Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #79. Linkin Park – “In the End”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 7, 2007

Pushed as far as I can go

So I put this one off for a while. It’s tough writing about nu-metal if you expect to be taken seriously, since for such a large part of the general population (and by general population I mean the small cadre of internet music-obsessive folk) nu-metal remains the nadir of all popular rock music. Many still haven’t forgiven the dominance it claimed in rock around the turn of the century, the memories of which are still too fresh (and which haven’t even completely stayed in the past, considering the number of hits Papa Roach and Three Days Grace have managed in the last couple years) for it to be embracable in any conceivable fashion.

Still, I’ve been very pleased to see the growing number of internet writers starting to stick up for LP a little bit. They’ve rightly come around to the awesomeness of the intro to “Faint,” the “SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKIN’ TO YOU!!!” climax to “One Step Closer,” the Holly Brook-sung hook to Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go” (well, not that last one). Stylus writer Ian Cohen even echoed many of my opinions on the band in a phenomenal piece on Hybrid Theory recently that partly confirmed my suspicions that in time, unlike say, Vertical Horizon, critics will eventually come around to Linkin Park (though sorry, Ian, the only LP, uh, LP that I’ve heard all the way through is Jay-Z mashup album Collision Course). It’s just a matter of time.

What interests me, though, is that the critics who have started to come to LP’s defense are ones whose music listening is mostly pop or hip-hop oriented, not rock. And I think this is really telling, since even though LP mostly get played on rock stations, seem to be mostly associated with rock fans, and play a bunch of rock instruments, they don’t really feel like a rock band. The playing is all extremely mechanical, closer to the immaculate heaviness of Nine Inch Nails and the sleek, dark grooves of Depeche Mode (both of which, unsurprisingly, the band has covered). It’s too clean, too streamlined to really feel like rock–it’s not the kind of music that’s created in garages.

And this is what the biggest misconception of nu-metal seems to be to me: it really was, at first at least, a fairly progressive genre. When you consider the bands ruling the airwaves in the year or two before KoRn and Limp Bizkit hit, it’s all either simple, MOR-ish pop/rock in the vein of Matchbox 20 and the Goo Goo Dolls, post-post-grunge one-offs like The Verve Pipe and Marcy Playground, or weirdo attempts to branch out from early-mid-90s bands not knowing what to do after the death of the alt-rock era. Point is, rock was hardly at its most forward-looking. Enter bands with turntablists, down-tuned guitars, and some overbaked attempts at machismo and pre-emo superangst–all stuff that at the time, was still strictly the property of outsider bands like Tool and The Deftones–and hey, now we’re actually getting somewhere. It beats the hell out of “All for You” and “Lakini’s Juice,” no?

And to say that Linkin Park was the brightest light of the bands that swamped the charts in the wake of the nu-metal explosion is practically a non-statement. Sure, they were formulaic as any of them–possibly more, even, it’s almost insulting how similarly strutured the great majority of their songs are:

  • Begin with cool, eerie quiet part leading into loud slamming part intro
  • Extremely tense rapped verse traded off with huge screamy chorus, repeat
  • Even huger screamier part climax
  • End with same cool eerie part

But you never really mind, ‘coz it’s just such a fucking ingenious format, and it’s done with obvious craftsmanship that doesn’t come at the expense of any of the song’s energy. Despite how oldsters will tend to tell you that bands like Anthrax and Faith No More already did all this stuff decades ago, this way of creating rock music in a totally unorganic way is still relatively new for popular rock–metal, no less. Plus those cool, eerie parts are really, really cool.

In the End” isn’t really an exception to their formula, but it feels like it should be. Immediately, with that inconceivably melancholy piano hook over the stutter beat leading into the song’s first verse, the song just seems special–all preconceived notions of what nu-metal is or should be just vanish, and you’re left with what is simply great pop/rock music. And man, does the song hit the ground running–I read something in SPIN with one of the Sleater-Kinney girls talking about how the two lead vocalists in their band play the music’s conscious and subconscious, and though I couldn’t give a fuck about their vocal interplay at all, I think it applies perfectly to the instantly established rapport here in the simultaneous vocal lines between rapper Mike Shinoda and lyricist Chester Bennington. It’s hard to tell which is which–Bennington could be the despairing undercurent to Shinoda’s angry ranting, or Shinoda could be the simmering frustration under Bennington’s surface depression–but it’s a fascinating blend either way.

And as vocalists, “In the End” is unquestionably Bennington & Shinoda’s masterpiece. Even LP haters tend to acknowledge that Bennington knows how to really wail when called on to do so, but he’s just as unsettling here playing defeated as he normally is doing pissed-off. And say what you will about Shinoda, or his dozens of miserable side-projects–motherfucker can rap. No kidding at all, I’d put him up against the great majority of rappers in the top 40 this decade. I didn’t really quite get it until I saw Shinoda performing the song live on the Collision Course DVD and I watched the way he could just control an audience–with his words, with his flow, even with his hand motions. You can just feel the intensity, and even moreso, the sheer concentration and force of will that Shinoda puts into his raps, and personally, I find it stunning. You don’t find too many other rock bands with two lead vocalists (and I mean vocalists who’ll trade off leads in almost every song), much less ones as indvidiually talented and as meshable as these.

And the sentiment–well, it’s hardly an original or terribly creative one–“I tried so hard / and got so far / but in the end, it doesn’t even matter.” It’s hard to find fault in the brutal simplicity of it, though, especially considering that the band never goes cheap or over-the-top with their suicide solution–ultimately, what it really sounds like is a spiritual descendent of The Smiths’ similarly basic and all-encompassing paean to futility, “Asleep“. And apparently it was universal enough to send the song all the way to #2 on the charts–pop supremacy not reached be a metal (or even metal-ish) band in nearly a decade.

The saddest thing for me about LP’s mega-success was how few of the nu-metal bands to rise in their wake really followed their example. Most of them got the parts about switching between quiet and loud, and about screaming the important angry parts (a system arguably in place as far back as Nirvana, or even further if you want to get technical), but few, if any, got the parts about the gorgeous production, the shimmering hooks and the brilliant vocal interplay. Or, like the band says (sing/rap it with me now!) “One thing / I don’t know why / it doesn’t even matter how hard you try…”

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5 Responses to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #79. Linkin Park – “In the End””

  1. yancy said

    If you were born a decade earlier you’d have been like, the biggest Stabbing Westward fan.

  2. Tal said

    Ian C. wrote that Linkin Park piece Andrew.

  3. Andrew Unterberger said

    haha, shit

  4. Joe said

    A year in college with “In the End” blasting from the room across the hall, every single day, ruined it for me for a few years. But I couldn’t deny it forever. Good song.

  5. Garret said

    I hope that was sarcasm, Yancy.

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