My own reaction on hearing that Incubus’s latest release Light Grenades hit #1 on the Billboard 200:
“Wait, what? There’s a new Incubus album out?”
Like many of the fans that once brought Incubus to prominence on the modern rock charts, I used to think of an upcoming Incubus release as a big deal—maybe this will be the album on which they return to the glory days, the days of S.C.I.E.N.C.E., the days when they were as adventurous as they were talented. These were the days when they thrashed as much as they emoted, the days when jazz showed up as often as hip-hop, elements augmented onto a breakneck rock/metal sound with an incredibly talented smoothed-out Mike Patton-wannabe vocalist tacked onto the top of it all. It was a formula, and not a particularly original one, really, but when that formula is churning out classics like “Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song)” and the utterly brilliant “Nebula”, it’s obviously producing something worthwhile.
Of course, things took a decidedly mainstream (not to mention decidedly ordinary) turn with Make Yourself, and the wait for the new S.C.I.E.N.C.E. began. And the wait continued when Morning View was released. By the time A Crow Left of the Murder arrived, it had become awfully obvious that waiting for the next S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was going to be as futile as waiting for the next Joltin’ Joe-level hit streak—not in this lifetime, kids.
As if to provide a happy sort of closure, Incubus has returned with comparatively little fanfare (no current wave of fame, no lead single controversy) with Light Grenades, a surprisingly solid album that also happened to top Billboard’s album charts in its first week of release. As if to symbolize the canyon-esque drop in exposure the band has received compared to their moment in the sun, the album dropped from #1 to #37 in only its second week on the big chart.
It’s a shame, too, because Light Grenades might actually be the album that could make people stop wishing that Incubus was the band it used to be. There’s a renewed fire in the songwriting here, a rejuvenated sound that manages to not get bogged down in overdone sonics, to not become trapped by adult contemporary-ready pandering. It’s a sound perfectly exemplified by “Anna Molly” (one of Brandon Boyd’s all-too-cute plays on words—get it? “Anomaly”?), the first single, a perfectly breakneck bit of ear-friendly radio rock that’s just pushy enough to sound edgy on VH1. Boyd sounds as Patton-esque in his modern rock operatics as ever, and the band has perfected the transition from studio-friendly perfectionists to intentionally messy well-produced garagers. The balls-to-the-wall title track and the refreshingly experimental, suitably twisty “Pendulous Threads” are extensions of this sound, not only singable (or at least “chantable”, as it were), but solid in the headphones as well.
Even so, as has been the case on the last few albums, where Incubus truly shines is on the slower tunes, where the musicians involved get to spread their wings a bit without the constraint of having to play as fast as possible. Guitarist Mike Eizinger’s riff on “Dig” is delightfully unconventional, even as the song itself is typical AOR balladry, and Jose Pasillas’ drums on the beautiful “Paper Shoes” are what keep the song from descending into dull drudgery.
Add in the fact that Incubus is actually finding success with more adventurous moments like the seriously groovy “Rogues” (in which the incorporation of keyboards is both subtle and necessary) and the spacy, spacious opener “Quicksand” (the perfect introductory lead-in to the rollicking “A Kiss to Send Us Off”), and it’s clear that Light Grenades actually deserves all the exposure it’s just not going to get.
Incubus has never made a perfect album—no, not even S.C.I.E.N.C.E.—and Light Grenades, truth told, is far from perfect. “A Kiss to Send Us Off” sounds a little too much like it’s aping Foo Fighters, both “Earth to Bella” tracks sound forced and disjoint, and there’s still a little too much in the way of faceless middle-of-the-road rock ‘n roll. Even so, there’s not a single track on Light Grenades that’s truly revolting, and plenty that I’ve already mentioned that are surprisingly good. Even as its release was a quiet surprise, it’s not an album that will be easily forgotten.