It’s been really interesting the last decade or so to watch Linkin Park try to escape as the once-mighty Nu Metal empire crumples around them. Linkin Park were always one of the more advanced of the bunch, and while they don’t sell nearly as many records as they once did—in fact, every one of their albums has sold less than the one that preceded it, dating back to 2000 debut Hybrid Theory—they’ve still managed to be the only band of their era (with the possible exception of the much-more-maligned Nickelback) to at least stay in the conversation, to avoid becoming a turn-of-the-century musical punchline. And they’ve done so by not only leaving the nu-metal trappings behind, but by moving past metal in general, into a much broader, more accessible, and arguably better-aging pop/rock sound.
“Burn It Down,” lead single off the upcoming “Living Things” album, is the latest step in that evolution. The hard-hitting (but not quite punishing) industrial beat and a very nice aggressive, old-school synth hook that kick off the song put it more in league with something off the last Neon Indian album than anything KoRn or P.O.D. have done lately, and the generally huge, arena-filling sound of the production—a speciality of LP’s from the beginning—isn’t particularly dissimilar to what Coldplay did on Mylo Xyloto cuts like “Paradise” and “Princess of China” last year. Lead singer Chester Bennington is still moaning about striking back about some vague kind of oppressor, using his typically obvious lyrical imagery—”Explosions broke in the sky,” “The flames climbed into the clouds,” etc.”—but his voice fits the music, and the meaningless lyrics are excusable in the name of rowdy stadium sing-alongs.
The one part where the song really runs into trouble is with rapper Mike Shinoda’s verse. The well-balanced interplay between singer Bennington and rapper Shinoda was one of the primary things that set Linkin Park apart from the pack back in their early days, but with the band’s evolving sound, Shinoda has increasingly found himself a bit player in LP’s re-structured offense. His rapping now stands out as incongruous with the group’s 21st-century-U2 vibe, and the subpar lyrics (“I played soldier, you played king / Struck me down when I kissed that ring”—ugh) aren’t helping. It sucks to see the underappreciated Shinoda lose his importance in the band, but he’s just not doing Linkin Park 2.0 any favors.
Still, “Burn It Down” is a worthy follow-up to previous announcement lead singles like “What I’ve Done” and “The Catalyst” (you can even throw Transformers contribution “New Divide” in there), and it should keep the band a presence on mainstream rock radio—where they’ll be one of the few acts remaining that don’t sound hopelessly behind the times. Credit Linkin Park that even if their integration of new sounds isn’t entirely without awkwardness, it’s probably the reason that we’re still talking about them at all.