My disclaimer for this post. I am a huge Linkin Park fan. I mean HUGE. I have every CD they've released, countless special editions and DVD's, hidden and lost tracks, and am even planning on buying an iPod Touch so I can play 8-Bit Rebellion, the game they created. I subscribe to Mike Shinoda, Chester Bennington and the bands own blog and check them daily. Having said that, I will try to be as impartial as I can, but I'm not promising anything.
Starting with Minutes to Midnight, Linkin Park stunned the world with the out of left field style change. Some fans (including a close friend of mine) were disappointed. I should have been. I listen to specific music for specific reasons. Linkin Park has always been in my 'angry music' category. But I couldn't put it down. What the band started in Minutes to Midnight has only been continued in A Thousand Suns in a way even I couldn't have imagined.
The album itself is a concept album. Much like the Wall by Pink Floyd of Green Day's American Idiot, the album is carried by an over arching theme. It's so well developed that you can not listen to this album on shuffle/random, and I am the shuffle king. As a listener you have to sit there and listen from track 1 to track 15. Those with enough patience are greatly rewarded with an experience that is hard to find in today's endless stream of music. My best friend Micheal Coleman explained it the best: Linkin Park has created a modern symphony. It has movements that are distinct and separate that combine to make an over all master piece. It's intricate and detailed, with most songs flowing naturally right into the next song (unless it is a shift to the next chapter). It finishes the tale started in the previous album and comes to a head with a light, unexpected conclusion.
For the album the band has shifted from the heavy guitar and bass lines of the past for a more techno/mechanical style. I was scared when I first heard the first released single "The Catalyst" because this style pervaded and almost over took the song. That is not the case for the album. Where it would be logical to think that this style would be out of place, not only for this band but as the next step off of Minutes to Midnight, after listening to it I can't imagine a better sound to use. This departure from the 'norm' of what is expected is also what makes this CD such an experience of its own. When you put this album on you are trapped in another world for 47 minutes and when it is over you can't help but want to get sucked right back in.
The writing in these songs takes another departure from what is to be expected, led by themes of regret, anger and hope, but not necessarily in that order. The band did a great job of showing the progression of these human emotions in a very human way. A good example is the transition between track eight, 'Waiting for the End to Come', which is about regret of past decisions and trying to start a new and track nine, 'Blackout', full of anger for lies and deceit. Both tracks are on fairly opposite ends of the spectrum, with 'Waiting' being fairly mellow and ballad like and 'Blackout' full of screaming and quick, fast lyrics but they tie so well together listening to one without the other seems like it's missing something. The entire album is built like this, with the natural flow of human emotions fluctuating and not falling into the stereotyped version that Hollywood delivers in most films. To those worried that this makes the album feel jumpy, the transitions from theme or emotion to next are fluid and make sense.
To back up these themes and the over all theme of the album the band also included a few non-song tracks. All the tracks have the band playing behind them, sometimes with excerpts of famous persons of history such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Oppenheimer (wiki link for those who don't know who he is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Robert_Oppenheimer), other times it's simply noise. But regardless it always flows well with the movement and helps flesh out the more story themes that the album carries.
For the fans who have been around forever this album is just another reason to come back to Linkin Park. Those who enjoy thought provoking works, this album is for you. To any new comer who is interested, this is a great album to understand how creative the band is, but may not show a great over all picture of their works. The album is different, but it makes me incredibly excited to see the next evolution this band has for us and I absolutely can't wait to see them live!
Feel free to comment on what I've said. Do you agree, disagree, don't care? And remind me of anything I might have left out (including things I've said to you myself).
Here are also a few links to the band's, Mike Shinoda's and Chester Bennington's websites:
Linkin Park: http://www.linkinpark.com/
Mike Shinoda: http://mikeshinoda.com/
Chester Bennington: http://www.cbennington.com/
Recommended Tracks: 'Waiting for the End to Come', 'Blackout', 'Wretches and Kings', 'The Messenger'