REVIEW: MIKE SHINODA – “Post Traumatic”
When Mike Shinoda dropped his ‘Post Traumatic EP’ earlier this year, it was a brief glimpse into a troubled narrative shadowed by heartbreak that would later re-emerge as a full-length album of the same name. Now, a little way down the line, the complete ‘Post Traumatic’ arrives as a reflection on Shinoda’s personal aftermath surrounding the tragic passing of his friend, and co-frontman of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington. And, in many ways, it is not an easy listen.
Bennington’s passing doesn’t exclusively inform, or contextualize, the majority of ‘Post Traumatic’ in the way many may have imagined it would. Yet when it does Shinoda embraces the blindness, emptiness and painful confusion that comes with losing someone to suicide. Throughout, Shinoda offers an intimate insight to his hurt and frustrations as he works, musically and personally, toward coming to terms with his loss, and with himself, during the most vulnerable installment of his career.
Yet this is often the exception rather than the rule. As it turns out, initial impressions teased with the earlier released EP inform a great deal of what ‘Post Traumatic’ would become. Which, for the most part, is a fairly standard, trendy Pop-Rap album. Songs like “Place To Start”, and “Over Again” feel, at least musically, like they could slot in on any average millennial R&B album, crafted around a stagnant musical base, lacking the excitement we have come to expect from Shinoda. The same can be said regarding tracks that came later, such as the underwhelming “About You” (featuring Blackbear) as well as the innocuous “I.O.U.” These project, what some might consider, a contrived anger, the kind of safe rage that can be found on songs produced by Timbaland as opposed to the very real intensity that Shinoda has proven he can deliver.
Shinoda wears a very heavy heart on his sleeve, which is perhaps why he seems to trade creative flare for a painfully simplified honesty in places. Yet this raw honesty sees his talent for poetry absent in many cases. But instead of making songs more accessible, this new directness can feel like a dumbing down, with words feeling stretched and tailored at times to fill obvious gaps in the songs. However, the heart of these songs remain as raw and as poignant as songs can come, none more so than the cry from the heart, “Hold It Together.”
Where this record thrives are in the moments that feel like Mike Shinoda at his natural, irresistible best. “Watching As I Fall” is the first example of an organic offering through swelling synths, playful octave guitar sounds and a hooking chorus that is unmistakably Shinoda. This is topped by its direct follow up “Nothing Makes Sense Anymore” which takes an even more direct, less is more approach toward simplification and ultimately spins the best lyrical yarn of the entire record. And it doesn’t stop there. Shinoda sifts through his black book of house names and pulls guest artists out to deliver some outstanding moments, including Chino Moreno (Deftones), Machine Gun Kelly, Grandson and, most notably, K.Flay who lends her distinct vocal talents to the album standout “Make It Up As I Go.”
‘Post Traumatic’ poses a difficult juxtaposition. It is a heart breaking work of personal anguish with some exceptionally good moments that you cannot help but give your love to. But it also suffers from a sense of prematurity, as if a great deal of the tracks didn’t have enough time fermenting, falling short of becoming their best selves. Time heals, but with ‘Post Traumatic’ one suspects Shinoda hasn’t given himself enough time. Yet if a little rugged, and even if it is not Shinoda at his best, ‘Post Traumatic’ is both relatable and resoundingly relevant, making it a therapeutically powerful album. And, as always is the case with Shinoda, there’s nuggets of gold to be found deep within its depths.