Title: a sociological analysis of Linkin Park’s concept album; ‘a thousand Suns’. Aim
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- Key Words
- Introduction ‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and on that which cannot remain silent’
- Contextual Background
- Theoretical Background
Title: A sociological analysis of Linkin Park’s concept album; ‘A Thousand Suns’.
Aim: The aim of this paper is to analyse the sociological significance of ‘A Thousand Suns’
as a form of reflective literature in order to reveal what it has to say about society and the
Key Words: Linkin Park, Sociology, Hermeneutics, Mythological, Bhagavad Gita
This paper analyses the concept album ‘A Thousand Suns’, by American rock band Linkin
Park, in a sociological manner in order to dissect what this form of literature has to say about
the society in which we live. The essay provides both a contextual background and a
theoretical background before discussing the various themes and elements of the album
which sonically paint a mythological representation of the collapse of society. The contextual
background provides a brief history of the band, giving the album its social and historical
context. The theoretical background describes Paul Ricouer’s ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’
and ‘hermeneutics of trust’, two forms of critical analysis that are used when examining and
critiquing texts. The rest of the paper dedicates itself to applying the ‘hermeneutics of trust’
to Linkin Park’s concept album in order reveal what the album is attempting to say. The
discussion reveals that the album covers a variety of themes such as war and human
exploitation, all of which could bring about the fall of society and all of which have a modern
social context. It is argued that human beings are to blame for these destructive activities and
therefore will be to blame for the apocalypse. The essay concludes by arguing that the album
also expresses that human beings have the power to avoid such destruction through the
expression of love.
‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and on that which cannot remain silent’
-Victor Hugo, 1802-1885
The above quote by French author Victor Hugo suggests that music exists as an artistic
medium which people use to shed light on significant themes and topics which cannot be
explored fully by words on a page. The lyrics need to be accompanied by sounds and
emotions in order to convey the intended sentiment. With that in mind this essay will analyse
the sociological significance of Linkin Park’s concept album ‘A Thousand Suns’ in order to
extract its meaning. This paper will provide both a contextual and theoretical background for
the album in order to put the analysis of the album into its correct context. The following
discussion will also draw on key relevant sources, historical and social events, literary
theories and the album content itself in order to provide an informed conclusion as to what
this text has to say about the world in which we live.
Linkin Park, an American rock band, started off as a nu-metal band combining rock and hip-
hop on their first two albums; ‘Hybrid Theory’ (2000) and ‘Meteora’ (2003). They then
branched off into other music genres with their third studio album titled ‘Minutes to
Midnight’ (2007), which was the beginning of an experimental period for the band, both
musically and conceptually. The title ‘Minutes to Midnight’ was chosen as a reference to the
Doomsday clock, which was a reflection of the themes that were explored on the album
(LinkinParkKazakhstan, 2012). This concept of a build up towards the apocalypse sets the
context for the next album, ‘A Thousand Suns’ (2010). Not only does this album experiment
further, in terms of music genres, but it also describes a world full of broken people, debris
and dead woods (Linkin Park, 2010). This imagery, as painted by the band, is what the world
will look like if we do not do our best to avoid it. This album acts as a social criticism, one
that is not just personified by sounds and words, but by actions too.
Outside of their music career the band Linkin Park set up the charity organisation ‘Music for
Relief’ in 2004 in order to aid survivors of natural disasters. In 2006 they expanded the
mission of this organisation to environmental protection and restoration (Music for Relief,
2013). In 2012 they launched their ‘Power the World’ campaign in order to raise awareness
of the lack of energy access for a number of countries and to try and highlight some solutions
to energy problems (Music for Relief, 2013). These activities show that Linkin Park are
social activists who use their music as a means of social criticism. By analysing the album we
can unveil exactly what it is trying to criticise and what it blames for this mythological
apocalypse that it proposes. An examination of key theories on literature can also shed light
on what is at the heart of this conceptual audible experience.
The opening track of the album creates an eerie atmosphere, very different to any previous
Linkin Park track. It also starts vocally by posing a question: “will we burn inside the fires of
a thousand suns?” (Linkin Park, 2010). This unexpected music approach and the opening
question would automatically leave the listener curious as to what the motive behind it all is.
This brings to mind the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, a term coined by Paul Ricouer which
was developed as a means of trying to extract the meaning of a text buried underneath the
obvious, first impressionable appearance (Felski, 2010). Ricouer’s work on suspicious
critique offers an insightful means of analysing the album and its sociological significance.
Today, in academic criticism and literature studies, we are taught to adopt Ricouer’s
‘suspicious’ frame of mind when reading literature and we are encouraged to critique it.
Reading suspiciously is a form of interpretation driven by a sense of deconstructionism and
disenchantment. For Ricouer there are three founders behind this suspicious interpretive
reading; Marx, Nietzche and Freud. Each of these thinkers refused to take texts at face-value
and aimed to reinterpret and demystify the text they studied (Felski, 2010). By doing so they
were the first to partake in the hermeneutics of suspicion, however, Ricouer states that this is
not the only way to read a text for people can also partake in the hermeneutics of trust
The two different forms of hermeneutics, trust and suspicion, are essentially opposite means
of analysing a given text. While the hermeneutics of suspicion is wary of the text, and seeks
to expose it for what it really is by unmasking it, the hermeneutics of trust, as the name
suggests, trusts the text and wants to unveil its meaning (Felski, 2010). Both of these different
approaches can be applied to the same text and will interpret them very differently. For
example, if one were to read the Bible adopting the hermeneutics of trust standpoint they
would seek to unveil its meaning, trust its deeper message and aim to achieve revelation.
However if a suspicious critic were to read it, adopting a Marxist ideology, they would
interpret the Bible as a means of control and as a symbol for political power to herd the
masses. Therefore the hermeneutics of suspicion is a tool, one which the reader uses in order
to show what the text does not know or cannot fully understand (Felski, 2010).
In a sense, when we read suspiciously we take on the role of the detective and try to decipher
clues in order to solve the case. The role of the critic, according to Rita Felski, is to accuse
the text of what it really is and not of what it is pretending to be. How it appears is not the
reality but rather a mask; hiding the true self. For Felski, the hermeneutics of suspicion, and
suspicious thinking, is not against the world but rather a part of it which has its roots in
philosophy (Felski, 2010).
However, even though suspicious critique plays an important role in developing
philosophical ideas it can be criticised itself. A critique of the hermeneutics of suspicion
formulates when we realise that the critique of a text is a text in itself and can equally be
accused of masking a hidden agenda. Texts, in themselves, are already suspicious as they
critique aspects of society, through their use of themes, and they challenge the norms.
Therefore when someone reads these texts suspiciously and unmasks a certain meaning they
are in fact revealing their own ideologies and criticisms of the world (Felski, 2010).
In light of this information it would seem that a more appropriate means of analysing the
sociological significance of ‘A Thousand Suns’ is by adopting the hermeneutics of trust and
listening to the album in order to unveil its meaning. The album itself, as a text, is a critique
which criticises some form of social drama. This criticism is personified by sounds and
words, acting as symbolic interpretations. The energy of the album helps to paint the image
of a mythological apocalyptic world, a possible vision for the future.
According to Roland Barthes, the meaning of a myth is not found in what is being said but
rather in the way that it is being said. ‘A Thousand Suns’ does not state literally that it is set in
a post apocalyptic world but the way in which the story of the album unfolds suggests it. For
Barthes myths act as symbolic manifestations of ideas or values which are scarcely stated or
talked about (Barthes, 1984). In this sense Linkin Park use symbols and metaphors to create a
mythological environment which stands as a symbol for their ideas and concerns.
to the album and discussing it we can reveal these ideas and concerns in order to shed light on
the social significance of the piece.
The album ‘A Thousand Suns’ features three political speeches, each addressing very
different issues. The speeches featured are those of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Mario Savio and
Martin Luther King Jr. and were each used in a very particular context. When Linkin Park
reintroduces them in a very different context they stress that the message behind each of these
speeches is still relevant and they highlight that the problems have not gone away.
The first speech the listener encounters on the album is that of Oppenheimer, featured on the
second track titled ‘The Radiance’ (Linkin Park, 2010). Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967) was a
theoretical physicist often considered to be ‘the father of the atomic bomb’ for his
involvement in its development. On the 16
July 1945 the first atomic bomb was detonated in
what became known as the Trinity test, a showcase of the monster that Oppenheimer helped
create (Bird and Sherwin, 2005). After the test Oppenheimer gave a speech on the matter in
which he likened the nuclear bomb to “death, the destroyer of worlds” (Linkin Park, 2010).
This speech seems to be one filled with regret and criticism stating that war, and the weapons
it creates, will destroy the world. The theme of war shows up more than once on the album on
tracks like ‘Empty Spaces’ and ‘When They Come For Me’, where the music and sounds
used create a war like atmosphere – one that is aggressive in nature. While neither of the
songs literally state the theme of war Barthes’ work on mythologies helps us to understand
what the songs are really targeting. It seems that the first social criticism of the album is on
war, something that has been criticised again and again but yet these criticisms have gone
ignored and the speeches that warned against it need to be re-addressed (Linkin Park, 2010).
The need to talk about this commonly discussed topic on the album is a reflection of what
was going on in society at the time. The years 2009, the year leading up to the album’s
launch, and 2010, the year of the album’s launch, were the deadliest years in terms of
casualties in the war in Afghanistan. As of 2010 the Afghanistan war had entered its tenth
year and the conditions there had gotten worse than ever (Mora, 2010). The year of 2009 was
also a major turning point in the Somalia war in which the conflict had worsened and
President Ahmad was forced to ask other countries for aid (BBC News, 2013). Human
history has been stained by countless wars, stemming back thousands of years, ranging from
the crusades of the middles ages to the two World Wars of the 20
Century. War is the first
sociological issued addressed and criticised by the band.
The second speech found on the album is that of Mario Savio, incorporated into the track –
‘Wretches and Kings’ (Linkin Park, 2010). The speech featured on the track was that which
he gave to students in Berkley, whose expressions were being suppressed. Savio was a leader
of the Free Speech Movement, a group which fought for people’s rights and organised
protests in the battle against corruption and bureaucracy. This bureaucracy, according to
Savio, masks itself as respectable and is the enemy of what he called the ‘Brave New World’
(Savio, 1968). By giving this speech and by writing a song around its message both Savio and
Linkin Park are criticising how members of the working class are exploited by an upper class,
the minority of society. According to this song we live in a society where “the people up top
push the people down low”. The song describes a revolution, where the lower classes rise up
against those who have been keeping them down – the wretches and the kings (Linkin Park,
2010). This narrative is one that has been told again and again and was predicted by Karl
Marx. In his book ‘Das Kapital’ Marx argues that the exploitation of workers will lead to a
growth of greed in the bourgeois and an increase of misery in the proletarians which will
result in a class war (Marx, 1961). This was Marx’s critique of capitalism which is still the
world’s main economic system. Both Linkin Park and Savio are also criticising it for its faults
but also realise that it can be fixed. For Marx, greed is not a part of human nature but rather a
result of social interaction and structures and therefore it is something that can be remedied
(Marx, 1961). The aggressive nature of ‘Wretches and Kings’, and its previous track
‘Blackout’, give off the negative implications and emotions that arise due to exploitation.
‘Blackout’ uses metaphors to describe the situation of an individual born and confined to a
system created by others who is starting to see through the lies and secrets around them; ‘I’m
stuck in this bed you made, alone with a sinking feeling, I saw through the words you said, to
the secrets you’ve been keeping’. This then leads into the revolution, staged sonically in
‘Wretches and Kings’ (Linkin Park, 2010). This section of the album is reflective of the
countless cases of class injustice that have taken place throughout the history of society. The
current economic recession commenced officially in 2008 and since then has caused a variety
of issues between classes. A strong example of this can be seen with Greece, who have been
in huge debt and have suffered from class struggles as a result of this failure in capitalism
(libcom.org, 2010). Essentially, by readdressing the speech made by Savio, Linkin Park are
criticising another area of society that has often been critiqued but has been allowed to
continue; the exploitation of “the people down low” (Linkin Park, 2010).
The third and final political speech encountered on the album is one given by Martin Luther
King Jr. on the track ‘Wisdom, Justice and Love’. This song features an eerie atmosphere
which complements the seriousness of the message being delivered in the speech. The quote
featured is an abstract of the talk delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, at the
Riverside Church in New York City. The speech was a call for peace in relation to the
Vietnam War and in relation to all wars and forms of social injustices. It argued that by
remaining silent and refusing to act against violence we are betraying those who fall victim to
it. It makes reference to the atrocities of war, which leaves people psychologically and
physically damaged beyond repair, and to the hatred that it brings to mankind. The cure to
this, according to Martin Luther King Jr., is love – the ultimate force found in every world
religion, whether it be Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism or Christianity (American
Rhetoric, 2010). In light of this speech one could argue that all people respect love, regardless
of their religious or cultural differences. Love is a common emotion, one which all human
beings can experience and one which can be used as a framework for peace. Linkin Park’s
inclusion of this speech demonstrates their proposed solution in order to avoid the apocalypse
as brought on by man; the expression of love. Throughout the album the band make reference
to a number of religious beliefs and traditions. A strong example of this can be seen with the
leading single of the album ‘The Catalyst’ which makes reference to God but doesn’t state
whether or not it is the Christian God or the God of the Jewish tradition. In any case the song
cries out for God’s help, stressing that humanity is broken and at this point are one pull of a
trigger away from being wiped out; “We’re a broken people living under loaded gun” (Linkin
Park, 2010). This song paints mankind at a point where they are begging for external help, of
a supernatural kind, because we can no longer save ourselves. This talk of salvation is not the
only case in which the album makes reference to religious concepts or ideas. The album title
itself is derived from a quote in the Hindu book ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ and the track title ‘The
Radiance’ comes from the same quote; “If the radiance of A Thousand Suns....” (The
Bhagavad Gita, 11.12). The reference to the Bhagavad Gita could’ve been chosen due to
Oppenheimer’s reference to it in relation to his speech regarding the Trinity test of the atomic
bomb. If this is the case then the album centres around nuclear catastrophe which would
explain the post apocalyptic setting but would also disregard the other themes and topics
which show up. Therefore this essay would argue that Oppenheimer’s speech was chosen to
be on the album due to its reference to the Gita rather than the reverse being true. The Gita
has been a highly influential book in the lives of many key historical figures, most notably
Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was so influenced in his life by the Gita that he wrote his own
works on it titled ‘The message of the Gita’. In this he explained the importance of the Gita in
his life and its significance to the world as both a religious and non-religious text. He wrote
that he never regarded the Gita as a historical account but instead as a metaphor for the
“duel” that went on in the “hearts of mankind” (Gandhi, 2000). While Gandhi was a religious
man who believed that faith was essential to understand the true message of the Bhagavad
Gita, his writings would suggest that anyone can take some truth from the sacred text. One of
the strongest themes throughout the Bhagavad Gita is that people should act without the
wanting for a reward. ‘A Thousand Suns’ also shares common themes with the Gita, such as
internal human conflicts and “letting go”. The essential concept and lesson of the Bhagavad
Gita is to “let go” (Mitchell, 2000). This concept is explored throughout the ‘A Thousand
Suns’ album, most notably on the tracks ‘Iridescent’, ‘The Catalyst’ and the interlude track
‘Jornada Del Muerto’, where the words “Lift me up, let me go” are sang in Japanese. (Linkin
Park, 2010). It is clear that both Linkin Park and Oppenheimer were influenced by the Gita in
a similar manner in the sense that both are writing about regret and responsibility. In his
speech Oppenheimer talks about duty and there is a feeling of guilt in his words when he says
“We knew the world would not be the same” (Kveldes, 2010). Linkin Park’s references to
this speech, and to the Gita, stresses the meaning of the album: man is to blame.
The song ‘Burning In The Skies’ tells the story of an individual coming to terms with their
own faults and that they are to blame for whatever it is that they destroyed. They have lost
something that they now realise they no longer deserve for how they treated it; “I’m
swimming in the smoke of bridges I have burned.....I’m losing what I don’t deserve”. (Linkin
Park, 2010). This ‘something’ is not specified and could mean anything from a relationship to
a job to a reputation. The fact that it is not specified and that it is sang in the first person
means that it becomes a very personal experience for the listener who will inevitably
associate it with something in their own lives. Therefore, when enough people hear it, ‘I’
becomes ‘we’ and the song goes from being about ruining something in particular to ruining
our society as a whole, which can only end in destruction. The chorus of ‘Burning In The
Skies’ gets repeated in the later track titled ‘Fallout’ which precedes ‘The Catalyst’ (Linkin
Park, 2010). By repeating the same message the band have stressed that humans will be the
ones to blame for their own destruction and not external factors. The tracks ‘Robot Boy’ and
‘Waiting For The End’ describe the condition of the human being facing disaster; people who
have lost the will to fight and are holding on to that which they don’t have – the hope of a
better life. Essentially, ‘A Thousand Suns’ is sociologically significant as a critique of human
fault and not of particular human issues.
The album explores a variety of themes, such as war and human exploitation. However, many
of these songs can also be interpreted to mean something else and therefore the album cannot
merely be a critique of these specific topics. The album also utilises a variety of music
genres, from rock to hip hop to electronics, and refers to a variety of religious concepts and
beliefs. The overall inclusiveness of the album suggests that it is open to all people of all
backgrounds. It uses all of these conceptual and audible tools in order to create a vision of the
future that will arise as a result of our own flaws and failures (Linkin Park, 2010). The album
is not only a space for criticism but it also offers possible ingredients for a solution – wisdom,
justice and love.
We should be wise and learn from the warnings of people like J. Robert Oppenheimer who
criticised his own creation and yet human beings continue to use science for the creation of
weapons and destruction. We should seek justice as Mario Savio did and not allow for human
beings to be exploited or to be vessels of greed. Finally we should express love, the strongest
emotion found in all cultures and religions, that which Martin Luther King Jr. preached and
the true message behind Linkin Park’s concept album. If human beings show each other love
then they can aspire to create peace rather than continue down this spiral of chaos and
desolation. In the final song, ‘The Messenger’, the band expresses the message that they have
been trying to get across over the course of the album; when we are blinded by the hardships
and cruelty of life “love keeps us kind” (Linkin Park, 2010).
Having adopted Ricouer’s hermeneutics of trust in order to unveil the meaning of the album
it can be understood that ‘A Thousand Suns’ provides a myth in order to say something about
the human being. The human can be destructive, greedy, deprived and extremely violent. All
of these negative qualities, explored by the band, are influenced by examples of both
historical events and current events. The album argues that human beings are the ones
responsible for these events and must be able to accept the blame; they will only lose what
they don’t deserve. But the human being is also capable of being righteous and loving and
these are the qualities that need to be encouraged and displayed in order to avoid the collapse
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Linkin Park (2010) ‘Empty Spaces’, Track 4 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘Fallout’, Track 13 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘Iridescent’, Track 12 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘Jornada Del Muerto’, Track 7 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘Robot Boy’, Track 6 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘The Catalyst’, Track 14 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘The Messenger’, Track 15 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘The Radiance’, Track 2 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘The Requiem’, Track 1 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘Waiting For The End’, Track 8 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘When They Come For Me’, Track 5 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
Linkin Park (2010) ‘Wisdom, Justice And Love’, Track 11 of A Thousand Suns, Warner Bros.
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