Sunday, September 28, 2008

Failed to Stir Well: "Hybrid Theory" Review

Album: Hybrid Theory
Artist: Linkin Park

Genre: Nu Metal / Rapcore
Length: 37:50
Release Date: October 24, 2000
Label: Warner Bros.
Producer: Don Gilmore

As much as the past is haunting, it made sense for my first review to be about the first album I ever really liked. It makes further sense in that almost everyone in North America was touched by this album once upon a time, either by the continuous radio airplay or through the early 2000s nu metal trend. Alas, it’s been a long time since the days where I once adored this band, much like everyone else and their dog at the time, so it goes without saying that this album will be written through the perspective of crap-colored lenses rather than rose-tinted ones.

Hybrid Theory, the first of the “bad albums with awesome names” Linkin Park trilogy, was also a rather large slice of the infamous nu-metal pie that was all the rage back in the day. The fusion of hip-hop and metal quickly proved to be a quick ticket to fame and success amongst troubled adolescents and was hailed as metal’s antidote to grunge, even if it probably exacerbated the disease in the long run. But while most simply dabbled into the hip-hop cultural stew, Linkin Park’s debut practically fell into the damn pot. The trappings of a distortion-fueled metal band are draped in turntable tomfoolery from beginning to end, but the key aspect to the band’s musical schizophrenia comes in the form of two separate vocalists: one to carry the melodies and another to fill in the gaps with full-blown rapping segments. Mike Shinoda, the latter member, was not at his best in Hybrid Theory, as indicated by his more recent solo project Fort Minor, but the big trouble is that none of the other contributors were quite up to snuff either. For all its gimmicks and musical blends, HT is really just one big mediocrity salad.

Unfortunately, it’s apparent right from when you hit “play” exactly what ails Linkin Park. On Papercut, the guitar, drums, and bass all key in fairly quickly, but none of them seem to really take the song in any direction until the verses hit. That’s when all of the distortion and aggression comes to a screeching halt so that the promised rapping can commence. It continues to flip-flop between the two styles in the basic “verse-chorus-bridge” format as predictably as can possibly be, and then immediately ceases, leaving you to wonder what the point of all of it was. And really, that’s an apt description of almost every song here; the album does provide snippets of both metal and hip-hop (which is where the titular “hybrid” aspect comes in) but fails to capture the magic of either. The riffs of the metal half suffer from a minor case of what I like to call “Fallout-Boy syndrome”, in which they only serve to provide a wall of distorted sound but hardly do anything creative, unique, or notable. Meanwhile, the drums and bass serve very little purpose, seemingly only there because they need to be.
As for the vocals, you’re getting a mixed bag. The aforementioned Shinoda handles his designated segments well enough, with an aggressive but likable voice and a respectable degree of flow, but his partner in crime Chester Bennington is a disaster. His wails and screams are absolutely cringe-worthy, especially when paired with the lyrics he's penned. Summing them up is much like skimming through the pages of a pre-pubescent goth child’s diary; disjointed and banal metaphors, combined with linear and cliché subject matter, make for depressingly standard and inexcusably bad lyrics. Chester points the inspiration for his words on drug abuse and familial problems, but it's just as possible that he threw a chimp in a cage and tasered it through the bars until it started screeching things he could use as writing material.

So can the album even hope to have some high points? Sure, though most of them are simply relative to the rest of the album’s blandness. Its most famous single, In The End, succeeds by focusing on the rap end of the spectrum, largely restricting Chester to the sideline where he belongs while a surprisingly component piano melody and some tolerable electronic experimenting aid Shinoda in his lyrical delivery. Even when Chester does show up for the choruses and to add a couple of harmonies to the verses, he actually manages to carry a tune, at least until the song’s bridge (one of which he should probably consider jumping off of, if you catch my meaning). The following track, Place For My Head, opens with some interesting semi-distorted guitar playing that opens up all kinds of doors for a crescendo, only to have all the energy fall into a pit somewhere when Shinoda takes the mic and the song falls into Linkin Park’s standard tricks. Finally, Cure For the Itch is worth noting because it deviates from basic song writing; it’s a shockingly clever instrumental that makes good enough use of the band’s skills behind a studio mixer. But that’s really all she wrote. Every other track is a mix between the same bland riffs, despicable lyrics, and the desperate cries for Bennington to receive voice training…and some therapy.

If any positive criticism could be given Hybrid Theory to this point, its that it managed to mix together the two polar opposite genres better than most other attempts did, that its best moments would be built upon and polished on the follow-up album Meteora, and that it still beats the stuffing out of the ghastly Minutes to Midnight. But it’s a forgettable and dismissible effort through and through, one that makes me somewhat depressed to think I had wasted so much time with it in my youth. I must send it my thanks for ultimately putting me on the path to much greater forms of music, but suffice to say that this hypothetical thank-you-note also comes with a letter-bomb.


White Tiger said...

You're finally able to express your inner most emotions into a writing where its possible that people might maybe read it. I really don't know how blogs become noticed but I'm sure that I'll be checking every weekend to see. And as for this week, absolutely stellar job. The writing is fantastic and since I know that you'll be doing the same thing you did this week to some of my favorite bands or albums I'm going to stay away from any argument or praise for your opinion and stick to saying you're an excellent writer. Stellar job.

Stavers said...

Well, that's quite the compliment, and my thanks are extended to you for it. I really have no idea how blogs are noticed either, but I think it's too early to tell just how mauch it may or may not catch on. Fingers crossed!

Don't feel like you shouldn't ever not take a stance on my opinions though. I wouldn't be doing my newfound job as a reviewer if I didn't incite some controversy every now and then, would I?

Gina the Space Hyena said...

Hey, Hybrid Theory was cool when we were 13, right?
I totally agree with you though. Linkin Park really isn't that great. Plus, Chester keeps getting uglier as time goes by. Har har. Anywho, nice job picking the album apart and then putting it back together piece by piece to show how you felt aboot it.
After reading this I doubt most people would feel they had a leg to stand on in terms of rebuttal.
Now. To get back to watching Goosebumps.
These kids are looking for food, it looks interesting.

Stavers said...

Food? Is that supposed to be the scary part? R.L. Stine must be REALLY stretching for ideas.

And come to think of it, I WAS 13 when I thought this was cool. That's some nice trend following I had going on back then.