Spot the Similarity: Linkin Park’s “Robot Boy” vs. Semisonic’s “She’s Got My Number”

Welcome to the debut of Spot the Similarity, where we take two songs and, well, do we really need to explain the purpose of the column?

Pop songwriting is hard. There are only a handful of chords, and underneath that, there are only a handful of chord progressions that will register as pleasing to the ears, so it comes as no surprise that sometimes a band looks as if they were caught peeking at someone else’s paper during the final exam, even if they weren’t. It could be a riff, or a vocal melody, or a certain rhythm.

Or, in this case, it could be several things.

Now, let’s just state for the record that we do not believe for a second that Linkin Park were trying to steal from anyone. They take their music much too seriously to do such a thing. But, for the sake of argument, take a listen to “Robot Boy,” from their impressive new album A Thousand Suns.

Sweet little tune, right? Now, if you please, check out “She’s Got My Number,” from Semisonic’s 2001 album All About Chemistry.

Wowzers. Peas in a pod, these two songs. Lots of piano, eerily similar drum tracks, big swells towards the end. The chord progressions are different, no question, but not terribly different. Was Linkin Park aware of the existence of “She’s Got My Number”? Doubtful. The only link between the two bands is Rick Rubin, who produced Semisonic singer and principal songwriter Dan Wilson’s 2007 solo album Free Life as well as Linkin Park’s last two albums. But since Rubin didn’t get involved with Wilson until well after Chemistry was released, it’s safe to say that he’s never heard “She’s Got My Number,” which means Linkin Park probably hadn’t either, since they were still doing the angsty nu-metal thing at the time.

We have not reached out to anyone in Linkin Park for comment – because really, that would look like we’re accusing them of plagiarism, and we’re not – but we did send “Robot Boy” to Dan Wilson, and he told us this: “I usually don’t hear it when people tell me something sounds like a track of mine, but I totally hear it with this. Thanks for the note, it reminds me how much I like ‘She’s Got My Number.’ And now I like ‘Robot Boy.'” Awww, how cute is that? We love a happy ending.

Click to buy Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns from Amazon
Click to buy Semisonic’s All About Chemistry from Amazon


Linkin Park: A Thousand Suns

RIYL: Nine Inch Nails, Guster, growing up

First, a mea culpa to Chester Bennington.

In our review of Linkin Park’s 2007 album Minutes to Midnight, we (and by ‘we,’ we mean I) accused Bennington of wearing his sadness like a cheap suit in order to remain faithful to the band’s lyrical core, and therefore make gobs more money. This was based on two things: first, the lyrics, where Bennington sings about how miserable he was. Second, Chester’s notes in the credits, where he thanked his wife (“a.k.a. The Hotness”) and his four kids. Which produced the following thought: this married father of four is whining about how he wants to die? Oh, fuck this guy.

Should have hit Wikipedia. Bennington divorced his first wife in 2005, and married The Hotness a couple years later. He has one child with each wife; the other two are The Hotness’ from a previous relationship. So it turns out that he is indeed happily married, and presumably singing about his ex-wife, not his current one. My bad.

Having said that, Minutes to Midnight was still not a great record, though it did have its moments. They were clearly trying to add stronger melodies into the music, but most of the time, they either went too far or not far enough. The band goes a long way to rectifying this problem, along with a couple of others, on A Thousand Suns, their latest. Musically, it’s their most melodic album yet, and lyrically, it’s their most contrite, which is good, because if they spent this album still complaining about some girl or another, it would have been embarrassing. Sonically, this is their most mature album (the piano was a welcome addition), but it still maintains their glitchy roots. “Robot Boy” is not tailor-made hit single material, but it might be the band’s best song, as Bennington layers vocals – actual honest-to-goodness vocals – over a simple but effective minor-to-major chord progression, and “Burning in the Skies” appears to be Bennington taking responsibility for his failed marriage. “I’m swimming in the smoke, of bridges I have burned / So don’t apologize, I’m losing what I don’t deserve.”

The most curious song is “Blackout,” which sports a borderline bubblegum pop melody with Bennington screaming his head off for the first two verses, at which point Mike Shinoda takes over and sends the song into a furious scratch and sample-driven breakdown. From there, Bennington gives the music the pop vocal it deserves. It ultimately serves as a standalone bridge between the band’s past and their present, as does “When They Come for Me,” which begins as a jungle drum-heavy showcase for Shinoda, only for the band to slip in a killer pop hook within the chaos. “Iridescent” is as big a lighter-waving anthem as the band’s ever done, and “The Catalyst” is simply huge. Several interludes fill in the cracks (lyrical callbacks and foreshadows abound), though one stands above the others: “Wisdom, Justice and Love,” where the band takes a vocal sample from Martin Luther King Jr. and slowly morphs his voice into robotic menace.

Growing up is never easy, especially when you’ve made a career out of articulating every confused thought in your head. But every band gets happy at some point if they stick around long enough, and Linkin Park finally does it here. It may have taken a decade to do it, but strangely it doesn’t seem like it took too long. If anything, it’s impressive to see a band who defined themselves with all things adolescence (angst, profanity, hip hop, hardcore) find a way to maintain those elements in their sound, yet grow beyond them at the same time. Fans of the Hybrid Theory-era Linkin Park will probably hate A Thousand Suns, of course, but that happens to every band, too. They might lose more fans than they gain in the short run with this one, but there isn’t any question which of the two albums will have a longer shelf life. (Warner Bros. 2010)

Linkin Park MySpace page
Click to buy A Thousand Suns from Amazon


State Shirt: This is Old

Songwriter Ethan Tufts is, by his own account, making music when not doing “nerd shit” behind a desk. His musical guise, State Shirt, definitely bears some of that nerdy aesthetic – electronic percussion textures and synth washes, meticulously tracked backing vocals, and a sense of angst that’s polished up Los Fucking Angeles style. And “polish” is the key word here. Though he lists influences like Mogwai, Sebadoh, Fugazi and Neil Young on his MySpace, State Shirt’s music has far more in common with mainstream modern rock. Imagine if Linkin Park decided to buy some indie cred and collaborate with the Flaming Lips and Radiohead. Actually, it’s not quite as outrageous as that description may sound. In fact, this mix of styles is pretty solid, which is just what expressions of hopelessness like the title track (“The finest things in life I will always refuse / The worst things in life I will always abuse”) and “I Hate California” call for. (Los Fucking Angeles 2008)

State Shirt MySpace