How do you process trauma?
Linkin Park has been grappling with that question for its entire existence. Over the course of 12 years and now five albums, the band has vacillated between rage and relinquishment, between nihilistic despair and moments that ever-so-cautiously hope in something like redemption.
Rage, relinquishment and redemption are all once again present on Living Things, a stripped-down, 12-song effort that clocks in at just under 37 minutes. Compared to 2010's more experimental effort A Thousand Suns, Living Things ferociously re-embraces the rap-rock-electronica sound that put the band on the map back in 2000, blending shredded synthesized soundscapes, buzz saw guitars, singer Chester Bennington's anguished confessions and Mike Shinoda's paradoxically confident rapping.
"Lost in the Echo" details the journey of a man who's been betrayed as he struggles to let go of the damage done to him. Despite "promises broken deep below," he's realized that the best response is just to release his hurt ("So one last lie, I can see through/This time I finally let you/Go"). He's also determined to keep standing ("Been crossed and lost and told no/And I've come back, unshaken"). The theme of relinquishment amid loss is evident on "In My Remains" too. "Searching for a message in the fear and pain," Bennington sings, "Broken down and waiting for a chance to feel alive." Promises have again been broken, but he's determined to "set this silence free/To wash away the worst of me."
On the surface, "Burn It Down" seems to deal with unresolved and unhealthy patterns that keep sabotaging a relationship. Shinoda, however, has indicated the song isn't about a romantic relationship at all, but about the dysfunctional connection between celebrities and the media, which alternately praises and disparages them.
"Castle of Glass" longs for an end to conflict ("Take me down to the fighting end") and for healing and wholeness ("Wash the poison from off my skin/Show me how to be whole again"). The song also subtly suggests that beauty and imperfection can coexist. On "Victimized," Bennington literally screams at would-be abusers that he'll no longer submit to their mistreatment: "No more hiding in the shadow/'Cause I won't wait for the debt to be repaid/Time has come for you/Victimized/Victimized/Never again/Victimized."
"Roads Untraveled" counsels against emotionally camping out in "what could have been" territory: "Weep not for roads untraveled," we hear. The song also admonishes listeners not to keep carrying the past's pain: "Give up your heart left broken/And let that mistake pass on/'Cause the love that you lost/Wasn't worth the cost/And in time you'll be glad it's gone." The song ends with an earnest invitation to friendship: "May your love never end/And if you need a friend/There's a seat here alongside me."
"Until It Breaks" reflects on the inevitability of death ("We swim against the rising waves/ … The body bends until it breaks/The early morning sings no more"), even as it perhaps looks forward to a better afterlife ("So rest your head, it's time to sleep/And dream of what's in store"). A prayer of sorts turns up in the middle of the song: "Give me the strength of the rising sun/Give me the truth of words unsung/And when the last bells ring/The poor men sing/Bring me to kingdom come."
The grim "Powerless" could be heard either as a song of deep despair or as a cautionary tale about the profound influence parents have on their children, especially when they fail. "Ten thousand promises/Ten thousand ways to lose/And you held it all/But you were careless to let it fall/ … And I was by your side/Powerless."
"Skin to Bone" acknowledges the natural consequences of our actions, and the reality of our eventual death and decay …
… but the song also looks forward to the death of an enemy: "When your name is finally drawn/I'll be happy that you're gone." "Until It Breaks" includes some alpha-dog rap bragadoccio ("You ain't got a sliver of a chance/I get iller, I deliver while you quiver in your pants"), and "Victmized" include a line that could be heard as threatening violence ("Wanna talk about a victim/Imma put you there with 'em").
As noted, relinquishment is a common theme on Living Things, but it's nowhere to be found on "Lies Greed Misery." Instead, there's only raging bitterness as the chorus blares at yet another betrayer, "I want to see you choke on your lies/Swallow up your greed/Suffer all alone in your misery," a fate this person supposedly deserves because, as the song observes, "You did it to yourself."
A man apparently leaves a woman on "I'll Be Gone." And he seems to rationalize his decision by saying he felt alone in the relationship and by suggesting his partner should realize that their relationship was dying anyway.
It's unlikely, I think, that anyone will ever accuse Linkin Park of sounding optimistic. There's clearly too much brokenness and pain in the group's music—and, it would seem, some band members' personal stories—to ever make that assertion. At best, the glass is a drop or two past half full. Or at least it was before it cracked and started to leak a bit.
In singer Chester Bennington's angriest moments, you get the feeling he'd rather just finish the job by stomping on the glass with his Dr. Martens than ponder clichés about how much water it holds.
Surrounding those rage-filled moments, though, there are hints that these guys are at least trying to come to terms with the hard things that have wounded them—that they long at some level to focus on the "living things" instead of those that only bring death.