I am about to listen to the new Linkin Park album – and it is with some trepidation.

Make no mistake – I am a big fan of the first two “real” studio albums. While Hybrid Theory was a genuine tour-de-force for a debut album – setting it’s own distinctive musical style – Meteora built upon the established formula and perfected it. Numb still takes my mind away from whatever I am doing…

That was 4 full years ago. Meanwhile – these kids from southern california kept themselves busy – releasing a critically acclaimed “jam” album with rapper Jay Z… but the fans craved from a real full length album. Something that would be better than Meteora – but not in the same vein. (that would be too monotonous…there can only be so much sequencing+scratcing+ screaming +heavy metal in a collection!) Hence the trepidation. The fact that the venerable Rolling Stones Magazine gave it a 3 (out of 4) star rating – only increased my nervousness.

Starts with an instrumental called “Wake“…a la Cluster One from Pink Floyd‘s last studio effort… hmm different. Some cool background effects.

Moves on to “Given Up“. The thrashing guitars build into quite a rocker. A fresh, raw sound – that is frankly music to my ears. So is Chester asking in pure earnestness “What the fuck is wrong with me?!!” Nice.

Next up…Hang on…is this Take That? “Leave out all the rest” is beautiful. This is what Take That could have been if they had continued performing…and learnt guitars. This is what Backstreet Boys can never be – even after brain transplants. Because this is a song written and delivered from the heart of what really is a – pardon the expression – very talented boy band. Beautiful chorus…great words. The next break-up song. And the next single from this album I guess…

Ok…Bleed it out starts with some studio chatter, clapping chorus and rap. No, this is good and is definitely ain’t Linkin Park! These are good lyrics – mirroring the irony and the angst of war (guess this is inspired by the Iraq war…) Almost “a capella” the catchy chorus makes this song special. Whew…what next?

U2. I swear. This is “With or Without you” – with Chester’s voice not Bono’s – and is called “Shadow of the day“. And it is giving me goose pimples… wow! is that orchestration in the background? The kids have grown up! A very mature sound…the lyrics about the loss of a dear one in war – haunt.

“…And the shadow of the day
Will embrace the world in gray
And the sun will set for you.”

The best track of the album so far.

The next one is something most of you would have heard – has been receiving considerable air-play – at home and abroad. For a reason – this is more like the sound we are used to. Mike Oldfield piano hooks as the intro leading into the wall of polished guitar sound that we love. “What I’ve Done” is a hammerblow of a song…distinguished, melodius, powerful. Fans will love it. I guess they put this song in there as a tribute to their fans…

Hand held high” starts as something special. The church organ and army march drums back-up some decent rapping by Mike. The lyrics are awesome – and should make Mr. Bush hide under his bed in shame. If he understands them.

“For a leader so nervous
in an obvious way
Stuttering and mumbling
for nightly news to replay
and the rest of the world
watching at the end of the day
in the living room laughing
like what did he say?
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen”

Next up is “No more sorrow“. This is the heaviest track in the album – again with army marching drums giving way to what almost sounds like Pantera shredding – with a wailing guitar bringing up a faint backdrop… a much more raw and mature sound than we have ever heard them produce. Hear him scream “Thieves and Hypocrites!”

Valentines Day” is a slow and beautiful story of a person at the burial of his/her loved one…who died in the war.

“And the clouds above move closer,
Looking so dissatisfied.
And the ground below grew colder,
As they put you down inside.
But the heartless wind kept blowing, blowing.”

Now who is this singing? Doesn’t sound like Mike or Chester… “In between” is a very slow, almost languid track sung in a deep baritone (relative to their usual frequency)…which now I realize could be a Mike and Chester layered chorus… Very experimental. These kids obviously have not listened to Meteora for a long long time… And that’s good!

The last two tracks carry the deep, slow, ponderous sound that is common throughout the album. “In pieces” accuses the higher powers of leaving the world and the protagonist’s life in pieces. The song has a unheard-by-LP jazz hook/rhythm section! And a decent guitar solo.

Minutes to Midnight ends on a high. “The little things give you away” is an epic – 6.32 minutes long, it is longer than anything LP has ever churned out. The intro of a heavy acoustic guitar leads into Chester sounding more gentle and warm than we have ever heard him. A beautiful chorus again is a stinging bite at the powers that are…

“All you’ve ever wanted
Was someone to truly look up to you
And six feet under water
I do.”

Poignant, moving and poetic – the chorus leads to an almost fully instrumental 3 minute outro with a rousing sound of a wailing guitar, orchestration and some heartbreaking background choruses.

It left me with a heavy heart…I could almost feel the energy and passion and feeling that has gone into making this record. I could feel the pain that this young sextet has gone through in a journey from juvenline, undirected angst to a focused, mature passion for painting the world around them with the vibrant colors of their talent.

This is an album that is destined to be a cult favorite and highlight of what we hope will be a great musical career. Some might discredit them for turning “pussy” and for “commercialization” – but I think Linkin Park has churned out their most un-commercial and personal album to date. They mean this music…and there are no pretentions. And the more you will listen to it…the more you will love it. And love them.

Linkin Park – I bow to you.