Incubus is a shell of what they once were. The transformation of the band over the past decade or so has been like watching a high school friend who was valedictorian slowly dwindle into a self-loathing drug addict. This may sound pretty harsh, but take a moment to look back on what Incubus used to be. Beginning with the funky appeal of Fungus Amongus and S.C.I.E.N.C.E., mellowing out with the hit-laden Make Yourself and Morning View, and wrapping up with A Crow Left of The Murder… and Light Grenades, the group had a very impressive track record prior to their 2009 split. True, Alex Katunich’s (aka Dirk Lance) departure and replacement by Ben Kenny (formerly of The Roots) completely altered the bass-driven funk lines, but every band has their hiccups, and we love them just the same.
Now, coming off a two year hiatus, the group has released If Not Now, When?, their seventh studio album. Sadly, this most recent venture is not shaping up to the standards set by past albums. With less emphasis on songwriting and more on over-production, it’s no surprise that Incubus has left a sour taste in my mouth for the first time. To fully understand the positives and negatives of the album, a thorough analysis of the tracks is necessary.
One of two hits from the album, “Promises, Promises”, sounds like any Top 40 pop track out there nowadays. Its redundant melodies and rock piano drive are two of the many ingredients needed for the Generic Hit Cake being made. This song might be excusable for a filler track, but to be chosen as a single is unacceptable. Listening to past hits such as “Stellar”, “Pardon Me”, and “Megalomaniac” only confirm this mistake.
Maybe next time, guys. I know what you’re thinking, and no, “Friends and Lovers” is not a Mickey Avalon cover. It is, however, a slow and contemplative song about the complications of relationships (not exactly Mickey content). The thick harmonization and heavy reverb create a very interesting vocal feel. Immediately following this is “Thieves”, which continues the path of consistency, providing us with a catchy track that goes beyond the skin deep nature of other songs on the album.
The middle of the album, characterized by “Isadore” and “The Original”, is very bland and uneventful. Both tracks mesh into each other and, although “The Original” ends with a fairly powerful outro, do not have much to offer. This path of boredom is halted by the seventh track of the album. “Defiance” is a hard track to peg. The song itself is pretty solid, but the vocals don’t match up with the instrumentation. With Brandon Boyd belting out his part without refrain, the rest of the band sounds like nothing more than a whisper in a crowded theatre. There is a lot of raw energy behind the song, so it shouldn’t be undermined by sounding like an unplugged session. “Switchblade” serves as the black sheep of the album and appears to be the only track that exceeds Incubus’ devotion to Adante. Combining Boyd’s rapping and phenomenal singing abilities, this is the only track on the whole album that preludes to the Incubus of yesteryear.
The atmospheric conclusion of the album, “Tomorrow’s Food”, has everything from alt-country guitar-picking to vocal harmonic dissonance. Reminiscent of Other Lives, the larger than life soundscape created by the final track is a sobering and pleasant way to finish this less than perfect record. With past albums that used to be riddled with top hits, I now feel like I’m on a treasure hunt trying to find songs that I will still want to listen to a month from now.
If Not Now, When? sounds like a band trying to find a new niche, and unsuccessfully doing so. That being said, the album as a whole is not repulsive, just solidly mediocre. If you’re looking for new music that will push no boundaries and help you doze off, then pick up If Not Now, When? Contrarily, if you’re a fan of Incubus in their early days, don’t bother with purchasing the new release. The band says it best themselves on their new hit, “Adolescents”: Out of sight, out of mind. If Incubus fails to keep drawing attention to themselves, they will soon become an afterthought.
Top tracks: Tomorrow’s Food, Switchblade, andThieves
Matt Fox, Contributor