THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 2003
By Sean Calhoun
I’ve already covered some rap-rock on this blog (Rage Against The Machine, Korn), but there is one band that really shaped the genre in the early 2000s with their slickly produced, aggressively individualistic music. First up on this week’s Music Yearbook…
Meteora – Linkin Park
If you listen to enough early Linkin Park, you begin to realize that just about every song fits into an easily defined formula. There’s a crunchy guitar intro, some singing from frontman Chester Bennington (often dripping with adolescent angst), an occasional Mike Shinoda rap verse, a chorus with some yelling and a message about individuality and “not needing anyone else”, all wrapped up in around three and a half minutes.
The formula worked to great effect on the band’s debut full-length, Hybrid Theory, and Meteora is more of the same. The tone is set early, and there’s nothing particularly unique about any of these tracks. Yes, there are singles – very successful singles at that – but if I hadn’t known which songs they were, I’m not sure if I could have picked any of them out, as just about everything here sounds the same.
“Somewhere I Belong” is the first single to appear on the tracklist (following an instrumental prelude and “Don’t Stay”). It’s perhaps the purest distillation of the Linkin Park formula, with Bennington disdainfully singing, “I will never know myself until/I do this on my own” and a number of similar sentiments over pretty basic backing instrumentals.
The need to “be yourself” is an oft-repeated theme on Meteora, and it becomes really tiresome after a few too many consecutive tracks concerning Bennington’s (and Shinoda’s) need to “break away” or “separate” from who I can only assume is an authority figure or parent (generally presented as “you” – see “the very worst part of you/is me” in “Lying From You”).
(On a slightly different note, it’s pretty easy to see how this album spoke so clearly to the suburban middle schoolers of the early 2000s – a rather profitable target audience if not necessarily a particularly artistic one.)
There are a couple of reasonably solid tracks on this album. “Breaking The Habit”, another hugely popular single, is the closest thing to a ballad in Linkin Park’s discography, and the production decisions and Bennington’s vocals at least allow it to distinguish itself somewhat from the rest of the record. For this reason alone, it stands out as one of Meteora’s top tracks.
The best of the album’s singles, however, is its final track, “Numb”. I have a relationship with this song that extends beyond the album – I first heard it as part of a mashup track (also featuring Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” and Pendulum’s “Witchcraft”, along with Rick James’ “Superfreak”) made by a Canadian DJ I was briefly obsessed with in high school – and it’s always been my favorite Linkin Park song. While it’s just as angst-filled and formulaic as most of the album, it’s a strong performance from Bennington and doesn’t lean too heavily on Shinoda’s rapping (honestly one of the weaker facets of the band).
In the end, it’s rather obvious that Meteora isn’t a particularly artistic or ground-breaking album, but it sold a ton of copies and went a long way to defining the second wave of rap-metal. There’s something here for the angry 13-year-old in all of us.
Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 6.5/10
2003 was the beginning of a trend that would quickly dominate American television for the next several years. With the debut of “American Idol,” the United States developed an obsession for musical competition shows, eventually spinning off into “The Voice,” as well as others. Here, I’ll take a look at the debut album from the show’s first champion…
Thankful – Kelly Clarkson
Strangely enough, Thankful was only one of three albums by early American Idol luminaries to reach number one in 2003 (the other two being Clay Aiken’s Measure of a Man and Ruben Studdard’s Soulful). Kelly gets credit for coming first, though, and she’s certainly had more long-lasting musical success than either Aiken or Studdard (not to mention Justin Guarini, whom she beat out for the season one title).
Clarkson’s debut album is largely a transitional work – it’s the sound of a newly minted star finding her footing and making a few missteps along the way. As her career moved forward, Clarkson settled into a rock-influenced pop groove, as typified by some of her biggest hits (“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and “Since U Been Gone” are two that come to mind). There’s definitely evidence of this direction on Thankful, but there are also a couple of songs that clearly miss the mark.
One example of this is the opening track, “The Trouble With Love Is.” Here, Clarkson is miscast as some sort of Mariah Carey-style R&B crooner – while she certainly has an impressive voice, the track is cheesy and wholly unremarkable. There are a number of tracks like this interspersed throughout the record, with “Some Kind Of Miracle” and “Thankful” serving as further lowlights. While these tracks are performed capably enough, they just don’t really fit.
Artistically speaking, Clarkson is far better served by songs like “Miss Independent”, where she can show more of an edge (both musically and lyrically). She delivers a serviceable Alanis Morissette impression on “Low” and “Just Missed The Train”, perhaps the album’s two strongest tracks. Here, Clarkson begins to show some of the raw power and artistry that would serve her well on later albums.
Overall, while Thankful is not a great album, it’s an album that at least provides some idea of what Kelly Clarkson would eventually develop into on her gradual evolution from “reality show winner” to “legitimate pop star”. Everybody has to start somewhere, and there’s no shame in taking some bumps along the way.
Score, Adjusted For 2017 Score Inflation: 6.7/10