To the list of America's most endangered professions lighthouse keepers, Detroit autoworkers, record-store clerks add rappers in rock bands. Linkin Park certainly haven't failed to notice the nü-metal market withering since their last multiplatinum album in '03. They probably read the self-pitying blog ramblings of Bizkit-turned-filmmaker Fred Durst and thought: There but for the grace of God go we. A response to this crisis is apparent on Minutes to Midnight, their third studio disc. Before, Mike Shinoda rapped on nearly everything the band cut, sharing the limelight with singer Chester Bennington; here he throws down his mad rhyming skillz on a mere two numbers. (As consolation, Shinoda sings lead on a third track and earns a co-producer credit...but it's still marginalizing for a guy who rapped his way almost to the top of the Hot 100 last year with ''Where'd You Go,'' from side project Fort Minor.)
So who's the pied piper leading Linkin away from rap-rock? Ironically, it's co-producer Rick Rubin, the man who presided over the hybrid's invention. Whether he offered any game plan for replacing the missing elements, though, isn't clear. Amid the stabs at growth, every new effect sounds borrowed. The electronic pulse that opens ''Shadow of the Day'' sounds like an ancient NIN loop; then the song turns into their ''With or Without You,'' gradually adding elements a snare, strings in a wan attempt at anthemic momentum. The piano intro to ''What I've Done''...where have we heard that before? Oh, yeah: It sounds like the theme from Halloween. (Maybe they'll get a hit ringtone out of it John Carpenter did.)
Bennington still has a rare gift for screaming and hitting recognizable notes at the same time. He manages some impressive bellowing on the handful of Metallica-flavored barn burners, especially on ''Given Up,'' where he yowls ''Put me out of my f---ing misery!'' holding that last ''eeeeeee!'' for 17 seconds. (Yes, we timed it.) More often, though, he uses what a parent would call his ''inside voice,'' softly crooning about how a ''shadow of the day will embrace the world in gray'' or how his ''insides all turn to ash, so slow.'' Without Shinoda to interrupt , Bennington is forced all the more to be his own egocentric, emo-centric foil.
Now, guess what the best cuts are. Yep: the two where Shinoda gets his spoken word on namely ''Bleed It Out,'' the most viscerally exciting thing the band has ever done; here, his rant provokes them into picking up the pace, not slackening it. We're no Rick Rubin, but some advice: Next time, guys, embrace your outmoded identity, throw cred or caution to the wind, and let your rap-rock freak flag fly.