In every musical movement, there are innovators -- the acts that introduce stylistic breakthroughs -- and there are popularizers, who co-opt the new genre's freshest elements, homogenize them and feed them back to the public in an accessible, easy-to-digest form. As a result of this process, popularizers often outsell the artists who inspired them in the short run, yet they seldom leave a lasting mark. To put it another way, who will be remembered longer -- Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots? N.W.A. or the Geto Boys? Billie Holiday or Norah Jones?
Which brings us to [Linkin Park]. This SoCal sextet, fronted by singer Chester Bennington and "rapper" Mike Shinoda, is certainly listenable, thanks to the combination of nü-metal gestures and flick-yer-Bic melodicism that turned "In the End," from the outfit's eight-times-platinum debut, 2000's aptly named Hybrid Theory, into a format-crossing smash. Still, the most original thing about the band isn't its music, but the irritating use of brackets around its name. Although the inveterate metalheads at Entertainment Weekly describe "Don't Stay," the first real song on Meteora, as "brutally insistent," the nine-year-olds on the lower end of the combo's fan base probably won't find it scary in the slightest.
Lyrically, the lads are noteworthy for their avoidance of profanities, which some have interpreted as an indication of wimpiness. In truth, the text is not so much timid as self-reflective, if lacking the thematic depth the latter descriptor implies. "Somewhere I Belong," the album's initial single, kicks off with a potentially dangerous admission -- "When this began/I had nothing to say" -- before offering up complaints about the dueling trials of emptiness ("All the vacancy the words revealed/Is the only real thing that I've got left to feel") and agony ("I want to let go of the pain I've held so long"). But nowhere along the way do Bennington or Shinoda talk about why they feel hollow or hurt; they just wail about the effects without confronting the causes. As such, their inarticulateness mirrors the adolescent condition in an eminently marketable way, providing young folks ready to graduate from Avril Lavigne with an emotional starter set they can try out when confronting issues bigger than being picked last for the kickball game. As a bonus, the blend of machine-tooled riffs, hard-and-soft juxtapositions and random scratching by DJ Joseph Hahn is catchy enough to keep those cash registers jangling.
Whether Meteora is an especially good value in these cash-strapped times is another question: The package includes a fat booklet and some Web extras, but less than 37 minutes' worth of actual tunes. Even so, there's more than enough radio-friendly fare on hand to keep the men of [Linkin Park] going for another album or three, after which they'll recede into the mists of rock history with only a big pile of money to show for their trouble. Who says becoming the new Stone Temple Pilots is all bad?
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