Linkin Park: they invented the remix! Well, not exactly — these gazillion-selling L.A. hoodie rockers didn't invent the idea of a rap-metal band dabbling in hip-hop remixes any more than Puffy invented marketing, Martha Stewart invented insider trading or Shakira invented the midriff. But Linkin Park's remix album is something new, just because they're the biggest band ever to try this shit, with the best-selling album of 2001, Hybrid Theory, still riding high on the charts and the radio. Nobody ever accused them of having the most original sound around, but what sets them apart is how they shape all their heavy influences into something fresh and tuneful. Brad Delson's flash guitar, Mike Shinoda's low-key rapping and Chester Bennington's Freddie Mercury-has-risen-from-the-grave vocals fuse into intensely emotional songs of teen angst. "In the End," their biggest and best hit, is really the flip side of Limp Bizkit's "Nookie," a breakup song from an embattled young dude who finds out the hard way that nice guys have girl troubles, too, just like the Fred Dursts of the world. Musically and lyrically, "In the End" sums up everything that makes Linkin Park stand out so far ahead of the pack.
On Reanimation, Linkin Park rework their music from the inside out. Shinoda is the mastermind here, overseeing the project (along with Linkin Park DJ Joseph "Chairman" Hahn) to turn down the rock vocals, de-emphasize the riffs and cut a host of illustrious underground hip-hop names in on the action. It's not so much an album as it is a capital-P Project, the kind of record that rock stars make when they get caught short of new material between albums. For a young band coming off a blockbuster debut, a Project lets it recuperate and stall for time, but it also allows it to (1) prove that the group is, like, so totally still down creatively, and (2) clock some serious next-album dollars before actually having to write next-album songs. In the past, bands have usually gone for live or unplugged records. But Linkin Park have opened the remix-project door in a calculating but earnest effort to establish their underground hip-hop art cred: Reanimation is basically the Pro Tools era's answer to GN'R Lies.
Shinoda has recruited some impeccably pedigreed collaborators, including underground hip-hop producers Kutmasta Kurt, Alchemist, Cheapshot, X-ecutioners, Dilated Peoples' Evidence and the excellently named Jewbacca. Guest vocalists include rockers such as Korn's Jonathan Davis and Staind's Aaron Lewis, as well as indie rappers including Aceyalone, Rasco, Planet Asia and Jurassic 5's Chali 2na. "High Voltage" is easily the best thing here, as well as one of the only tracks not previously heard on Hybrid Theory; originally a headbanging rocker from an EP by the band, "High Voltage" becomes a vehicle for the maniacally ranting Rawkus rapper Pharoahe Monch. Shinoda himself remixes "Pushing Me Away" and "By Myself" (featuring Deftones' Steph Carpenter on guitar), while Hahn tackles "Without You" and "Cure for the Itch." And Kutmasta Kurt opens up a sixer of whup-ass on "In the End," speeding up the original vocal chorus into Tweety Bird territory and bringing in rapper Motion Man. It's nowhere near as punchy as the original, but you have to admit it's pretty fucking strange.
Reanimation definitely goes overboard on the atmospherics: Without the high-resolution hooks and guitar-rock crunch of Hybrid Theory, the tracks tend to blur together in unflattering patterns. Most of the avant-feeble rapping on the album is underground — not in the sense of "too radical for the mainstream" but in the sense of "you can dress it up, but you can't take it out." Some of the remixes weaken the original (the Humble Brothers' "One Step Closer"); others make a lame song even worse (Zion I's "Place for My Head"). Still, there's something winningly sincere about how much ingenuous hard work went into Reanimation, and not just getting people on the phone: Shinoda segues all twenty tracks together, opening and closing with a horror-movie violin motif, mixing in voice-mail messages, piano interludes and other production gimmicks until the whole album flows into a sixty-one-minute suite for comfortably numb dudes and their headphones. The music isn't exactly groundbreaking, and none of the remixes improve on the Hybrid Theory originals, but the boyish energy of Reanimation has its own appeal, and it's not too far emotionally from the tried-so-hard spirit of "In the End." Commercially expedient though it may be, it's also a labor of love.