About two months ago, I had to say goodbye to my dearest uncle as he succumbed to cancer. His passing happened suddenly. I was nowhere near prepared to lose him, and am still very much grieving.
My uncle was and still is a major inspiration in my life. A lot of who I am today, especially my love for the English language and writing, was shaped by him. He would grill me about egregious errors in my emails, social media posts and also poems. He was both my biggest fan and my biggest critic and I loved him for it.
Call it serendipity, but Mike Shinoda’s debut solo album, Post Traumatic, was released a few days after my uncle’s passing. It really couldn’t have come at a better time.
The album is pretty much a tribute to Shinoda’s Linkin Park bandmate, Chester Bennington, who passed away in July last year. Shinoda channels a lot of confusion, emptiness, pain and sadness into his lyrics. Those were pretty much the same emotions I felt, which is why I had Post Traumatic on loop during my flight to UK to say a final goodbye to my uncle.
“My inside’s out, my left is right / My upside’s down, my black is white / I hold my breath and close my eyes / And wait for dawn but there’s no light / Nothing makes sense anymore anymore”
While the main theme of the album may seem like it is about mourning the loss of a loved one, a lot of it is also about picking yourself up and starting a new chapter in life, which is exactly what Shinoda did with this album. Instead of using Linkin Park as the vehicle to deliver his grief, he decided to start something from the ground up to find a new direction and regain control of his life.
These two main themes actually shines right through in the very short first track, Place to Start. If you listen to the lyrics carefully, it’s a mix between being lost and also wanting to find the strength to start again.
“Cause I’m tired of the fear that I can’t control this / I’m tired of feeling like every next step’s hopeless / I’m tired of being scared what I build might break apart / I don’t want to know the end, all I want is a place to start”.
If you’ve been a fan of Shinoda’s work with Linkin Park and Fort Minor, you’d definitely see the similarities in terms of the melody arrangement and style. Similar to Linkin Park’s One More Light and The Hunting Party albums, Shinoda actually does a lot more singing – always a pleasant treat for me. While he doesn’t have Bennington’s screaming prowess or powerful vocals, his voice is capable of carrying the weight of emotions that he wants you to feel.
It also helps that the beats and melodies used for each song actually match the lyrics to near perfection. For example, the beat to Over Again is slow paced and menacing as Shinoda raps about how the grief and memory of Bennington tends to hit him at the most unexpected times.
One of my personal favourites of the album is Brooding, an instrumental track that comes in as a nice intermission from the rest of the tracks. It’s calming at the beginning, but very quickly switches gears into a rhythm that is almost panicky with some haunting echoes throughout – a chaos of emotions I’m all too familiar with especially when I am, unironically, brooding or in a dark headspace.
The album has a good balance of tracks that feature a lot more singing and a few that focuses on rapid-fire bars that Shinoda is known and loved for ala his early days in Linkin Park. If you’re a fan of cynical and witty lyrics like me, put your best headphones on – this album is filled to the brim with them and you won’t want to miss a word.
“And everybody that I talk to is like, “Wow! Must be really hard to figure what to do now” / Well thank you genius, you think it’ll be a challenge / Only my life’s work hanging in the fucking balance”
However, I do have to say that some songs on this album do feel a little out of place, especially the last few tracks starting from Lift Off. After the aforementioned track, Shinoda seems to have picked up axes he’d long wanted to grind. The lyrics sounded like they were directed at his detractors.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the songs. But, up until that point, the album seemed to have transitioned from him battling grief and losing confidence to finally finding his equilibrium, admitting that he does not have all the answers and, as his song said, “make it up as I go”. The abrupt change in style (lyrically and melodically) to sass at his critics right after that track is quite jarring. All of a sudden, it feels like the album developed a split personality.
Here’s a comparison of the beginning verses of Lift Off and the song right before it, Make It Up As I Go.
“I keep on running backwards, I keep on losing faith / I thought I had the answers, I thought I knew the way / My brother said be patient, my mother held my hand / I don’t know what I’m chasing, I don’t know who I am” – Make It Up As I Go
“Lift off like Virgin Galactic / My Richard’s too Branson to fuck with you bastards / Very legendary that’s some matter-of-fact shit / You’re the opposite of stars, like rats spelled backwards” – Lift Off
Despite the minor complaints I have with the album, I believe that Post Traumatic is quite close to being a masterpiece. It’s personal and Shinoda makes it very easy for listeners to understand and relate to the emotions he was going through. I personally find it a really good album that enables me to deal with the grief of loss, and to drown out the world when it becomes a little too much to take.