Linkin Park's breakthrough album, Hybrid Theory, turned 12 last month. And since its release in October 2000, it has been nominated for three Grammys, hit number two on the Billboard 200, and most importantly, has become one of the new albums to attain diamond certification in the '00s, selling 24 million copies worldwide — which makes it the best-selling debut album of the 21st century.
It was even included in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, placing it in the same ranks of Frank Sinatra, The Who, and R.E.M.
For an unknown California metal band with strange electronica and rap leanings entering the hard rock landscape of the '00s, you could say Hybrid Theory did pretty well for itself.
Linkin Park's follow-up sophomore release, Meteora, wasn't as groundbreaking, but it stands as an end to the original Linkin Park electronic-rap-metal formula that propelled them into the spotlight.
And while some may groan at this, and rightfully so, these two albums together contain a handful of songs that would pave the way for the next 10 years of popular rock music.
Hybrid Theory opens with "Papercut," a ferocious, moody, assaultive track that covers pretty much everything they had in the mix on their debut album. Dual vocalists Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda scream and rap, without much discretion, like the id and superego of a very grumpy teenager. All the while, drum machines and turntables scratch and tick under metal riffs.
It's completely silly, but unapologetically so. The opening song of Hybrid Theory greets the listener with the one defining thing that would go on to make Linkin Park the monolithic success (and current U2 clone) that packs stadiums today: relentless earnestness.
How's it hold up? It's good, but really rough, even by Linkin Park standards.
"Crawling" is the most "complex" single off Hybrid Theory. It's a slow electronic almost-ballad, with a raging but slowed down radio-rock chorus. The verses are like a Kidz Bop-ized Radiohead, the chorus is very Three Doors Down, and there's a jock-rock rap bridge to get you ~bumped~ up to break it down. Bennington's screams are just harsh enough to excite the kids, but just restrained enough to get radio play. From a production standpoint, it is the perfect hard-rock radio song.
How's it hold up? It's stupid, but you can't deny its mix of high-production jock rock and screamy metal would probably get you really amped for a game of Halo or something.
3. "One Step Closer"
The second track of Hybrid Theory, "One Step Closer," will be taught in music history classes a thousand years from now as a textbook example of the sound that dominated the rock radio of the early '00s.
• Quiet drum machine bridges
• Turntablism thrown seemingly for no reason over '90s hardcore breakdowns
• Lyrics like this:
Shut up when I'm talking to you
Shut up, shut up, shut up
Shut up when I'm talking to you
Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up
Those lyrics are exactly what the '00s hard rock scene was trying to express. Whether it was Warped Tour teenyboppers moshing in parking lots or the septic post-grunge/metal fascination of the Southwest.
Pretty much everything going on in hard rock at the time basically came down to this mixture of quiet brooding and telling everyone and everything to just shut up.
How's it hold up? The 13-year-old inside of you loves this song, and there's nothing wrong with that.
4. "Somewhere I Belong"
After Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park released the quieter, moodier, more electronic, and darker Meteora. It borrowed heavily from the burgeoning emo scene at the time, and they smartly found a way to infuse enough jock rock into it to get really good crossover appeal. "Somewhere I Belong" was the first single, and it's a partly a clicky electronic ballad and partly a standard-issue hard rock song. This helped to pave the way for the Hoobastank-ification of rock ballads ("The Reason" by Hoobastank was also released in 2004).
How's it hold up? Meh.
"Faint" is a flawless piece of jock rock. I don't know if you can say a jock rock song is "flawless," but if you can, this is it. It jumps and thrashes and ends on a screeching anthem. It's perfect for playing video games or skateboarding or playing Lazer Quest. Remember those "shut up" lyrics an album ago? Well, we're here three years later with:
I can't feel
Don't turn your back on me
I won't be ignored
Time won't heal
Don't turn your back on me
I won't be ignored
A little more elegant, a little more expressive, but it's that same kind of vague, mainstream-accessible anger that thrived during the mid-'00s. Papa Roach, Blink-182, P.O.D., Three Days Grace, early Nickelback all seized on this, but Linkin Park nailed that tone down at the turn of the decade. And by this song's release in 2003, they had perfected it.
How's it hold up? "Faint" rules and totally holds up and that's just the truth of it. Try not humming this all day.
In the way that Linkin Park inspired hundreds of horrible, slimy pop-metal imitators, "Numb" is the song that one could argue Linkin Park stole from themselves. To clarify, Linkin Park shed their jock rock, soundtrack-to-Gran Turismo milieu after Meteora and traded it for their current 30 Seconds to Mars meets Muse (for the Forever 21 crowd), and "Numb" is definitely the song that opened that door for them. It's quiet, it's moody, it's catchy, the album is filmed in gray scale. "Numb" is ground zero for modern Linkin Park.
How's it hold up? It's actually, at its core, not a horrible song. It's spunky, it has a really cool mix of quiet ambient electronics and a driving rhythm section. It's the perfect soundtrack to some kind of cell phone commercial.
7. "Dirt Off Your Shoulders/Lying From You"
We can't finish this without talking about Linkin Park and Jay-Z's bizarre and oddly exhilarating Collision Course. Thousands of bands have tried to do the rapper with a rock band collaborative album, but it rarely works. Collision Course succeeds where other similar efforts have failed. Part of it definitely has to do with the bootleg Black Album mashups that were circulating in peer-to-peer networks at the time (Danger Mouse's Gray Album comes to mind immediately). That matter is because people were already pretty used to the idea of Jay-Z's rapping being plopped down into other musical styles. The other part of it is that Linkin Park have always been super weird, so this came across as just another weird thing for them.
How does it hold up? "Dirt Off Your Shoulders/Lying From You" is a pretty terrific opener. It's kind of fun, you can hear studio banter. It was definitely the right way to introduce this batshit-insane idea to listeners.
"Numb/Encore" is such a staggering musical achievement. It's almost like Linkin Park summoned the devil and was like, "Hey, we have this crazy idea and we'll sell you our souls if you can make this work," and the devil was like, "You want to do WHAT?"
This song shouldn't be good. It shouldn't have a really strong sense of energy, it shouldn't have an unexplainable sense of drama, it absolutely, without a doubt, shouldn't seamlessly mix Linkin Park's suburban angst with Jay-Z's story of rising from a street hustler to hip-hop mogul. But somehow, some way, it does.
How does it hold up? It's awesome, plain and simple, it's a great song. It shouldn't be, by all math, but it is.
9. "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer"
The last song of Collision Course is also a perfect conclusion for the first half of Linkin Park's career. It's a gritty mix of two of Linkin Park's songs' most "amped"-up bangers from Hybrid Theory. Jay-Z and Mike Shinoda trade raps really comfortably and pull off this bizarre mix of fun and assaultive rap metal, but with the focus on the rap and not the metal. It's interesting and almost cool, definitely as cool as rap metal can get.
But why does this work, why does Linkin Park hanging out with arguably one of the world's greatest rappers sound if not amazing, at least passably good? It's the same reason Linkin Park's been able to do anything in their career. They seem to genuinely love what they do. Their music isn't exactly cool or critically strong, but they love what they do and their collaboration on "Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer" with Jay-Z illustrates that point perfectly.
How does it hold up? Super dated and sounds very "2000s," but in a fun way.