Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Album Review: A Thousand Suns

(Pre-notes: Yes, I know it's not Friday; it's Saturday. I got working on this review late on Friday and decided to move the reviews to Saturday. Also, I realize this might not be the most professional review you'll see, but I honestly don't really care.)
A Thousand Suns is nu-metal band Linkin Park's fourth studio album, released in 2010. It is a concept album (meaning the songs share a loose storyline or common idea) concerning human fears such as nuclear warfare. Although it is quite different from their previous album, 2007's Minutes to Midnight, it still stays true to Linkin Park's signature nu-metal sound. Four singles have been released from the album: "The Catalyst", "Waiting for the End", "Iridescent", and "Burning in the Skies".

1. The Requiem
A Thousand Suns is made up of many "transition" songs, which fall in between what I consider the "real" songs of the album. "The Requiem" is the first transition song. It starts out very ominously, giving a feeling of suspense and desperation to the album. It borrows a lyric from "The Catalyst", which is actually the only lyric of this song: "God save us, everyone/Will we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns/For the sins of our hand, sins of our tongue/The sins of our father, the sins of our young". It almost seems like a cry of despair from the victims of a disaster, which will later be shown to be a nuclear explosion. The song starts the album off very nicely and sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Rating: 3/5

2. The Radiance
"The Radiance" uses the first of three quote samples in A Thousand Suns. The quote used here is by J. Robert Oppenheimer:
"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form, and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds'. I suppose we all thought that, one way or another."
"The Requiem" flows directly into "The Radiance", and the two songs serve as a kind of introduction to the album before starting the "real" songs with "Burning in the Skies". The use of the quote further sets the mood of tension around the nuclear bomb, but does not have much to it musically.
Rating: 2/5

3. Burning in the Skies
"Burning in the Skies" is the first "real" song of the album. The song sets the tone of the main character of the album, who is a sort of rebel in a world of war and environmental decay: "I fill my cup with the rising of the sea/And pour it out in an ocean of debris". The tone of the song's start makes it seem like it should be the credits song for a movie; Avatar comes to mind as a good fit. The song also portrays the state of war that has been killing innocent people: "Blood of innocence burning in the skies"; as well as showing a possible lost love for the main character: "And in the end we were made to be apart/Like separate chambers of the human heart". "Burning in the Skies" is a alternative-pop song that would do very well on the radio, I feel.
Rating: 4/5

4. Empty Spaces
If I were to make the length of the review match the length of the song, the review for "Empty Spaces" would be this sentence. At 18 seconds, it is by far the shortest song on the album. It also has no musical quality at all to it, containing only sound samples of gunfire and an officer shouting. It reminds the listener about the ongoing war, fit between two songs describing the main character.
Rating: 1/5

5. When They Come For Me
"When They Come For Me" is one of two hip-hop songs on the album. The song pays homage to rap group Public Enemy. While I'm not the biggest fan of hip-hop (and I absolutely despise flat-out rap), this song is pretty decent for a hip-hop song, as it keeps Linkin Park's signature nu-metal sound. I personally like this song better than the other hip-hop song, "Wretches and Kings". It also has an African-infused feel to it, using off-beat triplets to make a cool rhythm along with a heavy guitar with a heavy octaver effect.
Rating: 3/5

6. Robot Boy
Although the title may not suggest a great song, "Robot Boy" is one of my favorite songs from the album. The storyline here is possibly the government trying to convince the main character to join the war, but the main character is being reluctant to go: "You say the weight of the world has kept you from letting go". The piano riff seems like a riff that was plunked out on the piano by someone who isn't a great player. However, the repetition of it creates a cool effect, along with the harmonized vocal verses. The second half is the greatest: a very cool synth solo on top of lead singer Chester Bennington belting out high vocal runs in the background.
Rating: 5/5

7. Jornada Del Muerto
"Jornada Del Muerto" (referring to New Mexico's "route of the dead man") has one repeated Japanese lyric: "Mochiagete, tokihanashite", which translates to the final lyric of "The Catalyst": "Lift me up, let me go". One of the transition songs of the album, it links "Robot Boy" and "Waiting for the End". After a few repeats of the lyric, there is a pretty cool synth-guitar solo, with the final note fading into "Waiting for the End".
Rating: 3/5

8. Waiting for the End
The second single from the album, "Waiting for the End" is another one of my favorite songs from the album. The heavy bass, along with the piano plunking out an E throughout, gives the song a cool feel. The rapped verses, in conjunction (big word, I know) with the sung verses, make a really cool back-and-forth singing style. The high note at the end of the song gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
Rating: 5/5

9. Blackout
"Blackout" is a heavy nu-metal song, complete with screamed choruses. Back to the storyline, I believe this is the cry of a riot telling the government to stop the war and not use nuclear weapons. The breakdown is when the band's turntablist goes crazy on samples of the chorus. The rhythms he creates are very cool. After that, is mellows out, and we get a sung verse before building to the climactic "Come down, no" that is belted out at the end.
Rating: 4/5

10. Wretches and Kings
"Wretches and Kings" uses the second quote sample of the album, this one from Mario Savio's "Bodies upon the gears" speech:
"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levels, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."
"Wretches and Kings" appears to be the government's response to "Blackout", and it indicates the use of the nuclear bomb: "There ain't s*** you can say to make me back down, no/So push the button let the whole thing blow/Spinning everything out of control". This song is the second hip-hop song of the album, and it starts out pretty well. However, the sung choruses are a bit jarring, and Bennington's singing style takes a little getting used to here. Also, the typical club song 'put your hands up' style lyric appears after the second chorus: "From the front to the back and the side to side/If you fear what I feel, put 'em up real high", and given that "Wretches and Kings" is not and probably never will be released as a single, it seems out of place and unwelcome.
Rating: 2.5/5

11. Wisdom, Justice, and Love
Another transition song, "Wisdom, Justice, and Love" uses the final quote sample of the album from the great Martin Luther King Jr.:
"I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: this way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human being with napalm, filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from the dark, bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love."
This is the first "aftermath" song, dealing with happenings after the nuclear bomb is used. The speech is slowly digitized before repeating the last line completely auto-tuned at a low note, which gives a cool effect. The piano chords in the background add to the feeling of desperation and fade nicely into "Iridescent".
Rating: 2.5/5

12. Iridescent
"Iridescent" is another one of my favorite songs from the album. Whereas most of the album is heavy rock, this song is a mellow ballad-type song. It has a really good message of learning to move on from hardship and loss: "Remember all the sadness and frustration/And let it go". The middle break features all 6 band members singing the chorus while building up to the climax of the song, with the drums picking up an up-tempo beat. I actually have started recording "Iridescent" in a piano-vocal arrangement; that will probably be my first audio upload to this blog. Overall, the feeling of "Iridescent" is a welcome change from the rest of the album.
Rating: 5/5

13. Fallout
"Fallout" is the last transition song on the album, serving as an introduction to "The Catalyst". It borrows the chorus lyric from "Burning in the Skies", sung in an auto-tuned, digitized fashion before slowly revealing the actual sung melody below. Musically, the chord progression is pretty neat, but being a transition song, there's not a whole lot here.
Rating: 2.5/5

14. The Catalyst
This was the first single from the album, and it really shows Linkin Park's signature nu-metal sound. The first half is a very fast, almost techno beat, and the second half slows the tempo fourfold and becomes an arena rock-style chorus. The main verse lyrics are sung from the government's point of view and start in a prideful manner: "God bless us, everyone/We're a broken people living under loaded gun" but change to despair and anxiety in the second verse: "God save us, everyone/Will we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns?". The fast drums in the first half, compounded by the techno keyboards, transition to a slower second half led by piano and mellow lyrics before the drums jump back in. The effect of this transition leads to a really cool song overall.
Rating: 5/5

15. The Messenger
"The Messenger" is the album's slow, acoustic ballad, but lead singer Bennington apparently didn't get the memo. His singing is still full-throttle, top-of-your-lungs belting, on top of mellow acoustic guitar and piano. However, slow ballads aren't really Linkin Park's style, so it really couldn't have been any other way, and it still feels in-place. "The Messenger" is a great ending to the album and also talks about having hope in desolation, like "Iridescent".
Rating: 4.5/5

A Thousand Suns is, overall, a great album to listen to, with an emphasis on album. Listening to these songs by themselves is fine and dandy, but you don't get the real experience that Linkin Park creates when you listen to the album as a whole. However, there are still a few standout individual songs here, like "The Catalyst", "Iridescent", and the surprisingly good "Robot Boy". If you're a fan of nu-metal, hard rock, or even just modern rock in general, I would highly recommend listening to A Thousand Suns.
Overall Rating: 9/10

No comments: