The so-called “sophomore jinx” remains one of the thorniest problems in the music business. A fresh, new group pours its energies into its debut album, which, with luck, becomes a success -- perhaps a multi-platinum one. The challenge then is to follow it up with something that will appeal to an established fan base while still pushing the group into some interesting new directions.
That situation was magnified exponentially for rock/hip-hop hybrid Linkin Park, whose first album, Hybrid Theory, has shipped 14 million units worldwide to date; was the top-selling album of 2001; contained three hit singles, including “In the End”; and garnered three Grammy nominations, capturing an award for Best Hard Rock Performance for “Crawling.”
Clearly, the stakes are high for the group’s latest album, Meteora (Warner Bros.). But in their own inimitable style, the members of Linkin Park simply chose not to let the pressure get to them; as a result, Meteora has already gone to #1 and appears to be making a home for itself in the Top 10 on the Billboard album chart.
"We don't ever want to have the mindset where we need to sell 10 million albums each time out. That's ridiculous," says singer Chester Bennington. "It's a blessing to sell that many albums. It doesn't happen very often in this business; even once in your career is an achievement. Our obligation is to our fans. We're not going to get too comfortable and say it's a given that people will run out and buy our albums."
"We just wanted to make another great album that we're proud of," adds drummer Rob Bourdon. "We focused on that, and worked hard to create songs we love. We're our own harshest critics."
The proof of that statement lies in the fact that Bennington and co-vocalist Mike Shinoda wrote some 40 unique choruses for Meteora's tender first single, “Somewhere I Belong,” before deciding on the final version.
"We knew we needed to fix a couple things on that song," says Shinoda, “so we'd write a new chorus, record it, mix it. Then we'd listen to it the next day, and Chester and I would look at each other and say, 'I don't know . . . I think it could be better.' And then we'd start again from scratch. It was a lot of work. We probably wrote and scrapped our ‘sophomore jinx’ album somewhere in the mix. But we took our time, remained critical, and wrote songs we knew were good. Some people might have expected us to write a weaker version of Hybrid Theory -- water it down, stagnate. But that's not what we're about."
Instead, Meteora’s 12 tracks beat the sophomore jinx by simultaneously developing the group’s lean, hard-edged nu-metal sound and delving into strikingly diverse styles: witness the live strings and piano arrangements on “Breaking the Habit” and “Faint,” intricate beats on “Easier to Run” and the employment of a Japanese flute called a shakuhachi to the hip-hop workout “Nobody’s Listening.”
The album’s title refers to a group of six monasteries in the mountains of Greece. "It's really epic and beautiful,” says Shinoda. “It totally embodies the sense of timelessness and expansiveness we wanted the album to have.”
"We've since met people who've visited Meteora," adds turntablist Joseph Hahn. "People go there for solitude now, to find themselves. And that's what the album is about: finding yourself. Each song is about looking within and letting out emotions."
Indeed, while Hybrid Theory focused on frustration, anger and confusion, Meteora reflects a deeper -- perhaps even more mature -- mindset. "It's still a very dark album, but there's definitely more optimism," says Bennington. "We're still the same people, but now there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
Now firmly established as a band that’s both popular and has something to say, the members of Linkin Park -- who include guitarist Brad Delson and bassist Phoenix -- are touring the U.S. and Europe through the summer, honing and growing their sound. "We don't really analyze the chemistry," says Bourdon. "We're just lucky and grateful that we found each other and that we work so well together."