in terms of how many songs he has been appearing on as of late, no one can really blame him for coming through with perhaps his most forgettable verse to date on a Linkin Park song.
Production-wise, the instrumentals featured on One More Light are similarly hollow and weak, primarily as a result of the EDM-inspired arrangements that place the beats at the forefront of nearly every song here, to the point that any hints of melody across the album will inevitably be engulfed by the swamps of reverb-drenched percussion. The worst part about all of this is that it doesn’t even seem to have been intentional. Granted, the most obvious influences for One More Light are pop and EDM artists, but with Linkin Park’s guitarist, Brad Delson, claiming in an interview with MusicRadar that the “layers” of guitars across the album are “nuanced and complementary to all of the other elements” in the mix, it seems that maybe the lacking presence of much in the way of melody throughout the tracklisting was somehow inadvertent. Of course, it’s not as if the guitars are not at all present at any point on One More Light, but certainly not how Delson makes out, unless by “nuanced” he meant unobtrusive. The folk-pop acoustic and electric guitars of the closing cut, Sharp Edges, which could have been left over from a Train album, may indeed provide the basis for most of the song, but the ever-present reverb of One More Light looms in the background before taking over, along with the driving 808 kick and handclaps. Similarly, the ten a penny pop rock riff of Talking to Myself makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the cut, only to reappear during the choruses, cloaked under the padding of vague ambiance and supple synths. On the topic of the general reverbed quality of much of the record, the back-to-back anthem attempts of Battle Symphony and Invisible show exactly why not every morsel of free space on One More Light needs to be filled out with airy atmospheres, as these two songs never quite reach the triumphant climaxes Linkin Park were likely striving for, largely as a result of the ubiquitous cocoon of ambiance that swathes so much of the album. If anything, the real Achilles’ heel of the production and instrumentation across One More Light is simply how consistently inconspicuous they are, which, again, doesn’t lend itself well to this album being anyone’s choice of syrupy, EDM-tinted pop over the artists from whom Linkin Park are surely drawing inspiration.
Above all else, One More Light marks a near complete loss of identity for Linkin Park, and it almost seems as if this was their intention. The more I think about the direction taken on this album, and the extent to which it completely conflicts with statements made by the band in the past, the more baffling One More Light is. At their core, most of these songs are perfectly passable pop tunes, and some of them could have potentially been made rather compelling in the right hands. Linkin Park, however, are far from the right hands, and they handle these songs with no real grasp of how to make them enticing, with the result being a collection of drab, throwaway pop songs. With so much of One More Light being devoid of any punch or depth, the end product is an album that can easily be forgotten and seemingly doesn’t care to be remembered.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4.5/10