Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music! In preparation for the upcoming show at the Susquehanna Bank Center, I’d like to review the newest Incubus album, If Not Now, When? I know I haven’t done one of these in a long while, but I’d really like to start up again, so here goes. I’ve been a fan of Incubus ever since Make Yourself came out at the turn of the century, and I’ve rediscovered a lot of their music in recent years. They have a fairly diverse catalog; lots of different styles fast and slow, with multiple instances of strange instrumentation. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of what I’ve heard from their pre-Make Yourself material. I understand that that means I can never be a true fan and that all my opinions regarding them are worthless, of course. I’ve heard very mixed reactions to If Not Now, When? since it’s been released. A lot of people are turned off due to its mellow nature, some dislike it for not being like SCIENCE, some dislike it for being even lighter than Light Grenades. Some do like it, however. The fact is, the album is very different from previous Incubus releases. Many see different as bad; I see different as different. Silly me.
The title track is the opening cut, and I must say it’s one of my absolute favorites from the album. Very mellow right off the bat, with slow drums and quiet background music. The vocals go with the pace of the song perfectly, and the lyrics are really beautiful (especially the chorus). The technicality of the music here is quite simple, which is a bit of a contrast from a lot of Incubus recordings, but it works well with the sound of the song and forces the focus on the vocals, where it should be. The next cut is the second single, “Promises, Promises.” When I was first exposed to this song (the night Incubus appeared on The Late Show) I was taken aback at the upbeat almost soft-rock sound the song had. In listening to the song over and over, however, I’ve decided that this is either my favorite or second favorite on the album (the other contender being the opening track). It’s the vocal melodies accompanied with the piano that really does it for me on this song. It’s unbelievably accessible and has a lot of sing-along potential, which makes it extremely memorable. Once it’s in your head, it’s not leaving anytime soon.
The next tune is “Friends and Lovers,” and it starts off with a very similar feel to the first two songs. Again, an instant attention-grabber is singer Brandon Boyd’s vocal melodies. Incubus has always had extremely interesting lyrics, a theme that continues on this album (Make Yourself has some great examples of Boyd’s exceptional use of metaphors and imagery, by the way). I do like this song quite a bit, but my complaint is that there’s very little difference between the verses and choruses that it just seems to progress without really going anywhere. The melodies are quite similar throughout. The upside is that they’re good melodies. “Thieves” comes next, with a very different opening that quickly returns to the medium-paced sound of the rest of the tunes. The song has some fairly obvious political undertones, which I tend to dislike in most music. Overall, the lyrics are fairly easy to look past if that’s not something you’re into. The chorus is very catchy, and the subtle guitar work is nice especially since guitar is sparse on the first three tracks.
The next song is “Isadore,” and it starts up with some cool acoustic guitar work. The verses aren’t anything to write home about, pretty much on par with the previous two songs. The chorus, however, is once again where the song gets good. The pre-chorus has some degree of catchiness to it, but the chorus has a great vocal melody with a perfect accompanying guitar progression. This song actually has a fairly simple guitar solo in it, but knowing what guitarist Mike Einziger is capable of (“Sick Sad Little World,” anyone?), it’s bit disappointing. It does fit the song fairly well, though. The next song is another one of my favorites. “The Original” starts quietly and builds up to something a little less quiet, but it has a great groove and feels really ‘beachy,’ if that makes any sense. It definitely feels like a summertime, lying on a hammock at sunset kind of song. It’s very mellow and not as catchy as some of the other tunes, but the chorus is still quite memorable. As far as I’m concerned, the song just works – I can’t really think of a better way to put it.
“Defiance” is the next little ditty on the album. It clocks in at only two and a third minutes, and it is an acoustic tune with some very good vocal work. It leads well into the next song, “In the Company of Wolves,” which starts of with some guitar and keyboard playing an uplifting background for what can be described as ‘floaty’ singing by Brandon Boyd. It gets a little boring after a while, especially since there’s not much going on to distinguish it from the rest of the album. After about three minutes, however, the song changes quite significantly. After a slow breakdown followed by a dark new vocal melody, the guitar and keyboard return with a very hooky new riff – dark and simple, too. This continues for the rest of the song, with the music building more and more along the way. The song drags on a bit longer than it needs to, but the ending is a nice jam which I’m sure will be played out in concert.
The next song is a return to an older Incubus song. “Switchblade” has some cool guitar sounds in the background with a groovy beat going on in the foreground. The vocals have that older, heavier sound to them – fast-paced and well-suited to harder rock. It’s definitely the hardest rocking song on the album, though it’s really only heavy by comparison. I’d say the verses are catchier than the chorus, but the whole song is quite hooky. The debut single, “Adolescents,” comes next, and it also has an older sound to it. It reminds me a bit of the softer tunes on A Crow Left of the Murder. What I really like about this song is the return to time signature changes, which might be the why it recalls the aforementioned album. The song has a bit of a dark side to it combined with some upbeat parts, making it a very interesting listen. It’s definitely one of the more diverse songs on the album, and is deserving of being a single. Does it rank with the classics? I think it has its place, namely with the more recent hits like “Dig” and “Oil and Water.” The last tune is “Tomorrow’s Food,” which opens with some nice acoustic finger-picking and a strangely catchy and not catchy vocal melody. I guess the fact that it’s unique makes it memorable, though. Overall it’s a very strange song, and I’m not sure it was the best pick for album closer. However, it is a fairly interesting song that requires multiple listens to appreciate, I think. I’m not sure if I’m there yet.
It’s a very different direction for Incubus to go, but you can only make records like Make Yourself, Morning View, and A Crow Left of the Murder for so long before the well of creativity is dried up. The softer side of the band is a very striking difference, though I suppose it was hinted at by 2007’s Light Grenades, namely its singles. I like the album for what it is quite a bit. Compared to earlier work, I think I prefer the other albums (except Light Grenades). It’s without question one of the better albums of the year. Was there disappointment? Maybe; the idea of new Incubus made me expect the best album of the year, but I don’t think If Not Now, When? can live up to that title (it’s close though!). Would I recommend it? Yes, but only if you can handle the fact that it’s a softer collection. If you’re expecting Make Yourself heaviness, it’s not there. But the songwriting is as great as ever, and the collection is very enjoyable.
~The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music! Keep listening!