Presenting the hardest-working men in showbiz: Linkin Park? It ain't easy making green, and the band wants us to know that following up the best-selling debut of the new millennium is no simple feat. Especially if you're as self-conscious as this sextet. As someone blurts during a seventeen-minute documentary on the making of Meteora's artwork — not to be confused with the thirty-three-minute documentary on the making of Meteora's music that comes in the album's special-edition bonus DVD — "The art is the making of the art."
That approach is symbolized by the album's cover photo of graffiti artist Delta clad in a gas mask to protect him from the toxic fumes of his craft: He's spray-painting in front of a canvas that he's only begun to fill. It's a scene that brings to life the essential line from their last album, Reanimation: "The journey is more important than the end or the start."
Beneath the metal guitar and the rap rhymes, Linkin Park are an old-fashioned art-rock band (MC Mike Shinoda and DJ Joseph Hahn met in art school and still consider themselves visual artists). But rather than drawing inspiration from classical music or Hobbits as their art-rock forefathers did, Linkin Park are rooted in contemporary Asia, postmodernism, sample-based music and anime superheroes. The common denominator between the band and its antecedents is psychology: Whereas, say, Pink Floyd grappled with insanity, LP dramatize the conflicts of father and son, man and woman, or friend and friend — all from the vantage point of a young guy struggling for harmony with or separation from an unnamed "you."
Meteora celebrates the hard-won clarity that comes when getting within screaming distance of one's demons. "The very worst part of you is me," Chester Bennington admits in "Lying From You." "Giving up a part of me/I've let myself become you," he laments during "Figure.09." "All I want to do is become more like me and less like you," the singer concludes on "Numb."
Much of Meteora adheres to the overly familiar rap-rock template Linkin Park fit themselves into for Hybrid Theory. Yet the band manages to squeeze the last remaining life out of this nearly extinct formula with volatile performances and meticulous editing. There's hardly a moment in the album's tightly compacted thirty-six-and-a-half minutes that doesn't sound assiduously rehearsed, sampled and Pro Tools tweaked. Drummer Rob Bourdon takes the greatest instrumental leap; the combination of his intricate thrashing and the band's improved songwriting makes Meteora more than yet another remix of its predecessor.
Linkin Park sound most alive when escaping the constraints of their genre. On "Breaking the Habit," guitarist Brad Delson sticks the metal riffs in temporary storage. As Bennington croons, the band swirls twice as fast around him while strings swell and drums bolt. Although the song's anguished grandeur is rooted in the band's New Wave influences, the result bears little resemblance to the past or present. This suits Linkin Park's futurist vibe and lives up to the promise of Meteora's lavish packaging. Much of the album is just excellent craft; on "Breaking the Habit," Linkin Park make some risky, beautiful art.