Stayin' Alive

The hopes of a dying genre chill in Linkin Park

In a rap-rock world that spews more than its share of suspect rhetoric -- it's been a while since Fred Durst actually delivered a beatdown -- Linkin Park is more candid than calculating. It's fitting, then, that the sextet is the genre's last thriving band, having put out one of the top-selling albums of 2003, while Korn, Limp Bizkit and P.O.D. continued their recessions into rock history. Bassist Darren "Phoenix" Farrell isn't sure why it's happened that way.

"In all honesty, I don't really know if there is a definite answer. Music, as with anything creative, has its ebbs and flows. People move back and forth to different styles, and what's hot now won't be in two years. That's the way it goes. We've always tried to enjoy it. Time will tell whether you're the kind of band that spans over ten years."

Linkin Park is halfway there. The members have played together since high school in the early-to-mid-'90s, becoming Linkin Park in 1999. They hail from Southern California, a region that's long been fertile for new wave and pop metal, two genres that Linkin Park tapped for its once unlikely postmodern suburban rap. The band recorded its 2000 debut, Hybrid Theory, with production help from the Dust Brothers (Beastie Boys, Beck) and Don Gilmore (Pearl Jam); the album went on to be the top seller of 2001, moving more than 14 million copies worldwide. The following year, million-plus sales were registered for the remix album Reanimation, for which the band teamed up with such notables as Korn front man Jonathan Davis, Staind's Aaron Lewis and rapper Pharoahe Monch.

Linkin Park: Loud but civil -- the kind of music you could feed your kid brother.
Linkin Park: Loud but civil -- the kind of music you could feed your kid brother.

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These days, Linkin Park is the only rap-rock band that won't be ignored, a claim to which it indirectly attests in the lyrics of the hit song "Faint," from its 2003 album, Meteora.MTV2's 22 Greatest Bands countdown named Linkin Park No. 6, flanked by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (No. 7) and Radiohead (No. 5). The program hailed the band as "the ultimate commercial application of nü-metal."

Three platinum releases in a row don't happen by mistake. Unlike its fading peers, Linkin Park has been a constant presence, touring continually since its inception. Ozzfest 2001 helped send Hybrid Theory over the top and turned Linkin Park into a headlining act -- with one notable and understandable exception: its 2003 stadium tour with Metallica, Limp Bizkit and the Deftones in support of Meteora. It was followed by a tour of Australia, Southeast Asia and Japan. Now, just a month after a Limp Bizkit-Korn tour failed to sell out midsize theaters, Linkin Park is launching a lineup of arena dates.

"I think I learned the most from Metallica," Farrell says of Linkin Park's many tourmates. "Those guys, after having such a successful career -- you learn a lot from that. It's ridiculous to get to see Metallica on a nightly basis -- the musicianship, seeing people being on every night -- I didn't see them play a bad show. That's a high goal. That's something to shoot for."

This tour, as with the others, follows a new release: the Live in Texas CD-DVD set, which captures Linkin Park on the Metallica tour. Perhaps more than anything, the album captures a grateful band making sure it sweats to earn its spot with rock's standard-bearers.

Downtime on the road is spent at the band's portable ProTools rigs, which it uses to record piles of stuff -- from remixes to gag songs to material that surfaces on the albums. Farrell says that creating the follow-up to the band's massive debut came with intense scrutiny -- not so much from its label, Warner Bros., as from its own members.

"Over the 18 months we were working on the record, we ended up writing upwards of over 80 songs," he says. "And those first 40 or so we wrote, they weren't that great."

With Meteora, the band ultimately sought to recapture the sound of Hybrid Theory: tinkling drops of melody from keyboards, aggro riffs, vanilla raps, pained screams, subtle scratching, a big chorus, repeat. What seems like a simple formula has landed Linkin Park next to Metallica and Radiohead -- the 20th century's last stadium band and the modern Pink Floyd, respectively. The three are unlikely neighbors, but it makes sense: Many of Linkin Park's guitar parts are Metallica riffs played at half-speed, and on Linkin Park's latest hit, "Numb," guitarist Brad Delson's outbursts recall the impromptu falling-boulder chords that created half the impact of Radiohead's "Creep." Unlike that alienation anthem, Meteora's first single, "Somewhere I Belong," uses bad feelings to establish a connection. In the song, MC Mike Shinoda raps, "I let it all out to find / that I'm not the only person with these things on my mind."

Linkin Park owes at least some of its success to the many issues it confronts in its lyrics -- a fact that makes it no different from its rap-rock peers. Of course, rap-rockers' lamentations just as often deflate their bands' appeal. After all, not everybody was physically abused by a parent. And hardly anybody has sold millions of albums, only to end up lonely and sad. Then again, just about everyone can relate to the frustrations of adolescence, the ever-present focus of Linkin Park's discontent. The band's often vague lyrics -- "You want to share what you've been through / You live what you learned"; "I disappointed you"; "I'm tired of being what you want me to be" -- read mostly like pleas for parental approval or for space to breathe, though they could as readily be applied to false friends, insensitive lovers and other betrayers.

The band is loud but civil -- no parental-advisory stickers here, just "enhanced CD" icons. It's the kind of music you can feed to your kid brother. And since Linkin Park, thankfully, doesn't mistake personal crises for the apocalypse, there's no reason to take its music with a grain of salt.

"Lyrically and from everyplace else, we wanted to come from a place of honesty," Farrell says. "If you come to a show, there are feelings of emotion in those songs. And to some extent, it's things that everybody's gone through. Every person that I've met has had feelings of anger or frustration. And you just deal with them differently."

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