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Linkin Park – ‘The Hunting Party’ album review: Pretty good, but unexpected

Here it is. Linkin Park’s sixth studio album. 2012’s ‘Living Things‘ was not half-bad so I was interested to see which direction one of my favourite rock bands was headed with their next outing. When Linkin Park released their collaborative track with Steve Aoki last year, fans were worried if Linkin Park would go all electronic on their new album.

Quite the contrary. ‘The Hunting Party‘ is the most guitar heavy Linkin Park has been since they released 2007’s Minutes to Midnight. That said, when the first single “Guilty All the Same” was released a few months ago, I wouldn’t say I was very pleased upon hearing the track. Anyway, my thoughts on the rest of the tracks on the album are below.

Linkin Park The Hunting Party album cover
That’s the album cover. Pretty neat.

1. “Keys to the Kingdom” – What a way to kick off the album! Chester Bennington screams right off the bat. Ha! Mike Shinoda handles much of the verses, including rapping… before Chester screams the chorus. It’s a weird track no doubt, but this should give you a good indication about what to expect on this album. Some fans labelled it punk, some heavy metal… I wouldn’t say either. Heck, I don’t even know where to place it. It’s rock, that’s for sure. – 3/5

2. “All for Nothing” (featuring Page Hamilton) – Ahh, don’t you just love it when you Mike kicks off a LP song with a kickass rap verse? This is a great track featuring Page Hamilton who sings the chorus, and even features a guitar solo (even though it’s nothing special). Hey, guitar solos are rare on Linkin Park songs. – 4/5

3. “Guilty All the Same” (featuring Rakim) – I didn’t like it much when I first heard this songs and months later, my opinion hasn’t changed much. I’ll appreciate LP  trying out new sounds, but this song feels raw (probably intentional) and it’s really not a track I find myself listening to much. – 2/5

4. “The Summoning” – Just a minute-long interlude. Sounds creepy though.

5. “War” – As soon as the guitar riff hits, I had a smile on my face. Then Chester sings. Wow, what a beast of a song! Absolute screamer of a track. It’s one of those songs that sounds awesome on record but may not make it to their concert set list every night because it’s going ruin Chester’s already abused throat. Great track though. – 4/5

6. “Wastelands” – The beats, the riff and the rap all sounded promising — but when the chorus hit, the song somehow felt generic. That’s all about I can say about the song. – 2.5/5

7. “Until It’s Gone”

If there’s one track on this collection that reminds you of the “old” Linkin Park sound, it would be this song. It’s structured like you would expect from a Linkin Park “signature” song. The backing hook, the guitar riff, the sing-along chorus, atmospheric — all good. That said, on any other prior Linkin Park album, this track wouldn’t have made it as a single. But given how the other tracks on this collectionsound, it’s understandable why the label would have insisted on making this the single. It’s familiar. – 4/5

8. “Rebellion” (featuring Daron Malakian) – Daron is the guitarist from System of a Down, so if this song sounds inspired by SOAD, now you know why. That said, “Rebellion” was one of the few songs on this album I loved instantly upon first listen.A song to get pumped to! – 4/5

9. “Mark the Graves” – The beginning (and bits) of the song does remind you of “Blackout” from A Thousand Suns, but the rest of the song is nothing like it. Just when you think this is another heavy track, Chester’s verses lower the volume… for a bit. The ending is all loud, guitar solo and Chester screams. It’s not a bad song though, just quite a mish-mash. – 3/5

10. “Drawbar” (featuring Tom Morello) – For those who don’t know, Tom Morello is the awesome guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, famous for his playing style and the sounds he comes up with on the electric guitar. “Drawbar” is an instrumental and a rather somber interlude to lead into the next track. – 3/5

11. “Final Masquerade” – If you were seeking a power ballad on this album, this is it. I like it, although it feels a bit dated — in the sense it could have even appeared on MtoM. It’s even got the quintessential “woah oh oh” bit for that concert sing-along moments. -3/5

12. “A Line in the Sand” – The final track is a big one. At 6:35, the song packs in fast-paced guitars, screaming vocals, thumping drums, and towards the end — all three, before closing with Mike Shinoda. A fitting close to the album in my opinion. – 3/5

After three albums produced by Rick Rubin, ‘The Hunting Party’ is an album largely self-produced by Mike Shinoda and guitarist Brad Delson. I’m guessing “hey, let’s make this guitar-heavy” suggestion came from Brad 🙂 And why not? Rock is dying on mainstream music charts as it is and if a mainstream band can bring back heavy riffs on radio, I’ll take it.

I really liked A Thousand Suns and I don’t mind if Linkin Park does a similar concept album in the same vein with future releases. I’m someone who is quite open-minded with musical tastes. I listen to every possible genre of music out there, from boy band pop, K-pop to heavy metal… and Coldplay. I’m not ashamed about it. I like diversity and I accept the fact professional musicians are no different. I only question Linkin Park’s promotion of this album. I really don’t know why they chose to promote “Guilty All the Same” — quite possibly one of the weakest tracks on the album — as the lead single. It really put me off and lowered my expectations for this album. This is an album quite a departure from their previous releases. While ‘Living Things’ tried to bridge the “old LP sound” with the new, ‘The Hunting Party‘ is throughout a hard rock album with a very organic sound. Poor Joseph Hahn doesn’t have much of a role to play on this one (but will do live in concert, obviously). Sure, many songs end with some kid’s chatter and weird sound bytes but they did the whole interlude thing with the last two albums as well.

Fans have been complaining about Linkin Park “changing” for the worse for quite a few years now, but I guess you can never please some people. For those who appreciate change — and rock music — ‘The Hunting Party‘ is a good album. It may not be the band’s best album till date of whatever, but it’s still a Linkin Park album worth adding to your collection. Only if your collection of music includes varied tastes.

My final rating for ‘The Hunting Party’ – 3.5/5 (Pretty Good)

Also read:

My Linkin Park Live in Concert experiences: Abu Dhabi | Singapore


SNSD – ‘Mr. Mr.’ album review: Is this a sign the end is near?

Yay, my girls are back! My 2014 of K-pop can officially begin. Not that I ever stopped listening to K-pop, but 2014 began with a glut of girl groups all vying for attention using some sexy concept or the other. All their songs were mediocre at best and as much as I like watching sexy women, I don’t like it when ‘sexy’ is not done right.

Good thing I don’t have to worry about silly concepts from SM Entertainment (nowadays). SNSD are back with a badass look and what the teasers promised to be an edgy title track for their 4th mini-album titled ‘Mr. Mr’.

SNSD Girls Generation Mr.Mr album coverHere’s a track-by-track review:

1. “Mr. Mr.”

First reaction? Underwhelmed. Produced by The Underdogs, an American duo most famous for their R&B productions, “Mr. Mr.” has a great build up — but the chorus was a bit of an ‘expectation killer’. Maybe that’s because my expectations were sky high. After all, a year of waiting, and that too after the experimental “I Got A Boy,” I guess SONEs were hoping to listen to a killer comeback track that would go down as one of SNSD’s greatest hits.

After a few repeated listens, the song did gradually grow on me… but my enthusiasm failed to rise much. It’s a good song with simple choreography, but it still does not scream: “WOW! This song is awesome!” I love the ’90s vibe and the pitch changes at the end, but I’m a tiny bit disappointed to be honest.

While I appreciate the fact SM didn’t film another ‘inside a box’ video, you have to question some of the close-ups, excessive use of filters and the stretching. Maybe SM weren’t kidding when they actually lost some of the filmed data, thus delaying the MV’s release.

After “The Boys,” “IGAB” and now “Mr. Mr.,” that’s three lead singles year after a year that has largely left fans divided and me, unexcited. – 3/5

2. “Goodbye” – Written and produced by a team comprised of Lindy Robbins, Brent Paschke and Jenna Andrews, who have written music for One Direction and Selena Gomez, this is a funky au naturel song. Why do I like this song? Well, besides the laid back style, I actually heard Hyoyeon sing! I like the chorus too. – 3/5

3. “유로파 (Europa)” – Produced by SM’s very own Kenzie, this mid-tempo song is has, you know, the K-pop sound. SM has been putting out singles all produced Western producers these past few years that when I hear a song that reminds of the kind of K-pop that drew me in to the genre, I just adore it all the more. – 3/5

4. “Wait a Minute” – Hyoyeon sings! Just kidding, I had to highlight the poor girl’s only chance to get heard. The vibe is a follow-up from “Goodbye” and is a good song for a easy-listening session. – 3/5

5. “백허그 (Back Hug)” – The only ballad on the album, I loved Tiffany’s vocals on this track. “Back Hug” is a sweet ballad reminiscent of SNSD’s innocent early years and it’s nice to see it on the album. I miss this SNSD. – 3.5/5

6. “Soul” – The Korean version of a Chinese track SNSD recorded for a video game, this version sounds… the same, but in Mandarin. It’s an uptempo track, and despite being used as a promotional vehicle, the song has got a decent melody and I really like Sooyoung’s lines, mostly because of the way she sings it. – 3/5

SNSD Mr. Mr. MV screencap Girls Generation members
It’s a good album, but I was expecting to be blown away

As for the headline – “Is this a sign the end is near?”.

2014 will be SNSD’s seventh year anniversary. Girls Generation are the number one girl group in K-pop, hands down. The queens of Korean pop, if you may call them that. A juggernaut when it comes to commercial success, variety talent, and endorsement deals. But judging by the quality of their Korean singles off late, you start to wonder if SM Entertainment is slowly winding down on SNSD and making way for their next, obviously much younger, girl group.

It’s not just SNSD. Even TVXQ’s last release “Something” failed to make much of an impact on the charts. Neither did the duo sweep the music show awards with that song. And this is TVXQ we’re talking about here — they are still massive in Japan! It’s as if SM isn’t even trying with their senior groups, instead devoting all their money on the fresher faces like EXO, whose songs (okay, I still hate “Wolf”) and albums are choc full of amazing music. I only wonder what Super Junior’s comeback is going to be like.

Back to SNSD. It’s been the case for the last two years, that SNSD’s Japanese releases have been far superior to their Korean comebacks. Obviously the girls (and SM) make way more money in Japan from album sales than in South Korea — but come on, every K-pop fan around the world wants to hear their K-pop star sing awesome Korean songs!

Another hint I factor in to say that SNSD may see a decline or departure of a few members has been the news of Sooyoung and Yoona declaring they are in a relationship. Of course, celebrity relationships are never to be taken seriously, as given the pressures of work, many relationships don’t last long. But as someone who knows so much about the members (because that’s how devoted some of us SONEs are), I know Sooyoung wants marriage and children. As do other members like Hyoyeon, who is also rumoured to be in a relationship. Plus, the members are all within their mid-20s. I mean, look at their peers. Sun from Wonder Girls is a mother now and that group’s future is pretty much up in the air. KARA is now down to three members and if DSP Media screws up their comeback (which knowing how messed up DSP is) will pretty much put the nail in the coffin for KARA’s career. It’s as though SNSD’s peers are also fading away.

Maybe I’m over-reacting, but it just feels kinda sad seeing the wave of artists that first got me into K-pop now appearing to slowly ride into the sunset. Groups like SNSD can’t get any bigger. It will be interesting to see what the public’s reaction is to SNSD’s successors. If it’s going to be anything like the kind of reception EXO got, then I guess… arrrgh, I don’t want to think about it!

I hope SM Entertainment has better music lined up for Girls Generation in the form of a repackage album, because their Korean lead singles have gotten quite stale. The reason why I want SNSD around goes beyond just the music. I’m not saying the following because I’m such a devoted fan, but — you can’t manufacture or train rookies with what the members of SNSD have. The fact that you rarely hear about trouble within the group shows just how much the girls actually get along. SM doesn’t have to deal with the headaches and negative publicity girl groups like T-ara or KARA have experienced in the past. SNSD are a gem of a group. Any entertainment company would be glad to have them, purely because the girls can rarely do any wrong. There’s little in-fighting. They are dorky, hilarious, great on variety shows, multi-talented and do their job as performers with absolute professionalism. I just hope SM takes that into consideration and pushes on with Girls Generation. Because my generation of K-pop fans owes it to those girls.

My final rating for SNSD’s ‘Mr. Mr’ –  3 out of 5 (Good)

K-pop Round-up-review: SHINee, T-ara, Block B

The summer lull in K-pop is over. It’s now time for the big guns to make some noise again! I haven’t written a K-pop review in a few months, and since quite a few popular artists have made their return, I figured I too could make a comeback!

SHINee – “Everybody”

SM Ent. still seems to love dubstep. Starts off that way, but the fact that you hear the chorus even before the first verse kind of ruined the impact of the song for me. The sound is very electronic, and the interludes make the song sound like a bit of a mess at times. It’s nice to see Minho get more lines to actually sing and not squeeze in a rap line or two just to make his presence felt. “Everybody” is very much an electronic dance music (EDM) influenced pop song, and one that owes a lot to it’s pulsating chorus for much of it’s praise.

Shinee Everybody album coverOf course being a SHINee song, I look forward to the choreography as much as I look forward to hearing the song. While the choreography has its moments of sheer awesomeness, just like the messy bits of the song, some of the moves look… silly.

SHINee will of course walk off stage with a few music show wins, and that’s largely due to to power of Shawols and their rabid fanbase. I kind of wish SHINee didn’t win every single one of them for the next two months, because below is the song I feel was the better song released the same day “Everybody” came out. – 3/5

T-ara – “Number 9”

I was never really a big fan of T-ara. After all, their past hits included the downright corny “Bo Beep” and “Roly Poly“. In fact, ‘corny’ and bad Engrish are exactly what many K-pop fans expect from T-ara, and cheesiness aside, you can’t deny their songs have an infectious hook. It also helps that the girls are some of the cutest in K-pop.

That said, “Number 9” is in my opinion, T-ara’s best song so far! As the song began with a hook, I immediately thought this might end up being yet another signature, hook-driven song by Shinsadong Tiger, the producer behind most of T-ara’s biggest hits. But when Ji Yeon began her verse, I changed my tune as well. The song finally won me over with the chorus. It’s been a while since I have fallen in love with a K-pop song upon first listen. And I haven’t felt this way about a K-pop song in a long while. SM Entertainment’s productions are now largely Westernized songs with Korean lyrics. YG has their hip-hop swagger, but songs like “Number 9” is why (and how) I fell in love with K-pop in the first place!

T-ara Number 9 members screencapI’m not a teenager, so I always appreciate a more mature sound in K-pop. “Number 9′” definitely has that and the MV is just as sexy. The girls look absolutely gorgeous (no comments on Soyeon’s face) and the choreography is simple but effective. Favourite bit? The look on Hyomin’s face as she’s dancing to that hook. Sex-y!

Although watching the dance version of T-ara’s “Sexy Love” is a guilty pleasure of mine, I would never listen to a T-ara song on its own and I never had a T-ara song on my iPod. Well, not anymore. I bought the song from iTunes right away because I couldn’t stop listening to it. “Number 9” may very well be my favourite K-pop song of 2013. – 5/5

Block B – “Be the Light”
I’m highlighting this song more than “Very Good” because I really want to showcase a side of Block B that isn’t promoted much. Right from the time they debuted, Block B have been a breath of fresh air in K-pop’s cliched library of group “images” and concepts. Their attitude was that of ‘zany’ and ‘fun’. Sadly, their attitude got them into trouble among netizens and troubles with their old management firm meant Block B haven’t been able to make a comeback for quite some time.

I’ve said it the last time I reviewed Block B’s music — the group, and Zico in particular, are hella talented! “Be the Light” is a much needed comeback song. It’s a mid-tempo, emotional ode to all the crap they have been through. Sure, they returned to their usual zany form in “Very Good,” but having listened to the mini-album, I still think “Be the Light” is the best song on that compilation, and glad it got the MV treatment.

I’m just happy Block B are back. K-pop needs their energy and haters needed to get the message exaggerated controversies aren’t going to hold back talented artists. Here’s hoping for more Block B in 2014. – 4/5

Special mention:

I know this song came out a couple of weeks ago, but damn, this song needs to get some love! SPICA are a girl group known for their power vocals and this song doesn’t disappoint in more ways than one. It’s uptempo, rocking, and the melody does great justice to the girl’s voices. I even love the unconventional video (watch the girls play Holi ;)) — it’s so very indie. Definitely one of the finest K-pop highlights of 2013:

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