Aquadrillion-selling debut album and the love of peeved and pimpled boys across the country have failed to wipe the grimace off the face of Linkin Park. Apparently neither fame nor babes nor buckets of cash have improved the mood of this California quintet, which delivers 36 minutes of juvenile furor on "Meteora," the group's second album of originals.
It was a little easier to buy the lads' angst in 2001, when they were just one of a dozen acts gene-splicing alternative metal and hip-hop. Limp Bizkit gets credit for creating this sound, but Linkin Park subtracted the naughty words, added earnest agony and sold nearly 8 million copies of "Hybrid Theory," making it the year's best-selling album. It was the anti-parent band that parents could tolerate. For the kid who felt the indefinable pique of life as a white 12-year-old but couldn't shout "I did it all for the [sex]!" without blushing -- a requirement for Bizkit fans who wanted to sing that group's finest chorus -- these were the dudes.
Given that a follow-up took two years, you'd think Linkin Park has been retooling its sound, or delving into emotions other than everyone-hates-me rage. Pshaw. "Meteora" is one of the most gutless sophomore albums in pop history. It risks nothing. It steadfastly refuses to do anything but repeat itself. You listen and sense a band that is either cowering in fear -- for the love of God, let's just stick to what worked the last time -- or is too inept or lazy to evolve.
I suspect it's the former because "Meteora" feels like a con from start to finish. How so? For one, there's something bogus about a multi-platinum act that can think of nothing else to howl about except the emotional brutalities of the cavity-prone years, the subject of every single song here. Linkin Park is being deceived, belittled, ignored and mistreated. A lyrical sampling tells the whole monotonous story.
"I got a heart full of pain, head full of stress, handful of anger, held in my chest," sings vocalist-rapper Mike Shinoda on "Nobody's Listening." "I want to let go of the pain I've felt so long, erase all the pain till it's gone." (From the first single, "Somewhere I Belong.") "If I could take all the shame to the grave I would." ("Easier to Run.") "I took what I hated and made it a part of me." ("Figure.09.") "Time won't heal this damage anymore." ("Faint.")
It's an orgy of self-pity. Now, there is a fine tradition in rock of multimillionaires exploiting the pent-up resentments of fans living with Mom and Dad and from allowance to allowance. But "Meteora" is just so blatant about this exploitation that you sort of feel embarrassed for these fellas, the way you do listening to a politician pander for votes. It's hard to imagine these guys mean much of this, and they stay so relentlessly on their dour message that you wonder if they feel trapped.
The music breaks as little new ground as the lyrics. Guitarist Brad Delson switches from delicate strums to power chords, then back again; Shinoda rap-sings the opening verse, then the song leaps into hyperdrive and co-vocalist Chester Bennington grabs the mike to scream the chorus. All the while, turntablist Joseph Hahn scratches at vinyl in the background.
The pattern changes only twice, and both times Linkin Park offers glimmers of potential. There's the moody but funky instrumental called "Session," which hands center stage to Hahn for an excellent turntable solo. And there's "Nobody's Listening," which starts with a fetching flute sample and a spare rap beat -- but reverts quickly to the sound, pace and mood of every Linkin Park number. The band is so terrified of failure it has arrested its own creative development. "Meteora" will sell, but these guys can't pretend to be eighth-graders forever.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8181.)
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