In 1982, Rolling Stone devoted a cover story to the popular emergence of faceless bands such as REO Speedwagon, Journey, Styx and Foreigner. The piece implied that the sales dominance of bands with no perceptible charisma was a signal that rock was in seriously bad health.
A full generation later, Linkin Park wields its facelessness like a knight's armor. The group's utter lack of personality has worked to its benefit, creating the perception that it's beyond glamour and celebrity. To Linkin Park fans, the band represents undiluted musical substance.
At a time when the music industry is staggering and sales are plummeting faster than George W. Bush's approval ratings, Linkin Park stands above the pack as the biggest band in America. Trying to figure out how they've done it is harder than trying to figure out how Carson Daly has managed to find sustained employment. To be sure, the rap-rock bandwagon the group rode in on is now a mere historical artifact. And while the band has reduced its hip-hop quotient by limiting the superfluous interjections from MC Mike Shinoda, that move has only served to expose the generic, polite roar of LP's brand of hard-rock.
On Minutes to Midnight, Rick Rubin's production is sharp and focused, particularly on such driving tracks as "What I've Done," but Chester Bennington is a seriously wimpy vocalist and his apocalyptic gloominess hasn't become any less hokey with time. And if Bono and Co. didn't have such fat bank accounts, Bennington would probably be looking at a plagiarism suit for the slow-burning "Shadow of the Day," which shamelessly rewrites U2's "With Or Without You."
In the end, Linkin Park is deserving of only the most backhanded compliments. While not exactly tuneful, LP is more tuneful than most of its big-riffing competition. And while they're not exactly enlightened, the band is much more enlightened than the nu-rock lunkheads (such as Fred Durst) with whom it once shared chart space. Finally, the group seems to be at peace with its own facelessness, and doesn't have any illusions about its star power. But the same thing could have been said 25 years ago about REO Speedwagon. Gil Garcia