Let’s take films for example...a sequel, is very rarely as good as, let alone better than, the original. “Jaws” was the original blockbuster, but repetition, a 3D gimmick, and Michael Caine vs a roaring shark, sank that franchise quicker than I can sink Jack Daniels. “The Exorcist” is a horror masterpiece, one of the greatest movies of all time... “The Exorcist II: The Heretic” however, was merely possessed by bad acting and a plot so piss poor demons prayed to make it stop. The list goes on, as there’s “The Crow”, “The Lost Boys”, “Tremors” …but that’s just film. What about music?
The “Difficult second album” is typically a recognised phenomenon surrounding sophomore releases, that finds a band or artist either making it, or breaking it. If you’ve managed to strike gold on your debut, you better be ready to back it up, because seldom does lightning strike twice, and styles, trends and popularity wane so consistently and quickly in music, you need to be on the ball. But what if your debut album blew absolutely everything out of the water, not only for that year, but this entire CENTURY to date? We’re of course about to discuss LINKIN PARK.
When the band dropped “Hybrid Theory” in the October of 2000, it completely re-set the bar for what an alternative rock band could accomplish, as, it went on to go 12x Platinum in the US alone and has shifted over 32 MILLION copies worldwide. Linkin Park were THE hottest band on the planet, and their angst-riddled, intense yet melodic blend of hip-hop and rap, with crunching guitars and scorching vocals, saw the band reach heights many can only dream of. They had a problem on their hands though; how in God’s name would they, or more importantly COULD they, follow this up? Well, damnit they had an answer for that! 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of that seemingly impossible second album, “Meteora” ...let's look back and see how they faired.
We start off very annoyingly here with “Foreword”, as it’s beyond pointless as a stand-alone track. It’s a 13 SECOND intro of gently pouring rain, and light knocking until you hear glass shatter, transitioning into the next song; “Don’t Stay”. That’s it. You may as well have simply extended “Don’t Stay” by those 13 seconds and absolutely nothing would have changed, because it already blends well, and these decisions just baffle me. Conceptually there are elements in this brief sequence that could allude to say, a glass ceiling, the band breaking through barriers and boundaries to achieve what few have done in recent times, before the actual track kicks in with the slowly built riffs, until it erupts with its nu-metal gloriousness. In some ways it could be seen as a subtle dig at their label, who pushed for more of the same following their debuts success, the headache of contractual obligations, being told who to be, how to sound, while naturally it could easily be about a failed relationship. It screams of wanting to be done with something, someone, wanting to grow, to evolve on your own terms, and it’s a powerful opener.
Next up then we have the first single to be taken from the album; “Somewhere I Belong” …and if the predecessor had four singles, then “Meteora” had to have five. “Somewhere I Belong” sonically in ways, with some of the music video presentation and structure, felt like, a semi-canonical successor, or follow-up to “In The End”, with Chester’s minimal vocal melodies complimenting Mike’s bars, before a harder hitting chorus line and well utilised heavier elements. Grittier, ample Japanese Gundam influence, following on from "Reanimation", but still very much Linkin Park, and they clearly showed consistency upon this release. Again though, at what cost? Mike spits lines like “Just stuck, hollow and alone, and the fault is my own” …were they victims of their own success, doomed to live in Groundhog Day creatively?
The albums 3rd single, and arguably the albums best track period, “Numb” was and IS, simply beautiful. It closes the album in a similar vein to “Pushing Me Away” three years prior, with a strong, melodic and emotional piece, without losing any momentum or presence. Iconic for the way it highlights mental health issues, self-awareness and self-confidence, as a recording it’s incredibly powerful, not only as a piece of music, but as an important awakening to many, many young teens. Teens who first heard this, that needed a voice; who needed a way to vent, who were lost in the world and felt like they didn’t belong. We look at this with a sad sense of irony, of course, as Chester is no longer with us himself, but he’s helped more people than he may have realised.
“From The Inside” carries with it a similar message; a feeling of being hurt, being let down and learning from it; another fine example of personal and individual growth, over some blistering vocal lines from Chester, with a hefty dose more of both Brad Delson’s and Phoenix’s riffs, and again, this message is superbly hammered home in the music video. The riots and armoured police in a run-down suburb; a visual conflict for an internal struggle between right and wrong; it’s a full release emotionally and again, is quality stuff.
Finally, then, in terms of promotional singles (As if Linkin Park needed any additional promotion by this point), we were treated to ”Breaking The Habit", and this was worth it for the music video alone. Band DJ/programmer Joseph Hahn directed this beautifully stylised anime type video, blending Japanese animation with western steam-punk and dystopian aesthetics. A disturbing central narrative of suicide, and ultimately combating those thoughts takes precedence over the story ark, and again, we’re met with signs we only wish we understood two decades ago. There’s a soaring yet equally soothing climax to the track, and it’s an emotional journey that hits home on a multitude of levels.
Ultimately, while it was always impossible for “Meteora” to have the same impact that “Hybrid Theory” had, I mean you can only make a first impression once, what the band did with their follow up was for all intents and purposes, perfect. While there was pressure to emulate their original success and not stray from a clearly winning formula, Linkin Park went one better by not only continuing the momentum they had, very much releasing a Linkin Park record, they allowed themselves the room to evolve, to experiment and to test the waters with subtle changes and ideas, and it would be beyond evident in future releases, just how creative Linkin Park could and would be, but, in regards to that difficult second album, “Meteora” more than delivered, more than served its purpose, and certainly silenced any critics that may have called Linkin Park a flash in the pan. The band may have wanted to do more at the time, label pressure can be intense; why fix what isn’t broken? Art doesn’t work like that. Sure, there is an established market to tap into to, but wells run dry, and from day one Linkin Park wanted to expand, to try new things and under the pressures they were to deliver, following such a successful debut, a further 17 million album sales say they knocked it out of the park.
Moving forward, Linkin Park WOULD start experimenting further, be it stylistically or with collaborations such as with JAY-Z and STORMZY down the line, even A Capella releases, but these two albums, at the beginning of their career, cemented them as arguably the biggest band of their generation. In terms of alternative rock and metal, they were easily their generations METALLICA, or THE BEATLES, or QUEEN...they made THAT much of an impact, and we can only be grateful. The messages these tracks carry are poignant in the aftermath of Chester’s suicide, but we will never forget. A true talent, an inspiration, a kind soul and a vocal powerhouse...he was one of a kind and looking back twenty years on a release like “Meteora”, we were privileged. However, we aren’t finished.
Being a 20th anniversary release, we are treated to some unreleased gems by the way of demo’s, rejected tracks from the cutting room floor and live snippets, and as a collection, EVERY Linkin Park fan should have these. Newly remastered posthumous single “Lost” sees Chester bring so many happy tears to the eyes of millions, with such a powerfully emotional song. “Fighting Myself” sounds like a “Papercut” or “A Place For My Head” demo, while “More The Victim” deserved to have seen the light of day way before now.
In the end, if we can ignore the various live tracks, which let’s be honest, are just album filler regardless of the artist, we still have plenty to admire and appreciate here, and as hard as it is, they’ve actually improved on the album that was already a success in the realm of impossibility. Testament and credit to them...the way the industry is moving forward with streaming and downloads, we’re likely never to see this level of genuine commercial success again in alternative rock music, and we have to admire and respect this. Linkin Park are in a league of their own, and listening to these first two albums, I do genuinely feel somewhere I belong.