Before diving into this review, I need to warn you: I am a ‘poptimist’. I don’t find all pop music to be inherently bad, and I am aware that some Linkin Park fans coming to read this review will subscribe to ‘rockism’ and, as a result, will be approaching their latest record with a preconceived bias, assuming that due to it’s pop-leaning nature, that it is less impressive than the band’s earlier works.
So, you’re probably wondering, what is popism, and what is rockism?
Rockism was a phrase coined by English musician Pete Wylie in 1981 to refer to the rise of rock music fans who felt that pop music existed on a lesser plane, requiring less effort or ability. The term referred to the prevailing mindset among rock fans that if an artist is ‘pop,’ they must be less talented or less capable than their rock-leaning contemporaries.
This is not only a regrettable point of view to have, but also for lack of a better word: absolute bullshit. Sadly, this is a point of view that I fear a decent amount of people who decried the band’s single “Heavy” may find themselves subscribing to and that in itself is the biggest shame of all. Because deliberately missing out on the band’s latest record One More Light would be denying said fans the chance at hearing what may be some of the band’s best recorded tracks to date.
There’s something quite risky and daring about going full-pop at this stage in their careers, especially after their heaviest record to date, The Hunting Party. Known predominantly as an ‘alternative’ band, there’s no secret that a percentage of the 60 million plus Facebook fans of the band likely prefer their Linkin Park to be as far away from pop music as possible. But the truth is, Linkin Park have never been strangers to pop music. Featuring pop influences as far back and early as “In The End,” Linkin Park have always been labeled by some metal critics as “too poppy to be metal,” and while such comparisons may have potentially bothered the band before, One More Light shows Linkin Park confidently playing with their pop influences in one of their most foreign, yet risky, releases to date.
The foreign nature of this album is instantly clear on tracks like the Owl City-esque “Sorry For Now,” which showcases an outstanding Mike Shinoda on lead vocals. In a lighthearted moment on the album, Mike offers a semi-apology to his children, who cannot understand why their father is constantly away on tour. In lines like “Thinking of you back on the ground, there with a fire burning in your eyes, I only halfway apologize…” he explains that they are not old enough to understand that this is daddy’s work, and that one day they’ll understand his sacrifices, while going on to say “Under the fire of your angry eyes, I never wanted to say goodbye…”. Already a standout track on One More Light, “Sorry For Now” continues the surprises by concluding with a sung-rap bridge by Chester, offering a bizarro-world version of Linkin Park where Mike Shinoda sings and Chester takes over rapping duties.
The theme of regret and recollection continues on perhaps what may be the strangest track of the album, “Halfway Right,” which sounds like an R&B and trap-tinged Broadway play, both vocally and musically. Playing out like a conversation between middle-age Chester and his teenage self, he contemplates ruefully about being so reckless with his life.
In lyrics such as:
“Told me kid, you’re going way too fast
You’ve burned too bright, you know you’ll never last…”
Chester finally makes peace with his demons from so long ago. The main themes also continue on the surprising Mumford and Sons-esque “Sharp Edges,” which can be likened to the band’s 2007 hit “Bleed It Out,” except with a country feel. Progressing slowly into a clap along instrumental straight out of a backyard hootenanny, Chester sings about the lessons his mother has always tried to tell him:
“Sharp edges have, consequences, I
Guess that I had to find out for myself…”
Because of its unexpected nature, this is one of my favorite tracks Linkin Park has ever written, even despite the short playtime. And perhaps this track is all the more jarring and unexpected when paired with the track that came before it, the somber, slow and heart wrenching “One More Light.”
Going into this album, I had read the interviews that the title track was about finding out a beloved friend had passed away from their battle with cancer. Having lost my father last year unexpectedly to a heart attack, nothing prepared me for the absolute emotional wallop presented within that track. My dad would always leave his hat on the chair, and the night before his unexpected death, he placed his hat there for what would be the last time. A year later both chair and hat have not been moved. With lyrics like “In the kitchen, one more chair than you need”, this song is sure to strike a chord with anyone who has ever lost someone they truly loved and cared about.
Make no mistake. This album is truly and utterly Linkin Pop, and the confidence shown on this record showcases that the band gives zero fucks if you’re a rocktivist. This is an album for the poptimists of the world. Listen to this record and you may become one yourself.
But to look at the album as simply a ‘pop record’ would be ignoring the personal journey the band has taken in writing and crafting One More Light. There are tracks on here that are some of their most personal, and in some ways their most risky. After all, what greater risk than to release a pop record when you’ve released nearly 20 years worth of adventurous rock music? If there’s anything this record shows it’s that the band can literally excel in whatever genre they see fit. The risks shown on One More Light are deliberate, brave, and as weird as it may be to say this about a Linkin Park record? Fun. There are depressing moments on this record sure, but perhaps what’s more exciting than ever is the optimism shown on many of these songs. While Linkin Park are no strangers to melodrama in some of their lyrics, this album shows a band firmly in their 40s, looking to the future and approaching their regrets and pain with the maturity that comes with middle age.
One More Light feels like a new chapter, or even perhaps a new book in the Linkin Park universe. Sure, there will be many people who may not agree with that sentiment. There will be people who loathe this record, just like there will be people who think it’s one of the band’s best records. But that’s perhaps what makes risks like these so exciting, that fear of the Linkin Park unknown.