In 2000, Linkin Park broke on the scene with their diamond-selling debut disc Hybrid Theory. So what could they do for an encore? On March, 25, 2003, we found out as the band more than kept the momentum going with the release of their official sophomore set, Meteora.
In fairness, the band did squeeze in the remix album Reanimation between the discs which allowed them to experiment and opened up their musical style even further. Guitarist Brad Delson told MTV at the time, "We got to see a lot of different styles of writing that we ordinarily wouldn't have explored. I think that really helped to evolve our writing process."
He added, "We really learned the meaning of pressure. But it wasn't pressure from outside people. It was artistic pressure from ourselves. You can't control the commercial success of a record, so there's no point in investing energy in that. But the quality of your record is entirely up to you, and you can't blame anyone else if you write crappy songs. Before we did Meteora, I listened to Hybrid Theory and Reanimation, and I was like, 'Dude, I'm really proud of these records. I don't remember how we did it, and I don't know how we're gonna do it again. We're kind of screwed.' Then, fortunately, we were able to invest ourselves fully in the process for 18 months, and that helped us make a really great record."
Linkin Park, "Somewhere I Belong"
If there was any concern about the potential success of the Hybrid Theory follow-up, that was quickly alleviated when "Somewhere I Belong" skyrocketed up the charts in March of 2003. Mixing Delson's heavy guitar, Joe Hahn's scratching, Mike Shinoda's rapping and a mix of melodic and powerful vocals of Chester Bennington, the track immediately caught the ears of listeners and became the first of five chart-topping tracks off the album. Meteora went on to become the most successful disc in terms of churning out singles for alternative rock radio. It also allowed Joe Hahn to further his burgeoning video directing career as he oversaw a majority of the clips for the album.
On the footsteps of "Somewhere I Belong" came "Faint," a track instantly recognizable by its opening sounds — a string arrangement created by Mike Shinoda and go-to string arranger David Campbell. Add in a pulse-pushing guitar and bass work from Delson and Dave "Phoenix" Farrell and hard-hitting drums from Rob Bourdon and the band had another radio hit on their hands.
The song also featured one of Chester Bennington's more recognizable screams. In reflecting with ArtistDirect on the album, the vocalist stated, "We knew what we wanted, and we knew how to execute to a certain degree. However, we were also just going for it. We didn't really care about what anybody else was doing. We also didn't care whether or not the songs fit together stylistically as a whole or a collection of songs. It was more like, "This riff is sick!" Then, we'd just scream over it, and the next song would be a mid-tempo ballad and you'd sing the way that song needed to be sang. We were testing. We were students in college. We were in the lab, and we happened to stumble across something everybody liked and it worked. I think Meteora was an extension of that."
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The third big hit from Meteora was the album closer "Numb." The track spent a combined 12 weeks atop the Modern Rock chart between late 2003 and early 2004 and would later earn a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration as part of the mashup "Numb/Encore" with Jay-Z from the Collision Course album. The deeply personal song connected with many as Joe Hahn's electronic beats and Bennington's long-held vocals stood out in the track.
The next major single from the disc turned out to be "Breaking the Habit," a song that featured an eye-catching anime-style video from Joe Hahn and Studio Gonzo. The track proved to be one of the more powerful songs of the band's career, with Mike Shinoda really letting listeners inside. "For the last five years, I've been wanting to write this song," Shinoda told Rolling Stone before the album release. "It's about some friend of mine that had some really awful events happen to his family. It's kind of dark. It's not something people will hear on the radio, but it's important to us." As we know now, Shinoda might have underestimated the track's radio airplay.
Linkin Park, "Breaking the Habit" — Live (2003)
And part of what made the Don Gilmore co-produced Meteora so successful was Linkin Park's ability to connect with fans through their experiences. Speaking about the songwriting process, Chester Bennington told MTV, "We don't talk about situations, we talk about the emotions behind the situations. Mike and I are two different people, so we can't sing about the same things, but we both know about frustration and anger and loneliness and love and happiness, and we can relate on that level."
Rounding out the hit singles was the airplay-only track "Lying From You." Filled with samples of a viola and a car burning out, the song definitely provided something different for the ears. Shinoda would reveal the song was about pushing someone away by making up lies to anger them so much they no longer wanted to be around you.
Meteora also generated some interest in two others tracks — the heavy "From the Inside" featuring Bennington's screamy vocals and "Session," an instrumental track that earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 2004.
"We wanted a group of songs that would sit well together because we wanted to make a record that you could pop into your CD player and, from beginning to end, there would never be a spot where you start daydreaming," said Rob Bourdon to MTV at the time of the album release. Mission accomplished, as Meteora turned into one of the biggest albums of the 21st Century and is still spinning in the players of many fans today.
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