Linkin Park — “Numb”

Released: 10.14.03

Peak: #11

From my snooty grown-up perspective, teen angst spokesmen seemed in a constant state of devolution throughout the ’90s, with each link in the chain sparking reluctant nostalgia for its predecessor. And so Marilyn Manson retrospectively rendered Trent Reznor a pop-industrial genius; Korn aroused a wistful yearning for Marilyn’s camp giggles; the cloddish plod of Limp Bizkit made Korn’s off-kilter sleaze seem downright artful. Last but (it seemed) least, Linkin Park’s carefully regimented rage made Durstian hissy fits sound authentically peeved.

In fact, Linkin Park replaced the epic self-pity that’s teen-mope’s stock in trade with something sadder: epic disappointment. Their biggest hit, “In the End,” throbbed with the cold resignation of an existential statement, but closer attention to the lyrics revealed it to be just a particularly frustrated break-up song. Springsteen once asked, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Linkin Park answers, implicitly, “It’s a lie, and what could be worse than that?”

And if the contrast between the reasoned desperation of Mike Shinoda and the shouty bark of Chester Bennington did indeed schematize the soft/loud dynamic of grunge with an almost clinical neatness, that was kind of the point. A Linkin Park song didn’t progress from verse to chorus like a slow boiling pot that eventually blows its lid. Instead, the screams are the split-personality narrator’s attempt to jolt himself into some more intense feeling, to break free of his own rationalizations, to instigate some form of catharsis, no matter how mechanical.

No better example of this process than “Numb.” The singers are the disappointment this time, consistently failing to live up to expectations of an unnamed other who could be either parent or girlfriend, though “All I want to do/ Is be more like me and be less like you” leads me to I suppose the former. These yappy malcontents just want to better themselves, but stupid stupid life just keeps getting in their way. They’re right–it’s not fair.

Linkin Park remain much-despised, perhaps because what’s essentially a dry synth-pop, a kinkless Depeche Mode, offers little retro camp value for wised-up former fans. And their Jay-Z-sponsored attempt to cash in on the mash-up craze didn’t help either. But for the record, today I’d rank ’em thus: Nine Inch Nails > Linkin Park > Limp Bizkit > > > Marilyn Manson > Korn.

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