Californian nu-metal band's sophomore effort turns 20 - a perfect opportunity to reappraise it
Everyone who loves music has one. That is, an artist or album which you become obsessed with in your formative years.
For me, it was Linkin Park. On the cusp of secondary school and the dreaded teenage years, I was hooked from the first time I saw ‘One Step Closer’ on MTV. An underground shelter lit green with nefarious hooded characters and angry men with gelled, spiky hair screaming and headbanging, it certainly stood out compared to the choreographed pop and R’n’B tracks I was used to seeing on the music channel.
It felt real and authentic and suddenly, I wanted to lap up everything to do with the band. The hits kept on following and I treasured Hybrid Theory – the band’s debut record which went on to sell 27 million copies around the world.
I played the album on repeat, learning the lyrics from the album sleeve and went on to buy the band’s DVD, Frat Party At The Pankake Festival, and the Reanimation album (an album featuring remixes of the tracks from Hybrid Theory and more). I bought a dark green Linkin Park T-shirt and a band hoody.
I wanted to dye my hair and spike it up like the band in ‘One Step Closer’. Craving new music from the band, the two-and-a-half years between Hybrid Theory and follow-up, Meteora, felt like a lifetime.
With anticipation and excitement for the second album sky high, Meteora didn’t stand a chance. Even if it was the best album of all time, there was no way it was going to match or exceed the ludicrous expectations a teenage me had for it.
I remember being disappointed that the format, removing 13-second opener ‘Foreword’ from the equation, was broadly the same as Hybrid Theory: 12 songs, the 11th a DJ track from Joe Hahn and roughly the same running time.
Where was the progression? It took them that long to produce this? These feelings masked the fact that I liked all the tracks, particularly ‘Faint’ at the time.
The experience in hindsight was an acute but important lesson in not getting too excited about things. Overhyping something not released more often than not will lead to disappointment.
Writing this in 2023 and a great deal older, seeing that it was Meteora’s 20th anniversary on the weekend provided a perfect opportunity to reappraise the unfairly maligned (by me anyway) sophomore effort from the Californian band.
What’s happened in between, of course, should be acknowledged and the untimely death of lead vocalist, Chester Bennington, in 2017 brought the legacy of the band into sharp focus. It was hugely upsetting and also spurred regret in me for, despite being a massive fan of the band, I had never – and now never will – seen them live. This inspired me to make an extra special effort to see some of my all-time favourite artists which saw me tick off Stevie Wonder, Foo Fighters and Manic Street Preachers in 2019.
My support of Linkin Park as I had grown into an adult had waned as much as I still loved their early material. Chester’s death made me wish I had remained loyal to the band, but the beauty with music is that it remains forever so there is plenty of time to make up for that.
Back to Meteora. So what would I make of the record in 2023?
Well, a strong link and continuation of Hybrid Theory is there (and this is not a bad thing) but elements of greater experimentation are present. The crystal clear vocals of Bennington, as well as his harsh, sharp screams, and Mike Shinoda’s aggressively delivered rap was an intoxicating mix of the band’s early sound. The third most distinctive presence is Hahn’s DJ-ing which grows in importance in Meteora compared to the more rock-led tracks in Hybrid Theory.
The thick, abrasive electric guitar from Brad Delson is present as is a tight backing duo of Dave Farrell on bass and Rob Bourdon on drums.
‘Don’t Stay’ is Linkin Park 101 with softly sung verses and a screamy chorus over jagged guitar in the tried and trusted ‘verse-chorus-verse-chorus-scream verse-chorus’ cadence. It’s particularly similar to ‘One Step Closer’.
‘Somewhere I Belong’ has Bennington pining for comfort and familiarity in his life over a warm soundscape pointing to a less fraught headspace than apparent in Hybrid Theory. ‘Lying from You’ is the first true departure from their debut album, with Hahn’s produced strings leading the way in the verses before a rock chorus and breathless vocals in the bridge before the final chorus.
Hahn’s strong influence continues on ‘Hit the Floor’ adding a searching element to the rap-rock performance from the rest of the group.
Not fully appreciated at the time, but certainly is now is the epic enormity of ‘Easier to Run’ – a track detailing the universally known state of hiding from our problems instead of taking the braver step of confronting them. How this didn’t amaze me at the time and how this wasn’t chosen as a single are mysteries.
The heavy nature of ‘Easier to Run’ is shed by the fast-paced ‘Faint’ – an obvious single choice and a clear positive progression from the band even my uber-critical younger self could recognise. Hahn’s DJ strings are the signal for Bourdon’s electronic drums to set the pace and Delson to complement them with a riff which carries the song and provides Bennington and Shinoda with a template to vocalise how they won’t put up with being ignored (the lyrics still strongly resonating with disgruntled teenagers!).
‘Figure.09’ could easily be a backend Hybrid Theory track, being one of the heavier efforts on Meteora. Next is ‘Breaking the Habit’ – a Bennington and Hahn-led pop track which shows that the band was not afraid to move outside of the rap-rock orbit it stood in the middle of. ‘From the Inside’ then reassures the nu-metal crowd that the genre is still very much their domain before ‘Nobody’s Listening’ gives Shinoda a platform to take the lead a-la Fort Minor with Hahn’s DJ-ing the main musical component aside from Delson’s irregular punchy cords and Bennington coming in for the short choruses.
‘Session’ is a calming DJ exhibition from Hahn, aping the breather given in Hybrid Theory for listeners to catch their breath before one last epic track; in Meteora’s case, that being ‘Numb’, arguably the biggest track in Linkin Park’s canon and the one most likely to be played at rock clubs. It showcases everything great about Bennington’s vocal delivery and is a relatable and sad track to end on.
Such is the wide array of ideas going on in Meteora, listening to the album flies by and I can safely say that it deserves to be lauded as Linkin Park’s second great album. While it doesn’t veer too far from Hybrid Theory, this only serves to give a further outlet to the unique sound the band pioneered in their debut and there’s enough innovation and creative experimentation to give Meteora its own identity.
It was a pleasure to dive in again to the album and even better that the 20th anniversary has borne further Linkin Park tracks in ‘Lost’ and ‘Fighting Myself’ which stand tall in my 2023 best tracks playlist. Yes, nu-metal was of its time and mainly geared towards the demographic I was part of in the early 2000s, but Linkin Park had more about them to be discarded as short-term scenesters and the innovation and craft inherent in their music which won them many fans is still alive today as Meteora demonstrates.
Happy to admit that the young me was wrong – Meteora kicks ass.