If there were ever a band that seems to be subject to a bizarre insistence that they should never change, it’s Linkin Park. They gathered a strong following with their nu-metal sound in their debut Hybrid Theory, and ever since their sophomore release, there have been cries of selling out and demands by die-hard fans to emulate their original sound. This persists even today, nearly two decades since their debut. Yet, that hasn’t stopped the band from strongly branching out from their nu-metal sound, brushing with alt rock and heading toward more of an electronic rock sound in recent years. After The Hunting Party in 2014, a nu-metal album that’s arguably heavier and more aggressive even than their debut work, some fans may have expected this indicated a long-term return to form; with last week’s release of One More Light, however, fans are in an uproar again, and critics have panned it for its pop-rock shift and a perceived lack of authenticity.
Though it can be hard to swallow a sharp genre change, certainly from a favorite artist, the real question is, does One More Light provide an enjoyable listening experience? And while it may not be flawless, and it clocks in a bit short with only 10 tracks, it offers a plethora of enjoyment through its thirty-five minutes of runtime.
Driven by light rock and electronic effects, One More Light is completely devoid of lead singer Chester Bennington’s once-trademark screaming, and even his sharper vocals only make an appearance briefly within “Talking To Myself” and “Sharp Edges.” Along with the lighter sound of the album, this allows Bennington’s powerfully melodic vocals to really shine, and it displays his vocal talents more than possibly any prior Linkin Park release. Co-lead vocalist Mike Shinoda takes the helm on “Invisible” and “Sorry For Now,” as well as rapping on “Good Goodbye,” which also features guest spots from rappers Pusha T and Stormzy. Linkin Park also brought in guest vocalist Kiiara for lead single “Heavy,” arguably the poppiest offering from the album, where Kiiara and Bennington’s vocals strongly complement each other among lyrics about frustrations with anxiety.
Overall, the first half of One More Light is full of energy, leading off with soft electronic effects that lead into the free-flowing hooks and catchy rhythm of “Nobody Can Save Me,” an uplifting anthem about self-reliance. Follow-ups “Good Goodbye” and “Talking To Myself” most closely resemble the band’s past work, with “Good Goodbye” containing the album’s only rapping and “Talking To Myself” having a similar type of aggression, though both are still unlikely to sate anybody’s thirst for a continuation of prior eras. “Battle Symphony” is heavy on synths, bearing soaring choruses that strongly sell its motivation and determination.
From there, the album takes on a more pensive angle. “Invisible” and “Sorry For Now,” the two songs on which Shinoda sings, are softer compositions from a father’s perspective, the former a ballad offering encouragement and support, while the latter presents a half-apology for the absence required for his work in the band that’s accented by strong beats.
The title track is a clear outlier on the album and within the band’s discography as a quiet, percussion-less ballad, soft guitar and piano loops backing Bennington’s delicate vocal performance. The epitome of the album’s antithesis to the band’s heavier side, it’s also proof of the power they can achieve within a softer style, bringing to life the pain of a friend’s death.
The album ends off with “Sharp Edges,” a Mumford & Sons-esque piece about coping with past mistakes. While not the strongest song on the album, it ends things effectively, with a positive vibe and a look toward the future.
As for Linkin Park’s future, it’s impossible to say where they’ll go next given how many curveballs they’ve thrown out. But in the present, I think it’s important to take this particular curveball for what it is. Not everybody is going to be happy with it, between old, die-hard fans and those who are new to their music, but at the end of the day, “selling out” is a pretty meaningless criticism that primarily serves to reinforce an insular community of false superiority. Some of One More Light is widely appealing and straight-up catchy, but exclusivity is not a prerequisite for quality music. If you set aside your preconceptions about what a Linkin Park album “should” be and instead just let it be what it is, I think you’ll discover that it’s an excellent addition to the band’s discography.