This week may see the official release of Incubus’ seventh studio album but myself and many other fans heard the record in its entirety almost three months ago.
As I returned into a grey and misty London from a long weekend in Paris back in May, I streamed the band’s first single online from my phone. Adolescents’ sombre tone and moody chords mirrored my environment entirely as I left the murky English Channel. The track oozed Incubus’ signature sound, particularly from the Make Yourself and Morning View eras.
Although met with eagerly anticipating ears, I was surprised not to hear the U-turn in the band’s direction I had come to expect from them. Incubus has been my favourite band ever since I first heard Drive on MTV2 at 13 years old. I rushed out to buy Morning View on the day of its release and then worked my way back and collected every previous record down to the jungle-funk experimentation of Fungus Amongus.
What I have always loved about Incubus, aside from their thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics and superior quality of music, is how unafraid they are to take risks and experiment with their sound. Influential finger prints from the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be heard all over their debut release, followed by an exploration of nu-metal on their follow-up, S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
It was in 1999 however when Incubus seemed to really find their own sound with the double-platinum Make Yourself. The album, one of my favourites of all time, featured three of the bands most commercially successful singles, Pardon Me, Stellar and Drive, which all reached the top three of the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Morning View followed; the dreamy career definer that saw the band dive into their most experimental territories yet with the epic Aqueous Transmission, an Eastern-influenced track that tells the story of a lone traveller floating down a river in a boat complete with two full minutes of cricket sounds. The band had proved they were clearly not just any rock band.
Since Morning View, Incubus have released two more studio albums, A Crow Left of the Murder and Light Grenades, followed by the customary “greatest hits” record, Monuments and Melodies. Since then, Incubus have been on a hiatus with each of the band members focusing on their own individual projects. Front man Brandon Boyd released his first solo record last year, The Wild Trapeze, which saw him playing most of the instruments and producing the entire album, while lead guitarist Mike Einziger went to Harvard Music school to study composition.
It has been five long years since Light Grenades, the last full length studio album by the band, which was by far my least favourite of theirs. Whether it was due to a drastic shift in my personal music taste at the time or simply the drastic changes in my life generally; that album somehow just missed the mark with me. For a band that always seemed to put exactly what I was feeling into words, I felt completely out of sync with them at this time.
Their latest effort has more than made up for this in my eyes however, and once again I am reminded why I truly call this band my favourite. The title track itself sums up my current head space and the general spirit of the times entirely. Incubus are well and truly back to ask the burning question:
If Not Now, When?
It had barely been a fortnight after arriving home from Paris and first hearing Incubus’ brand new single when I discovered someone – allegedly from within the band’s record label Sony – had leaked the full album online. At first I tried to refrain from downloading it, wanting to do the noble number-one-fan thing and wait for my copy to arrive in the post. However in the end the temptation proved too strong and I had to have a listen. In a way it feels strange to only be writing a review of the record now after playing it almost every day for the last three months. Conversely, I feel enough time has passed for me to really get my head around the new release and be able to formulate a vindicated opinion on it.
As it happens, first single Adolescents was really not an indication of the band’s latest reinvention, and in fact they couldn’t have taken a more drastic U-turn. If Not Now, When? sees the band take a complete departure from their past, mostly sounding like an entirely different band altogether, with this more refined and spacious work of art. Kicking off with the slow and ambitious title track, If Not Now, When? sees Boyd open the record with the blockbuster verse that speaks of self-discovery: “I have waited / dined on ashes / swung from chandeliers / and climbed Everest / but none of it’s got me / close to this…” This enthralling, almost spiritual introduction is followed by: “I’ve waited all my life / if not now when will I?”
Next is the band’s second single from the release, Promise Promises. A clear example of the bands longing to once again explore new ground with a poppy burst of fresh air that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Elton John record. Friends and lovers slows things down again but sticks to the same bouncy formula and acts as the love track from this era that Love Hurts did on Light Grenades.
Stand out tracks for me on the album are The Original and In the Company of Wolves. In the former, Boyd’s vocals sound more beautiful than ever and perfectly compliment the new simplistic techniques Einziger has picked up from his music studies. In the latter, the band experiment with a contrasting light to darkness feel, while Boyd seems to tell a story of a boy journeying from boyhood to manhood while being raised by wolves.
Adolescents, although fantastic seems to stand out like a sore thumb against the quieter, softer songs that make up If Not Now, When? Tomorrows Food closes the album with a reflective, accomplished feel that deals with the notion of aging and putting the past behind you: “There’s no such thing as the good old days / the older we all get / the better we all were…”This line seems to sum up the latest chapter in Incubus’ evolution, particularly following the majority of their fans’ reaction to their latest offering. When I saw the band play recently at a secret gig in Kentish Town they barely played any of their new music, focusing predominately on their vast back-catalogue. I just hope this was not to keep the majority of their fans happy as I am so looking forward to seeing the band presenting us with live versions of their new artistic accomplishments.
Maybe there will never be an album that goes by where fans won’t be longing for the next S.C.I.E.N.C.E or Make Yourself, eager to relive their high school days that were filled with funk and metal. However, as Incubus’ sound and vision matures and they take the next step in their long journey along the river, we too must learn to evolve with them and keep an open mind to wherever they decide to take us next. There have been many previous moments and melodies that this unique band have presented us with and undoubtedly there will be many more. However the time is once again now for Incubus and as always: it is a privilege to be a part of it.
If Not Now, When? is out tomorrow on Epic Records.