Where the hell has Incubus been? It’s been over four years since we nodded our heads to “Anna Molly” off of 2006′s Light Grenades, and in that time away, the band has managed to do a complete 180. Call it growth, call it maturity, call it whatever you may like, but when listening to their new album, If Not Now, When?, it’s difficult deciding exactly what to call it, as it leaves some head-scratching, utter confusion, and denial.
Maybe this was a little more obvious than that, though. After all, Light Grenades wasn’t the band’s best effort. A nearly five-year lapse in albums later (with a Brandon Boyd solo album mixed in), and this band’s headspace had to come into question. Instead of tremendous riffs and melodies, this album comes off as the Brandon Boyd show, volume II. Sure, his vocals and lyrics continue to prove amicable, but the rest of the band is almost non-existent. Almost every track on the album has a slow, elevator-music-style tempo, and lead guitarist Mike Einziger never really shows his off extraordinary skills. Either the band itself became lazy, letting Boyd take over, or they really enjoyed his solo album and wanted to continue on that path.
The first single, “Adolescents”, is a bit of a tease. It mixes sounds from everything in their past and makes you believe that this could be a very wild ride, as if instead of pushing the envelope further, they mixed a little bit of everything that got them to this point, which would have been a better approach. It can never be said enough: Bands mature, and it’s up to fans to either take that journey with them or not. Incubus obviously looked at what they had done in the past and wanted to throw everyone a curveball. Does it work? Occasionally. But, like it or not, this is their new sound. The crazy popular “Drive” was a different kind of track at the time for this band, so maybe fans just need to embrace this change and see what comes out of it.
Maturity aside, this disc just doesn’t make any sense coming from one of the more popular mainstream rock acts of the past decade. If you’re looking for any lingering sense of rock, you can find it on “Switchblade”, which resembles “Priceless” off 2004′s A Crow Left of the Murder… In the context of this album, this track seems very out of place. It appears forced, as if to bring back some type of familiar sound for fans, but the song itself falls flat regardless of its catchy chorus.
This isn’t a poor album, despite the confusion for longtime fans, and should appeal to those who are ready to embrace the band’s lighter side and more introspective lyrics. “Promises, Promises” is single-worthy on some soft rock stations, as is the acoustic “Defiance” (the latter track actually seems like a B-side off Boyd’s solo project).
The album peaks with the seven-and-a-half-minute “In the Company of Wolves”. Boyd sings epic lines like “In the company of wolves, I sat in silence, observant and afraid/He was there with the eyes like glowing embers/The man knew she was made.” This song, about a night of seclusion and a rite of passage, has a great mid-song breakdown where Boyd confesses, “It was the longest night of my life.” This song stands apart from all the others, not only in length, but because it’s the only time you get to hear the other band members do what they do best: jam. Performed live, this song promises to be a complete trip.
To say this album is a complete miss would be unfair. In reality, it’s a great band reaching for a completely different horizon, all with hints of their previous selves. The album will sell because of who they are, and the tracks will remain enjoyable because they sound good. What will be most interesting to watch, though, is where they go from here. Any band can make an off-genre album, but will they keep it up?
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.