If Not Now, When?

Incubus

Sony, 2011

http://www.incubushq.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/20/2017

Five years separated Light Grenades and its follow-up If Not Now, When?, but the distance feels longer between what Incubus used to be and what they became. No matter what era of the band you favor – the pop-alt-rock of Morning View, the early days of SCIENCE – you will be surprised when the five-minute title track lopes into view to start off this record, sounding like nothing so much as a Christian rock anthem from your local megachurch band mixed with a U2-arena rock earnestness.

Yes, Virginia, the young guys who recorded “You Will Be A Hot Dancer” in 1995 are now singing straightforward, melodic, midtempo songs full of warmth called “Friends And Lovers.” Some bands slide into middle age awkwardly, like Metallica, but these guys sidestep the landmine by flat-out reversing the sound and approach that made their name in the first place. Hell, even Train is edgier than this.

Not that quieter moments are anathema to Incubus – some of their best songs, like “Drive” and “Mexico,” are acoustic – and the guys have always had a knack for melodic pop lurking under the surface. But every album prior to this one also had a sense of urgency as a rule, which made the slower songs that much more potent. An album full of slow midtempo pop-rock songs is just dull, and without the hooks or the urgency, the disc just fails to catch fire – with a few notable exceptions, all on the second half of the album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Part of the reason is the seeming lack of band interplay; rarely do these feel like true band efforts instead of Brandon Boyd solo pieces, and without a mandate to do something different the guys end up reworking the same tempo and approach over and over. I started to nod off somewhere around the gray wash of “The Original,” with visions of 1997’s “Battlestar Scralatchtica” in my head, wondering where this band had gone.

If you can make it through the first half of the record, though, things get better on the back 9. “Defiance” is an upfront Boyd vocal and an acoustic guitar only; at two minutes, it’s a necessary break and a lead-in to the seven-minute story-song “In The Company Of Wolves,” which starts confidently in a uniformity with the rest of the album but then abruptly shifts to a finger-popping-bass midsection with only drums and piano accompanying Boyd’s voice from afar. The guitar drops out completely as Boyd intones his words, coming back in only at key times for some feedback-drenched color before the whole thing coalesces into a noisy whole.

This then gives way to the old-school “Switchblade,” the only time in which Incubus tries to sound like themselves. But it’s hard not to feel that this is either a leftover song or a bone to fans to keep them interested while the new direction is explored. It’s all good fun, even with the sort-of rap in the verses. “Adolescents” is solid, too, recalling the multi-tracked vocal work and roiling oceanfront feel of Morning View, never really comfortably settling and being all the better for it.

The intense closer “Surface To Air” is the second-best song here and would have made for a much better opener, to be honest. Boyd repeatedly sings “This is an attempt to connect,” but to whom his band is trying to connect remains a mystery, which ultimately sinks the bulk of this album. Worth seeking out for the three good songs described above if you’ve ever liked this band or really liked Boyd’s solo album, but on the whole, this is a missed opportunity.

Rating: C-

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