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Linkin Park

Linkin Park once ruled a burnout kid nation of 14-year-olds, a surly and peach-fuzzed crowd who liked their distortion doused in Dew, their rap suburbanized, and their emotions screamed over Xbox clamor. But things change, even for the rulers, and while the band has survived to claim veteran status, this hasn’t been without creative struggle. 2010’s A Thousand Suns went the “concept” route, the braintrust clearly believing that the LP’s kid-stituency grew up to believe that name-dropping Radiohead is better than admitting you once downloaded the ringtone for “In the End.”

Fri., Feb. 4, 7 p.m., 2011

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Linkin Park Made Their OK Computer

The fourth album from former rap-rock bloodletters Linkin Park is 2010’s best avant-rock nuclear-anxiety concept record: a postmodern, perfectly Pitchfork-ian opus that will never earn a single Pitchfork pixel. With nothing to lose, the multi-multi-multi-platinum angst kings sink their distortion pedals into a tender oblivion, embracing the pulseless Vocoder syrup of Imogen Heap, the cuddly heavenward synths of Yeasayer, the post-apocalyptic stutter-hop of El-P, the head rush of Ibiza house. Maybe five of its 48 minutes wouldn’t get the band insta-booed off an Ozzfest stage. The easiest comparison point here is seriously Radiohead’s OK Computer—uninhibited hooks, daffy left turns, piano-soaked bathos, explorations of the human relationship with technology, a complete avoidance of metal—but A Thousand Suns has at least three songs that could be “Fitter, Happier.”

This is exactly what all bored, restless millionaire dorkballs should be doing in the post-Napster Wild West. College kids have free, instant access to the nu-noise of insta-cool underground bands, but Suns reminds us that rock stars do, too. Plus, a lack of concern about circa-2000 trifles like “record sales” means nothing is stopping Linkin Park—or any legacy artist, for that matter—from making challenging, contemporary-sounding work on a major label’s dime. Just in the last two years, Portishead’s Third was Geoff Barrow’s abrasive reinvention of Madlib and Sunn O))), the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic was a dark-hued fusion of Oneida and Black Moth Super Rainbow, the Chemical Brothers’ Further traded jock-rockin’ beats for a Spacemen 3–meets-Neu! clusterfunk, and we’re still trying to navigate the caustic drill ‘n’ bass labyrinth that is the new M.I.A. album. A Thousand Suns was going to debut at No. 1 no matter what, so Linkin Park decided to explore a softie-industrial abyss where negative space outweighs choruses, where every song seems like a curveball, where the whole thing seems like the lead-up to a mosh-pit breakdown that never comes. Space-drone intros blindly lead into other space-drone intros; the most anthemic songs are constructed without verses; Dr. Martin Luther King is sampled, electronically distorted into robo-mush, and then given a writing credit for his troubles.

But clearly, the most important change involves the further progression of their complicated relationship with hip-hop music. Iconic early-’00s hybrid theories like “Crawling” or “One Step Closer” treated Mike Shinoda like a rap-rock Sen Dogg, his quick bursts of emo-mooky rah-rah adding a chest-thumping counterpoint to the already overwrought choruses of lead vocalist Chester Bennington. But here, his two spotlight songs are more Fear of a Black Planet than a wrong turn into Crazy Town: dizzying spirals of programmed toms, brain-rattling 808 drops, and psychedelic drones. In short, an industrial approximation of actual rap music, or at least what Rick Rubin usually considers to be rap music (check those swell Wilson Pickett–style cowbells seemingly left over from “99 Problems”). Their hip-hop affectations aren’t a badge of honor, but a seamless thread treated more with reverence than curiosity: The solo during “Waiting for the End” has the cut-up delirium of Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly,” while “Robot Boy” is a gorgeous piano ballad built off the melody to T.I.’s “What You Know.”

A Thousand Suns is charged by such a diverse palette that it reads like a smart college freshman’s Facebook profile. (Likes and Interests: Aceyalone, Achtung Baby, Aesop Rock, Air, Aoki, Angel Dust, Animal Collective, Atari Teenage Riot, Atlanta hip-hop . . .) The band is so eager to show off their new clothes that they wear them all at once. The unlikely result captures all the searing art noise, rapturous swoongaze, bloggy distorto-house, and rumbling dystopia-rap clogging your On-the-Go Playlist, but mutated by major-label arena rockers with no time for indie rock’s terminal afflictions of coyness, half-assery, bet-hedging, and irony. Achtung, ’80s babies!

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Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell Struggle To Be Anything Other Than Odd

Even when they don’t work out artistically, oddball musical pairings are usually worth their weight in gold as entertainment—consider “Ebony and Ivory” or Jay-Z’s Linkin Park dalliance or any new-millennium Santana. On Sunday at Devil Dirt, the sensitive-chick/grizzled-rocker trend most recently exemplified by Krauss/Plant continues, thanks to Isobel Campbell (Belle and Sebastian’s most precocious alumna) and Mark Lanegan (the growly Seattle alt-rock veteran), with their once U.K.-only sophomore release finally coming Stateside now that nobody here can afford expensive imports anymore. But will it blend?

A worthy second album (following 2006’s Ballad of the Broken Seas) would dispense entirely with the ain’t-it-cool factor, but unfortunately, these songs saunter and lope without ever really climaxing, as if each singer is afraid to stand on the other’s shoulders and do something dramatic. Although Devil Dirt has its rewarding moments, they’re usually matters of arrangement rather than execution or personality, which means it’s more about the chemistry of boy-meets-girl than about the specific boy or girl. That’s unfortunate, because both Lanegan and Campbell have tremendous track records that might congeal brilliantly if they’d just get over themselves and stop trying to coast on the strength of the premise.

It doesn’t help that this is such a lopsided affair. Aside from the awkward blues and her gorgeously deranged murmurs on “Come on Over (Turn Me On),” Campbell is relegated to a background role here, despite having written so much of the material. Instead, Lanegan dominates with a dreary drawl he might have yoinked from Leonard Cohen or Vic Chesnutt—a perfectly considerate move given that he’s working with one of the architects of twee-pop here. But for a guy best known for his work with whoop-ass rabble-rousers like Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age, it’s a bit too far afield. Remember: It’s not really contrast if you hedge your bets first. Just ask Run-D.M.C. or Aerosmith.

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More tough talk from America’s catchiest badasses

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want, right? Well, guess what: Linkin Park is the army we have. Linkin Park is our best chance to get the largest swath of people really, really angry. Bright Eyes just ain’t gonna get shit done.

Let’s dispense with the comedy: Mike Shinoda raps like Weird Al, over-articulating and staggering on A-A, B-B rhyme-scheme crutches like he was Mother Goose. But he only does this on two tracks, because today’s Linkin Park is all about rock, with co-producer Rick Rubin (the Roger Clemens of pop music; the reason he wears those sunglasses is to hide the dollar signs in his eyes) mixing in bits of Slayer chug in places. But then, “Shadow of the Day” sounds like U2—it really does. (There are no more turntables. Remember turntables in rock? No? Good.) Meanwhile, co-frontman Chester Bennington has the most virtuosic duck-fart of a voice—check “Given Up,” in which he holds a scratchy scream for 17 seconds! He is still very sad: “Put [him] out of [his] fucking misery.”

As for Mad Mike, “When you can’t put gas in your tank/These fuckers are laughing their way to the bank/Cashing a check/Asking you to have compassion and have some respect/For a leader so nervous in an obvious way/Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay.” That’s “Hands Held High” (chorus: “Amen!”). So Linkin Park are as mad as hell and they may or may not take it anymore.
Minutes to Midnight is the straight-talk express—clever’s out the window, and no one’s mincing words. Rock, rock, scream, rock, rap, sermonize, rock. Bitchin’! Mainline the heartland with your frustrations, boys! I wanna see fists pumping in that town where Friday Night Lights takes place. Nickelback won their hearts, and Coldplay won their balls, but you guys can eat their brains. Eat their brains like zombies. Zombies!

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Not His Forte

If Chuck D’s right—that rap is the CNN of the streets—then goddamn did the opening rap crews bring the news: Bush planned 9-11. Josephus ghostwrote the Bible. That eye over the temple on the dollar bill—yes, says Immortal Technique, that’s an alien spaceship. Bonus news: If Technique were president, promises Technique, he’d “replace every raped virgin’s broken hymen.” And we thought tax cuts were awesome.

Not that Ghostface has ever run low on nonsense, but at least he’s smiling. Hyped by his protégé Trife, Ghost worked 20 minutes through better-known verses from “Run,” “Wildflower,” and “Ice Cream” off Raekwon’s Cuban Linx, half-hoping this crowd of Linkin Park T-shirts, what with their Ws thrown up and camera phones out, might rap along and redeem themselves for initially mistaking Trife for him. No dice, but at least Ghost got a chance to explain why he always asks light engineers to “change the light game up”: If they just stick him with one color, Ghost says, “that fuck with my emotions.”

Maybe that’s why Fort Minor featuring Mike Shinoda, a/k/a Linkin Park featuring Black People, kept their lights moving. Forget emotions; if Minor’s stage had stuck to one color, we’d realize their songs are ciphers, barely accounting for their own existence. “The first thing I need when I got a new beat/is to see how it sounds echoing off the street,” Shinoda shares on “In Stereo”; who knew he’d be so excited about becoming a real rapper? But it ain’t all glory for Fort Minor. Just ask minor Minor MC Ryu: “My life’s like swallowing a pine cone.” As if he’s not still raking in those Tony Hawk bucks.

In an effort to “jazz up” or “hip-hopify” the Linkin Park sound but not too much, Shinoda brought out a drummer, three sensitive male singer types for the oohs and aahs, a string trio called Black Violin, more rappers, and a turntablist who mostly just triggered guitar samples. It was a big fat sound rap execs think Park kids think rap is about, but after all that the only line that stuck was Ghost’s: “Every time you go uptown, you get gypped.”

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Metal tyros steal great riffs; sadly make words audible

Linkin Park oughta shut up and take whatever deal their label wants to give ’em, because nü-metal’s deader than conscious hip-hop. The New Old Metal, almost atavistic in the traditionalism of its riffage, is what’s blowing out teenaged eardrums in ’05, and that’s a good thing. Innovation isn’t a goal, or a virtue, in itself. Craft—doing something well, the way it’s always been done—is more than enough. Trivium know this, and consequently steal their best riffs from European death metal. Unfortunately, they steal from other, poorer sources too. They’re a young band, after all, existing in the context of post-mathcore, post-emo metal, so it’s unsurprising, if disappointing, that their vocalist works a typical, Atreyu-like raw-throat bellow (backed by emotionally overwrought, though clean, choruses) instead of going for the much more effective post-hardcore howl of early-’90s Florida death metal bands. He’s gotta make himself understood, I guess; Trivium are on Roadrunner, after all, not Relapse. The absolute best thing about Ascendancy is the drums. They’re crisp and full at the same time, and through speakers they sound like avalanches in hell. Through iPod headphones, the effect dissipates somewhat. But this is an album for bedroom blasting, not sidewalk/subway isolation.

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How Much Is Music Worth?

Let’s say you wanted to buy a copy of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, in honor of their current protest against Warner Music Group for not cutting the band in on WMG’s (not-as-successful-as-planned) IPO. For $18.98 (list price), you’d get a CD from which you could rip MP3s to play on whatever portable device you like; you could also sell the disc back to a record store for a few dollars, or give it to a friend, perfectly legally. Alternately, you could buy Hybrid Theory at amazon.com for $13.49 plus postage—it’d take a few days to get to you, though.

Even more conveniently, you could buy a digital download. Hybrid Theory will run you $9.90 from MSN Music, since Apple’s iTunes store has established that people will pay 10 bucks for a digitized album. But MSN’s protected Windows Media files don’t sound as good as a CD, you can’t give them to a friend, you can’t resell them when you’re done with them, and you can’t play them on an iPod. Also, “you,” in this particular case, are very likely to be male: The British newspaper The Guardian cites a study claiming that men make up 96 percent of the market for paid music downloads. (Just over 50 percent of Americans who buy music are female, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.)

If $9.90 for protected files sounds like a rip-off, yourmusic.com will mail you a perfectly good CD of Hybrid Theory for $5.99. Yourmusic is a division of BMG Music Service, the company that was once the RCA Record Club; The Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks ago that BMG’s parent company Bertelsmann AG is also buying Columbia House for $400 million. Every disc in Yourmusic’s catalog is $5.99, postage included. That makes music retailers very unhappy, because it’s significantly less than what they pay wholesale. John Timmons, who owns the record store Ear X-Tacy in Louisville, Kentucky, has complained about Yourmusic forbidding stores to buy retail stock from them, and announced in March that he’d “opened new [Yourmusic] accounts, in case they totally shut me out of my current account, which I expect they’ll do.” That’s not all they did; in mid April, BMG Direct filed a lawsuit against him.

Meanwhile, the price of Hybrid Theory keeps dropping. The dubiously legal Russian site allofmp3.com will sell you the whole album as MP3s, with no digital rights management attached, for $1.08. Not that Linkin Park or WMG is likely to see any of that money, but it’s safe to assume that allofmp3 is making some profit after overhead, bandwidth costs, and credit card fees. Compare that to Apple’s cut of sales from the iTunes store, usually said to be between 30 and 35 percent, and suddenly 99-cent songs and $9.99 albums look like cash cows.

You can pay even less than a dollar, legitimately, to hear an album—although maybe not Linkin Park’s albums, which aren’t on every digital service. Subscription programs like Napster to Go and Rhapsody to Go let users download as many tracks as they want for a flat rate of around $15 a month. Those files can’t be burned to CDs; they only play on Windows-compatible pseudo-Pods, and when you stop paying the monthly fee, they self-destruct. So may their providers, thanks to the new Yahoo Music Unlimited, which offers the same services for as little as $5 a month (burnable files are 79 cents apiece). It might be that Yahoo is willing to lose some money on Music Unlimited at first to establish a subscriber base and freeze out its competitors, since it has a lot more cash to burn than they do.

If a YMU subscriber is hoovering up a few hundred songs a month, how much money trickles down to the copyright holders? Labels who rent subscription-style, rights-restricted downloads through Yahoo earn a prorated share of net revenue, which reportedly works out to something like a penny a song. Not everybody gets the same rates, though. “It’s definitely a two-tiered system,” says Tim Mitchell of the Independent Online Distribution Alliance, which represents a few hundred indie labels. “The indies get treated differently from the majors.”

And what about the Linkin Parks of the world? Artist royalties for legal downloads are a fraction of the retail price. When that fraction means a thin slice of a penny for a “legitimate” download, and major labels are selling CDs for less than digital files, it becomes mighty tough to make the case that unauthorized file sharing is a real financial threat to anyone—or that music you can’t hold in your hand is worth the inflated prices we’ve been asked to pay for it until now.

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Rap-Metal in the Winter Sky, and 99 Dead Problems Go By

Before we applaud MTV for dreaming up another media stunt-turned-stocking stuffer, let’s answer this: Who—or what—is colliding here exactly? Certainly not rap and rock. Forget Run-D.M.C. versus Aerosmith, Onyx versus Biohazard, and the Beastie Boys: Rap and rock freaked so much in 2004 alone that only the most catastrophically kinky union would force the kids to wear neck braces again.

For Linkin Park and Jay-Z this is especially true. The Park have made a career of peddling hip-hop rhythms as metal pomp and butt-cut rhymes as good rap for the middle-school rockist set. Jay-Z, meanwhile, has alchemized and been alchemized, rock-rapping with Rick Rubin for “99 Problems” and sourcing those increasingly bland color-pun mash-ups. Then there’s the whole “crunk and nu-metal sound exactly the same, and Lil Jon is Fred Durst for a different demographic” argument. So, since rap and rock are more likely to collude than collide anymore, this “groundbreaking” Collision Course qualifies as bumper cars at best.

Mash-ups don’t need to break ground, though—they just need to sound good. (Derrida-jocking rock crits will figure out the rest.) And though Jay-Z calls the collaboration the “hybrid of the hot shit,” it’s the exact opposite, really. The tracks come off two-faced, Jay-Z and Linkin Park not so much mashed up as pieced together in alternation. Jay-Z hardly struggles over LP instrumentals—his nimble “Jigga What” run over “Faint” proves he’s still pretty much invincible, even in retirement. But with places traded, LP’s Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington embarrass themselves, mere ensemble players who double Jay-Z in spots and pepper tracks with pasty catcalls. On their own, Bennington’s wails are incongruous but at least inoffensive, and his minor-to-major melody trade for “Izzo/In the End” actually fits. Shinoda fares worse, though, huffing and puffing heavy-handed rhymes throughout, and at his most laughable when he reformats “99 Problems” to be about Jay-Z (“He’s got 99 problems . . . “).

There’s a DVD, too. Behind-the-scenes footage reveals Jay-Z as amiable but all business, maybe even a little bored. Collision Course clearly wasn’t his idea. The Parkies have a blast, though, especially Bennington. One minute he’s ragging on the cameramen, another he’s screaming at the studio help: “I ordered a Frappucino. Where’s my fucking Frappucino?!” As for collisions, there’s a small one during the concert: Jay-Z tosses his water bottle to a fan, but instead it hits the kid in the face.

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Put It in the Air

Finesse isn’t M.O.P.’s strong suit, but what the Brooklyn duo lack in subtlety, they make up in volume. Since 1993, rappers Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame have been splitting eardrums with blaring anthems like “How About Some Hardcore” and “Ante Up.” They’ve never met a chorus they didn’t like screaming over. Long before rock-rap hybrids like Korn and Linkin Park were filling arenas, M.O.P. had cock-rock hip-hop on lock.

Not surprisingly, their previous albums sampled heavily from rock sources—on 2000’s Warriorz, their “Cold as Ice” managed to make Foreigner sound rugged—but for Mash Out Posse, Fame and Danze dispense with the digital middleman and get their jam on directly. Collaborating with rap-reggae rockers Shiner Massive, they draft a handful of new songs and revisit their catalog, giving hits like “Stand Clear” and “Calm Down” metal makeovers.

Danze and Fame’s gun-clap flow busts off in short, controlled bursts—”We have the constitutional right/to bear arms/and flare arms/whenever we fear harm”—and Shiner Massive joins the firing line when Larry Devore’s distorted guitar rips stick in that staccato rhythm. Songs like “Stand Up” and “Raise Hell” roll hard on rough riffs and drum smashes, but occasionally the collab falls victim to rock excess. “Put It in the Air,” for example, drowns the vocals in overwrought, operatic overtones.

If the Beastie Boys were the first to mainstream a rock-rap sound, M.O.P. turn the tables by covering the Licensed to Ill–era “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (called “Hilltop Flavor” here). M.O.P.’s borough homage commemorates an 18-year circle that links Rick Rubin’s early rock-rap experimentations with M.O.P.’s latest. Hearing Danze and Fame holler out “No!/Sleep!/Till Brooklyn!” revives old-school memories when punk and rap grew up together on New York concrete. But beyond nostalgia, Mash Out Posse is a reminder that, at their core, rock and hip-hop feed off the same third rail. They plug in, crank up, and kick out the motherfucking jams.

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Show Me the Way

Peter Frampton never asked Shuggie Otis and Brian Eno to mess with Frampton Comes Alive, but supremely zealous rap-metal flagbearers Linkin Park essentially do just that with Reanimation. The new album sells itself as remixes of songs from this era’s most incomprehensible mega-seller, but it’s more than that. It rips apart the Pro Tools-loving, hip-hop-cred-seeking Linkins’ Hybrid Theory and invites edgy producers and rappers to build new houses out of the cards.

Here, the hits can no longer stand as hits. Kutmaster Kurt (of Kool Keith fame) bastardizes the echoing technopop of “In the End” (renamed “Enth E Nd.”—beware of other weird spellings), sliding the tension between rapper Mike Shinoda and singer Chester Bennington and making mechanical, staccato hip-hop out of it. He banishes a quieted Bennington to the hook, leaving the verses to Shinoda and Motion Man. “One Step Closer,” another smash, turns into pure mud at the hands of Canada’s Humble Brothers, who add an eerie coda with Korn’s Jonathan Davis belching the original’s bridge—”Shut up!!”

Other songs benefit from a complete makeover, especially “Points of Authority” (now “Pts.of.Athrty”). Orgy’s Jay Gordon chops the buffalo-butt riff, installs booming drums, and adds a spooky keyboard loop for melody. Result: an industrial-pop powerhouse. Elsewhere, Dilated Peoples’ Evidence transforms “High Voltage,” a vocoderized tribute to Japanimation that predates Hybrid Theory, into a Dilated Peoples song—amazing texture and energy, stupid lyrics about nothing. Pharaohe Monch, shamefully, follows suit.

These improvements, which also find Linkin Park’s own Joseph Hahn outdoing the Dust Brothers’ old production of “With You,” raise an obvious question—why didn’t they travel this far out of the box initially? Apparently, Linkin Park asked the same thing endlessly in recording Reanimation, making them maybe the most interesting of mediocre bands.