It's better than 2006's Light Grenades, but what does that really mean?
I’ve always been a sucker for Incubus. Even after Light Grenades’ horrific implosion of overzealous self-production, I gave the SoCal residents the benefit of the doubt, not only because they made four awesome albums in a row but because I also had this sneaking suspicion they knew they had failed. Sure, “Dig” was a radio success, but in interviews, Brandon Boyd just seemed to have that embarrassed look in his eye that said, “I’m sorry for ‘Earth to Bella’ and admit those are the worst lyrics I’ve ever written.”
So when Incubus released their new single “Adolescents” on their website earlier this year, I was hopeful. It’s been almost five years, I told myself. This time they’ll do it right. So I listened...yet I felt nothing. Boyd wasn’t kidding; “out of sight, out of mind.” Nothing resonated with me. I clicked out of the window and rechecked Facebook for the thirtieth time that hour.
Three months later, I’ve finally listened to the entire album, yet once again all I have to say 11 songs later is: I feel nothing. Which is still better than the anger and frustration I felt toward Light Grenades (Have I mentioned it was an abomination?), but this time I've merely flatlined, and that can't be good. Several analyses later, I think I've discovered what I find so wrong with If Not Now, When? (and this is a first for me with Incubus): The music just doesn’t excite me. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just that I’m not blown away by one single song. Not even the opener, and Incubus have always begun their albums with kickass tracks (even “Quicksand”). This time through, they just coast the entire way.
So bare with me for a moment as I explain to you in a nutshell my problem with rating this album. Listening to it is sort of akin to watching the Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It; there are enjoyable moments, but it doesn’t hold a candle to anything Sandler did between 1995-2001. Not only that, but I think the only reason I even think I like Just Go With It is because it was released after the three arguably worst movies the guy's ever made. (SIDE NOTE: If ever there was an argument to be made for why Hollywood execs should stick their noses in every project, Grown Ups is the perfect example. All five of those actors making a movie together should not fail!). In the same manner, I feel as though If Not Now, When? has me on the bubble only because it was saved face by its apocryphal predecessor, making its rating “average” at best.
Now, I realize the immorality in basing this record's rating on a comparison to its shitty counterpart, so I've decided to ask myself one final question to ultimately make my decision: If this were the album Incubus put out in 2006, would I have hated it as much as I hated Light Grenades?
Well, as I stated, the album begins with its worst start of Incubus' career. A percussion beat marches as Boyd brings his thoughts and aspirations to the table: “Stand up and face the bright light / Don’t hide your eyes / It’s time.” The question is, time for what? Political change? A new direction for the band? Boyd to settle down and get married? Whatever it is, I'm just hoping Ben Kinney slaps some awesome bass riffs along the way.
I don't get that until track nine, though. On four of the next five songs, Boyd complains about his love problems with lyrics only slightly better than “Love Hurts.” “I’ve seen that porcelain shell / Your exoskeleton / And I feel like we’d walk well together / Because in the end, we are friends and lovers.” I'd like to note that these benign words would never bother me if they were accompanied by Mike Einziger's nasty arpeggios, but all the guitarist has to offer here are simple chord structures and piano notes, so I'm left bored. (Unless he's saving his jazz skills for a Time Lapse Consortium reunion, I'm pissed he's gotten so soft.)
In the album's second half, my attention is finally sparked, and I raise my brow. Three-and-a-half minutes into the boring four-chord effort of "In the Company of Wolves," we’re hit with a spacey, synth jam that channels Floyd’s “Meddle” and makes me wonder why the hell Incubus didn't make the whole album to sound like this. On “Switchblade,” Ben Kenney pumps out the bass riff I've wanted, and from there, we go right back to boring Incubus with “Adolescents” and the final track, “Tomorrow’s Food,” which closes out the album on a haunting note. Einziger’s Into the Wild-esque finger-plucking and the string section that accompanies it add even more weight to Boyd’s terrifying words, as he reminds us that we’re all shredding each other to be bits within this society. (Which answers the question: It's time to fight back! Don't be tomorrow's food!)
So, I'm left with my conclusion: If this were Incubus' first attempt without attachment to a label, I'd be pissed. Not as pissed as I was at Light Grenades, but nonetheless, pissed. Simplicity isn't always a bad thing; "Here In My Room" is a great example of that, but here, however, Incubus just seem lazy. The cover depicts high wire artist Philippe Petit balancing on a tight rope, but this seems all too dreamy on Incubus' part. They're no longer teetering on the edge anymore; with this record, Boyd and Co. just fell hard.