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Linkin Park Grows Up on New Album

“Hands Held High,” one of the most powerful songs on Linkin Park’s new album, includes lyrics about bombs blowing up mosques, a bumbling leader, high gas prices and general world confusion – an obvious missive against President Bush and the war in Iraq.

Or maybe not. Tell that interpretation to Mike Shinoda, the rapper/musician who writes most of the lyrics for the blockbuster band, and you’ll get an earful on making assumptions about the group’s most adventurous album to date, “Minutes to Midnight.”

“We’re not a political band. And I see some of the stuff that you’re referring to … as more social,” says Shinoda, showing a glint of frustration as he and drummer Rob Bourdon sit in a studio, taking a break from rehearsals for upcoming shows.

“I tend to be drawn towards people, the interaction with people and how emotional events make you feel, and because we’re all older, I think that we are more aware of those things,” says Shinoda, 30. “This record … it’s aware of what’s going on inside and aware to a large degree on what’s going on outside ourselves.”

The lyrics on the album, out Tuesday, are not the only signs of the band’s development since the release of 2003’s multiplatinum “Meteora.” Once the leaders of rap-rock fusion, you’ll hear less of Shinoda’s signature rhymes on this record (he does sing on one track). And while lead singer Chester Bennington’s screams are still as piercing as ever, they’re less likely to be supported by the kind of music that defined the band as nu-metal. Some songs sound very pop, with arrangements that could even be described as mellow and tender.

“We’ve taken a lot of risks on this record because of the stylistic changes that we’ve made,” concedes the 31-year-old Bennington.

“The one thing that people will notice the most is that there’s not a nu-metal feel, but a lot of what we do is very Linkin Park … We felt like we had done something very unique.”

“There’s more maturity (but) I think it delivers the same emotional impact that they always have,” says Mike Rich, senior vice president and general manager of AOL Entertainment, for which the band taped a raucous concert on Friday night. It was to premiere on the Web portal Monday.

Doing something unique was an important goal for the band on “Minutes to Midnight.” The six-member group had sold 10 million copies of their 2000 debut, “Hybrid Theory,” and then another four million with “Meteora.” Both albums explored feelings of frustration and fury with a mix of rock, hip-hop and metal. (The band also sold millions with its remix album, “Reanimation,” and its mash-up record with Jay-Z, “Collision Course” – not including side projects such as Shinoda’s successful group Fort Minor.)

To help with their evolution, the group enlisted Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin. They were longtime fans of Rubin, whose credits in the past year included Tom Petty, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Dixie Chicks and Slayer.

“He suggested that we forget about what we think Linkin Park is supposed to sound like and just write whatever type of music we were inspired by at the moment,” says Bourdon, 28. “It was really freeing.”

And many people will say “Minutes to Midnight” doesn’t sound like Linkin Park.

“The songs we felt strongly about have more melodies,” says Bennington. “and those are the songs that turned up on the record.”

Then there’s the content. Although Shinoda stresses that it’s not a political album, the band references the nation’s turmoil, from broken levees on “The Little Things Give You Away” to bitterness over leaders on “No More Sorrow.”

“We’ve always just stuck true to the music that we felt like making,” says Bourdon. “If we were to try and go make the trilogy album for us, it wouldn’t have felt right to us, it would have been like we were trying to be something that we’re not.”

The band knows that some fans will want to hear a retread of their past sound. “We’ve gotten a lot of really positive response from fans, critics,” says Bennington. “We’ve also gotten some feedback that’s just like – I think it’s going to take a while for some people to wrap their heads around what we’ve done.”

But the band hopes that once fans hear the music, they’ll realize Linkin Park has changed for the better.

“We hope that a lot of our fans are on the same page, and if they’re not on the same page, that’s fine too, maybe they will be later, maybe not, but we’ll still be playing this album, we’ll still be playing the other albums,” says Shinoda. “And whoever wants to come the show is invited.”

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