Minutes to Midnight Label: Warner Bros.
There is a scene in “Beautiful Girls” where Timothy Hutton has to explain to 13-year-old Natalie Portman why they cannot be together. He tells her that he’s Winnie the Pooh to her Christopher Robin. “Christopher Robin outgrew Pooh. That’s how it ended. He had Pooh when he was a child. When he matured, he didn’t need him anymore.” Portman, devastated, says, “That’s the saddest thing I ever heard.”
Linkin Park is Pooh. Their gloomy, “angst”-ridden rockers were embraced by a generation of confused and angry kids, but those kids are now seven years older and, odds are, a lot happier than they were when Hybrid Theory “saved their life.” Linkin Park, meanwhile, hasn’t changed at all. They’re just as miserable – actually, they’re not miserable, but more on that later – and annoyingly self-absorbed as they ever were, which makes listening to their new album, Minutes to Midnight, a lot like spending time with a younger, less mature version of yourself. And who on earth wants to do that?
First, a note to lead singer Chester Bennington: you have a beautiful voice, but if you continue with the vocal shredding, you’ll have nothing left by your 35th birthday (he’s currently 31). Besides, no one likes people who yell all the time.
For those worried that turning 30 would result in a kinder, gentler Linkin Park, well, you’re right, it did. “Leave Out All the Rest” and “Shadow of the Day” are actually pleasant little tunes though generic ones, coming too close to that whole Fuel/Lifehouse thing. The first half of “Valentine’s Day” sounds like a leftover track from Guster’s Ganging Up on the Sun, before letting rip in the second half. And at the risk of comparing them to, gawd, Incubus after insulting them with the Fuel comparison, the album’s closing track, “The Little Things Give You Away,” might be the best thing Linkin Park’s ever done, showing remarkable restraint in building from a glitchy percussion loop – in 6/4 time, no less – to a glorious, scream-free multi-vocal finale. Likewise, rapper Mike Shinoda’s “In Between” makes one wonder if the band would ever consider letting him sing an octave below Bennington, a la Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. That’d be pretty cool.
But fear not, gloom rockers, the band hasn’t completely forgotten how to let rip. “No More Sorrow” is the band’s screamo anti-war rant (one of two anti-war tracks, Shinoda’s “Hands Held High” being the other), while “In Pieces” jumps from a skittery drum track to a full-fledged rocker. The song does, unfortunately, expose guitarist Brad Delson’s limitations, as his attempts to let fly with some tasty licks sound painfully labored.
The album’s most rocking track, “Given Up,” is the song that best defines what is wrong with Linkin Park. Think Ministry’s “N.W.O.,” only with 100% more self-loathing, and you’re close, as Bennington wails, “I’ve given up / I’m sick of living / Is there nothing you can say / Take this all away / I’m suffocating / Tell me what the fuck’s wrong with me.”
Okay, Chester, but only because you asked me to.
What’s wrong with you? You’re a happily married father of four – one of his kids is named Draven, presumably after the main character from “The Crow,” ugh – who’s whining about how you’ve given up and are sick of living. Do you realize how ridiculous that looks? You may have gotten away with that stuff when you were in your twenties, but to do it in your thirties is either pathetic (you’re emotionally stunted) or pandering (you’re not emotionally stunted, but you’re pretending that you are for the sake of a buck), pick one. “Leave Out All the Rest” mines similar territory, with Bennington singing about how concerned he is that people miss him when he’s dead. Please, get over yourself already. Trent Reznor, of course, is just as guilty of this crime, but to his credit, at least he uses major keys every once in a while in order to dress up his fake pain. Not so, Linkin Park. They’re still churning out minor-key fugues like a teenager sent to bed without his supper because he refused to mow the lawn.
And there is the biggest problem with Minutes to Midnight: talented though they may be, it is extremely difficult to take Linkin Park seriously when they are now grown men that insist on writing more songs that read like Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” put to a funky beat. For God’s sake, will someone please get them a Pepsi already?