REVIEW: One More Light by Linkin Park

I don’t listen to much radio music these days, but I make an exception for Linkin Park, an artist that left a great impression on a teenage me with its unique but accessible sounds. The Band has always been experts at making core music accessible to radio: accessible metal, accessible hip hop, accessible electronica, accessible folk (Castle of Glass) etc. And they’re great songwriters to boot.

LP’s latest album, One More Light, is a u-turn from the exploration of heavy rock in 2014’s The Hunting Party. The album is all songs, all hooks and all contemporary radio production. The last two months building up to the release of the album have seen a huge schism among the band’s fans: one camp denouncing the released material as a contrived commercial effort and another defending said effort for various reasons.

Upon listening to the album intently on Spotify, I conclude that it would be unfair to judge One More Light as an unequivocal surrender to the current pop trends, but the album does not showcase the band at its best.

First of all, One More Light does not sound like a new LP. The album has some likeness to 2012’s Living Things in terms of sound, but minus the distorted guitars and screams. The synths and beats throughout the album. are recognisably post-Living Things LP.  For instance, the second track Good Goodbye sounds like Living Things opener Lost In The Echo but with more rap. There are three tracks on One More Light that stick out from the rest: the second track Talking To Myself is a close cousin of Until It’s Gone from The Hunting Party, while closing tracks One More Light and Sharp Edges have a noticeably stripped-down approach. In terms of sound, the greatest changes in One More Light are: the sampling (most obvious on Nobody Can Save Me Now, Battle Symphony); the singing style (lead singer Chester Bennington opting for less rasp and more gloss); and the lack of distorted guitar (there are cleaner embellishments throughout). One More Light is crafted to take on today’s Top 40, but the band’s signature is sufficiently present on the album to distinguish it from generic factory pop.

As a successor to the intense The Hunting Party, the level of musicianship on One More Light is greatly reduced. Instead, the best musical moments on the album are often nuanced, such as the gentle guitar work on the title track, the clever use of snare on Battle Symphony and the simple but effective keyboards on Heavy.

The real victim on One More Light is the songwriting. LP has aggressively promoted One More Light for its collaboration with notable pop industry songwriters, such as Julia Michaels and blackbear. So it is rather ironic that the songwriting on One More Light are, in my opinion, inferior to their previous efforts. The arrangement of the songs are by and large lazy, and consequently do not leave much impression on the listener. For instance, 9 out of 10 of the tracks feature a soft to loud final chorus that I find extremely frustrating (LP also used the same party trick on previous albums, but more sparingly). Would it kill to have an instrumental break, or a different chorus? The lyrics are also unexceptional and middle-of-the-road. LP’s ability to add depth and dimension to their lyrics, such as on outstanding songs like Waiting For The End, The Little Things Give You Away and Final Masquerade, is completely missing on One More Light. It appears the collaborations with external songwriters has dulled the band’s lyrical expression.

One thing I do like about One More Light is the theme of family. It is certainly more pertinent for LP, now a sextet of middle-aged family men, to write songs about familial relationships and children. The band would be truly selling out its artistic integrity if they were still writing songs about teen angst.

One More Light suffers from safe arrangements and a lack of imagination. The album will be favourably remembered for its moving eponymous track, which is an outlier amongst the otherwise homogeneous radio-ready production. On the whole, I see this as a ‘been there, done that’ effort by the band, and I will be very surprised if they continue to collaborate extensively with other songwriters on their future studio albums.