"Burn It Down"
The first single from Linkin Park's fifth album ( Living Things) feels a little bit like going back to the future.
After years of experimentation and gradual deviation from the core sound that resulted in 2000's Hybrid Theory selling some 24 million copies worldwide, the band has returned to a mixture of rock and rap that begs to be compared with that album's massive hit, "In the End."
At least one key member of Linkin Park seems to be just fine with that. In an interview with Los Angeles radio station KROQ, co-frontman Mike Shinoda said, "With a lot of things on this record, we just got more comfortable, more so than in the last few years, dipping back into some of the stuff that we used to do in the earlier days of our career." Likewise, he told British music mag NME, "For the first time in a long time, we're comfortable in our own skin."
So what does "comfortable in our own skin" translate into, lyrically speaking? In classic Linkin Park style, a song that splits the difference between brooding self-awareness and brooding self-destruction.
At its most basic level, "Burn It Down" presents two people trying and failing to sort through a conflicted relationship. Despite their desire to (perhaps) break that cycle, they both keep sabotaging it—with predictable results.
"The cycle repeated," the band's other frontman, Chester Bennington, begins, "As explosions broke in the sky/All that I needed/Was the one thing I couldn't find/And you were there at the turn/Waiting to let me know."
Honesty melds with something like despair as he ponders the likely outcome of the relationship: "We're building it up/To break it back down/We're building it up/To burn it down/We can't wait/To burn it to the ground."
To his credit, Bennington seems willing to own his share of responsibility for this destructive pattern. Offering a distant echo of the Apostle Paul's words from Romans 7:15 ("I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do"), he laments, "As the flames climbed into the clouds/I wanted to fix this/But couldn't stop from tearing it down/And you were there at the turn/ … And I was there at the turn/Waiting to let you know."
If Bennington's contributions to the song sound philosophical and quietly forlorn, however, Shinoda's rapped verse feels more bitter and acrimonious. He's certainly much less interested in patching things up: "You told me yes/You held me high/And I believed when you told that lie/I played soldier, you played king/And struck me down when I kissed that ring/ … I built you up, but you let me down/So when you fall, I'll take my turn/And fan the flames."
And here comes the twist. Shinoda's says the track's not about two people at all, but about celebrities' relationship to fans who are fawning one moment and hypercritical the next. "[It's] kinda like what we do in pop culture," he told KROQ. "We build somebody up to be the next great thing, then we like to destroy them at the end of the day. And we've lived through that, so I think there's a lot of personal energy that went into the connection of that story."
It's an elegant explanation. And it actually works a bit better, morally and spiritually, than thinking of a lover who's actually a ruler striking you down when you kiss her ring. But I can't say that I would have ever come up with it from the lyrics alone.