Monday, October 28, 2013

album review: 'recharged' by linkin park

I have no goddamn clue why I'm reviewing this album. I mean, a remix album comprised of almost entirely songs from a record I thought barely scraped the ceiling of mediocre by a band that has completely run out of ideas? Really, I can't think of a greater waste of time other than review the new Christmas album by Kelly Clarkson (which isn't happening, by the way, so don't hold your breath)!

First, a bit of context. Last year, when my reviews were previously confined to my blog, I reviewed Linkin Park's Living Things, and suffice to say, I didn't like it. And while upon reexamination I don't think my review is particularly well-written (it's a little too overwrought and overloaded with lecturing), I stand by my opinions surrounding Linkin Park and the album in particular. The album was poorly written, it lacked instrumental heft and weight, it was an unwelcome return to the concepts of their earlier work that haven't aged well and a distinct step down from the high-minded ambitions of A Thousand Suns, and worst of all, it was boring as tar. Yeah, 'Powerless' was a good song, but outside of that a year later, I can barely remember the album and that's never a good sign. I mean, I remember fragments of 'Burn It Down' and I remember thinking that it was mediocre at best, a far cry from the grit and energy that occasionally made some of the band's earlier material worth a listen.

So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that the album was getting the remix treatment, almost doubling the original album in length courtesy of guest DJs and rap verses. And as much as I'd like to be snide and point out that it apparently requires more hands in the mix to make Linkin Park vaguely sellable, I wasn't exactly set to condemn this album. After all, the remixes could add some layer of unique personality to pierce through the boredom I had with the original record, and who knows, maybe Pusha T might be able to deliver a better rap verse than he did on Kay's debut. So with that in mind, how does Recharged by Linkin Park turn out?

Well, that's a bit of a tough question, mostly because even by the standards of Linkin Park projects, Recharged as an album feels pretty ephemeral and pointless. It doesn't have the ambition or bravado of Collision Course or the collection of underground rappers of Reanimation - instead, we have an album that wears its colours pretty prominently: it's a remixed version of Living Things with a few additional songs, and it contributes precisely nothing all that special to the overall listening experience. Is it good? No. Is it aggressively hateable? Well, a few tracks are, but overall, the album doesn't really do a lot to get on my nerves. It's not aggressively offensive, but it's the sort of record that just gives me a steadily throbbing headache.

Since I have already established that I was no big fan of Living Things, let me first dispense with the discussion of lyrics, themes, and all the rest of the concepts Linkin Park threw out when they decided to make this type of remix album. The lyrics contribute nothing other than sullen anger to the proceedings and none of it is particularly memorable or likable. And since, like most remix albums, the vocal track is given the least attention, the lyrics are chopped into vaguely tolerable pieces that arguably mean even less than they did before, moving from aggressively grating to just kind of there. I guess if I'm going to mention the occasional rap segment, they're really kind of empty, with none of the varying wordplay really amounting to anything. And while Pusha T and Cody B. Ware (the latter standing out a little better) deliver decent performances with some good technical rapping, it's just kind of there and not really fitting at all with any context created by the chorus. 

And that's pretty much all I can say for the vocals, and that means we have to talk about the instrumentation and production. I will give Linkin Park this: the album does have a little more variety than the aggressively bland and similar tracks on Living Things, but here's where things get a little strange. You see, arguably the best tracks on the album are when they tone back the distortion and rough edges and expose the decent melodies to jack up with dance beats. It's not a perfect treatment - I think 'Powerless' doesn't have quite the same impact in this reinterpretation courtesy of Enferno, but 'Burn It Down' becomes arguably more tolerable here. Sure, the song is still empty calories, but it does gain a little more presence with Tom Swoon's remix. 

But the problem is that in this case, these songs only peripherally sound like Linkin Park songs in this form, a lot closer to mainstream EDM than anything else. They stripped away Linkin Park's distinctive traits in order to make something workable, and correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't you want your remix album to augment your personality instead of take it away? The closest they get to that on this album is the oddball remix of 'Until It Breaks' from Money Mark Headphones, which really sounds like a fusion of the solemnity of 'Heads Held High' with the song and an overload of quirk, and while it's interesting, it's also only one song and the elements don't quite fit together as well as they should. And sure, I'll admit that I liked the unique percussion that Rick Rubin brought to his remix of 'A Light That Never Comes' - it at least sounded organic and catchy.

If only more of the album worked in that vein - but no, Linkin Park have decided, for some reason, to only intensify the staticky, fuzz-saturated feel of the album to drown out most traces of a good tune, and as with Living Things before it, it doesn't so much add personality as grey, homogeneous vapour. And that's not even touching on the dubstep - yeah, if you thought, like I did, Living Things had a suspicious lack of drops and electronic wobbles, Recharged steps up to the plate and delivers. And while I've grown marginally more tolerant of dubstep over the past few months, the variety that Linkin Park decided they wanted to integrate is along the lines of Skrillex early last year: grating, insufferable, and completely dissonant to any ideas of tune. What bothers me about the dubstep inclusion is the production - the sound is all surface at the top of the mix, with no depth or presence other than screeching howls in your ear. It's sloppily layered and it renders songs I already didn't like on Living Things absolutely unbearable, with the nadir being 'Lies Greed Misery'.

But in the end, I'm returning to my opening statement: I have no goddamn clue why I reviewed this album. Hardcore fans are already going to get this album, and if you haven't jumped on the Linkin Park bandwagon over ten years into their career and after large chunks of their earlier discography became a punchline (which it did), this album is not one to hook you. I know that Linkin Park has a reputation for making one arguably good remix album with Reanimation, but this album doesn't come close to that record's ambition and occasional real chops. I will say this album isn't as bland or boring as Living Things was, but is it better? Well, not really. Sure, there are a few songs made stronger by the remix, but the highs aren't quite as good and the lows are a hell of a lot deeper. I'm giving this album a 5/10 - which, come to think of it, is probably the same score I'd give its predecessor. 

And yet, I still feel a bit disappointed with this album. Linkin Park did show with A Thousand Suns that they were capable of trying for bigger and better ideas, and least in terms of lyrics and theme. This album feels like just more recycling - and unless you're interested in Linkin Park treading water, I can't recommend this album.

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