Change is hard. Just ask Linkin Park, who after releasing their sophomore album Meteora in 2003, were more or less on top of the rock world. Tracks from their first two albums dominated rock radio, and the band’s collaboration with Jay-Z on Collision Course only furthered the band’s worldwide attention. Considering the band passed every test given to them at that point (and then some), one wondered what they’d do for a follow-up.
The result of that was 2007’s Minutes To Midnight, an album that had Linkin Park branching out, trying new things, and polarizing their fanbase. Mostly abandoning their nu-metal sound and trading it in for a hodgepodge of experiments, new ideas, occasional aggression, and poppy power ballads, it’s often considered the black sheep of Linkin Park’s discography. A relative commercial success in an era that was starting to really see the effects of post-Napster’s file-sharing floodgates, it did manage to sell over four million copies in the USA alone, including a #1 debut with 623,000 copies sold. Considering the band hadn’t released an album in four years, the numbers were impressive.
What of the music, though? The record, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, scaled back the band’s traditional sound for something mostly different. Experiments abound here, whether it’s the electronic, Mike Shinoda-led “In Between” (yes, he sings here and the results are pretty good), or “In Pieces”, a number which actually sounds it was influenced by the reggae stylings of The Police (yes, seriously). Not to say it is a reggae song, but the influences from The Police are sort of there. There’s also a pretty cool Brad Delson guitar solo on the latter, which was until this record, simply not a thing.
There’s still some traditional LP fare here, though. Customary choruses soar, whether it’s the anthemic first single “What I’ve Done” or the cathartic, emotive “Leave Out All The Rest”. Mike Shinoda’s rapping skills are only on display for two tracks here, and thankfully one of them is the catchy, compact “Bleed It Out” – an easy choice for a single. Also notable is proper album opener “Given Up”, which is unexpectedly a red herring of sorts – an angry, aggressive track where Chester Bennington screams over a simple instrumental section. It’s a song so catchy, anyone can jam to it if they’re upset enough, considering its feeling of wanting to give up on it all can be scarily universal when things are tough.
Not all of Minutes To Midnight works, unfortunately. There’s two main problems with the record – Mike Shinoda’s lack of airtime rapping, and mid-album track “Hands Held High”, which tries to tackle the political sphere, but unfortunately isn’t executed too well. In fact, most damning of all, it dilutes the momentum that previous song “What I’ve Done” carried. Perhaps a better option would have been including bonus track “No Roads Left” right after this.
Despite the album’s negative aspects, though, it also contains quite possibly the band’s best track to date – the ambitious “The Little Things Give You Away”. One of the longest LP songs to date at over 6 minutes long, the song works where “Hands Held High” didn’t, in that it’s both a song about the destruction that Hurricane Katrina brought New Orleans and its surrounding areas in 2005 – as well as an allegory for a more personal story, as one Youtube commenter named tome57a put it. With its song length, Linkin Park created one of their most daring songs with flow, melodic and expressive vocals from both Chester and Mike, and a killer guitar solo. It’s basically Linkin Park on “holy toledo, did they really just write that?”. It’s hard not to be affected by it.
In retrospect, the move towards a more alternative rock sound was a prescient one for Linkin Park. While Minutes To Midnight wasn’t a resounding critical success like the band’s previous two albums, it did signal a band that wasn’t afraid to change things up a bit. Luckily, they found a formula that worked three years later on A Thousand Suns, a concept record. Good times.