Living Things was the fifth studio album from rap-rockers Linkin Park and would find the band doing further experimentation with their sound, and would become their fourth straight record to debut at the top of the Billboard 200. The set was co-produced by Mike Shinoda and veteran Rick Rubin, whom had previously collaborated on Minutes to Midnight and their expansive A Thousand Suns records. In a lot of ways, this album is usually the one I reach for the most when I’m looking for a quick encapsulation of everything Linkin Park did in their storied discography in a singular record. For casual fans of Linkin Park, many state that Living Things is one of their favorites, if not the favorite in their collection, and it’s easy to see why so many would gravitate to the sound they went for here. It’s very accessible, doesn’t include any filler, and delivers more often than not in a rewarding and consistent listening experience.
The album opens with the electronic-tinged “Lost in the Echo” that is fairly simple in its song structure, with a rapped verse by Shinoda and anthemic chorus courtesy of their late vocalist Chester Bennington. On this chorus, Bennington sets the tone by singing, “In these promises broken / Deep below / Each word gets lost in the echo / So one last lie I can see through / This time I finally let you…go.” The album themes teeter on the concepts of fractured relationships, world issues, as well as attempting to navigate through tough times. The second song, “In My Remains,” is more of a straight-forward rock song with Bennington taking on the majority of the vocal duties. I found the second verse to be particularly powerful as he admits, “Come apart / Falling in the cracks /Of every broken heart / Digging through the wreckage / Of your disregard / Sinking down and waiting / For the chance to feel alive.” Linkin Park were painting with rich, vivid colors throughout the album, and it really felt like their experimentation on their previous efforts made them completely comfortable in their own skin on Living Things.
”Burn It Down” was the first single to be released from the set, and it’s clear to see why. It has a great beat, electronic elements, and well-constructed verses that build to a crowd-pleasing chorus. The bridge is also very well thought out through Shinoda’s rap of, “You told me, ‘Yes,’ / You held me high / And I believed when you told that lie / I played soldier, you played king / And struck me down, when I kissed that ring / You lost that right, to hold that crown / I built you up, but you let me down / So when you fall, I’ll take my turn / And fan the flames / As your blazes burn.” Linkin Park had so much positive momentum going their way from their previous LP’s that this song was only going to enhance that trajectory.
The band took a turn towards the heavily electronic-based music on “Lies Greed Misery,” that sounds a bit like a Skrillex-infused song that just happens to feature Linkin Park. They regain their footing rather quickly though on “I’ll Be Gone,” a song about the fragility of life and just how fleeting the people in our lives can be. The opening verse is well sung by Bennington as he explains through a web of poetry, “Like shining oil this night is dripping down / Stars are slipping down, glistening / And I’m trying not to think what I’m leaving now / No deceiving now / It’s time you let me know / Let me know.” The song now feels a bit like a precursor to the style they would go for on their final record, One More Light.
”Castle of Glass” was another successful single for Linkin Park because it never deters from what the band is best at. The bold imagery in the chorus of, “‘Cause I’m only a crack in this castle of glass / Hardly anything there for you to see / For you to see / ‘Cause I’m only a crack in this castle of glass / Hardly anything else I need to be,” finds the band continuing to tinker with interesting sounds, beats and samples in order to create new art. Whereas “Victimized” would be a sound that they would explore more specifically and deeply on The Hunting Party album, the true gem in the set comes in the form of “Roads Untraveled.” It’s an incredibly well-organized song about letting go, while still holding on to the ones we care the most about in this crazy world. As Shinoda puts it, “Weep not for roads untraveled / Weep not for sights unseen / May your love never end / And if you need a friend / There’s a seat here alongside me.” It’s a very moving song, and took on new meaning during Shinoda’s Post Traumatic world tour where he incorporated this track into the live set.
”Skin To Bone” is a pretty cool electronic-based song about how things that in our life can quickly be taken away just as easily, where “Until It Breaks” finds Bennington and Shinoda at their most charismatic and in-tune with each other’s strengths. The second verse by Shinoda features some nice wordplay of, “‘Cause the shark’s on the left side, the snake’s on the right / And anything you do, they wanna get a little bite / It really doesn’t matter if you’re wrong or if you’re right / ‘Cause once they get their teeth in, nothing really fights.” And things wrap up on the ballad, “Powerless,” that is largely centered around Bennington’s powerful and emotional vocal delivery to leave just the right taste in their audience’s mouth to look back on this album fondly.
While many critics felt the band didn’t cover enough experimental new ground on this album, I dismiss that idea since Linkin Park had prided themselves on never making the same album twice. Instead, they pushed the envelope in a much different way by using what they had learned from the previous album sessions to make Living Things a record that could be regarded as a testament to a band becoming the best version of themselves. That remarkable journey of self-discovery can be just as important and rewarding as the final product.