Thoughts From A Different Perspective: Incubus’ If Not Now, When?
by Charissa Lock @charissalock 11/17/2011
In every relationship, being honest from the very beginning is key. So when I consider a writer’s relationship with their readers, I’m going to follow the same approach. Here’s to honesty. Since Incubus started their musical inspiration on the world in 1991, I have never caught on to the phenomenon. I’m sure all these questions and disappointments are circling through your brain, as well as furrowed eyebrows and moments of disbelief. I can only apologize and say that it is due to never connecting with Brandon Boyd’s vocals. If I do not have this vocal connection, then no matter how wonderful everything is, I cannot force myself to be a fan.
Therefore, being asked to review Incubus’ newest album posed a problem. Not only did this mean I would have to listen to the entire album multiple times in order to formulate unbiased thoughts and ideas, I would also be doing so having no foundation of what has come before their seventh release, and I would be putting those thoughts out there for Incubus fans twenty years in the making. As much as this scared me, it had to be done. Yet, with so many fans there has to be something special about Incubus, so I kept an open mind while being introduced to Incubus’ If Not Now, When.
I write this review with a fresh outlook (I’m using the term fresh because it sounds really good in my favor), and having talked with fans of Incubus who have given me their extremely biased thoughts on the comparison between the other albums and If Not Now, When? I am going to give you my reaction to it as an album alone, and then I will discuss it in context to Incubus’ musical growth (I think we can all be thankful I have friends who like Incubus).
My first thoughts were, wow this is really chill music (my words exactly). I was only comparing the few singles I had heard from Incubus in the past with this entire album of very relaxed, and a more alternative rock than rock sound. After forcing myself to appreciate Boyd’s vocal talent for what it is, then picking up on the instrumentation, I actually began to think much more positively about this album than I thought I would. With a few listens underway, I began to pick up on a few things, one being how it reminded me of early 2000s rock. At first I was not sure why, and then I realized it was due to the lack of synths and keyboards. The ability for an album to be constructed mainly with our essentials (guitars, drums, and piano) is something we don’t tend to hear anymore. So much so, that I put this in the category of an album I could have heard in 2001. Rock, and alternative rock, more and more are following the synth/keyboard path. I am not for or against this; it was just something I had not realized before listening to Incubus’ newest release. After this epiphany I was able to hold respect for this album for keeping it with the basics.
With most of the tracks having softer instrumentation and not a lot of heavy head mashing, when “Switchblade” begins, you are forced to take full enjoyment of this moment. It takes you off guard and is fast and forceful. Clearly, this is one of my favorites on the album. Musically, I really enjoy “Friends and Lovers” for the guitar melody, touch of violins, and quiet choral background. Just think, if I really liked Boyd’s vocals, it would probably be my favorite song on the album (I am sad that this cannot be). “In the Company of Wolves,” is another great one, it begins very quiet –with Boyd in an almost whisper, a very retrospective feel. As it continues it takes a twist around three minutes in, almost becoming an entirely new song. Boyd’s whispers continue, but are a bit grainier, and as this seven minute, thirty-seven second song progresses the piano takes over to complete it. Another track I consider a favorite is “Defiance,” which is very Incubus-like. Listening to it, I am transported to a stadium, singing along with hundreds of others, with the feeling that we are all one. I have never been to an Incubus concert before, but I feel like I can assume the atmosphere if I were to be at one and they began playing “Defiance.” This atmosphere is captured in the last three tracks on the album where they have three live versions of their past singles (“Surface To Air,” “Dig,” and “Pardon Me”). This also adds to my respect for Incubus, since they are pretty fantastic live…as heard here.
So now that I have created a little place in my musical heart for If Not Now, When?, I was curious what other’s thought of the new Incubus album. I must say, the reaction was not what I had expected after coming to find enjoyment in it. There was lots of negative feedback about their new album from fans, who were all comparing the latest to the other six, saying it was due to the lack of heavy and typically intricate instrumentation. I could agree that this album does not have experimental and extraordinary musical implications, but the tracks involved are not boring, nor monotonous. Though after hearing this, I began to get a feeling that the songs did all seem like they were the more quiet tracks plucked out of past Incubus albums. That is, of course, me assuming a lot of things about their past albums. Luckily in this discussion, I was informed for the reasons behind Incubus’ decision to center on the softer side. It seems that Boyd wanted to focus more on the vocals, keeping things raw and emotional and having an emphasis on the story-telling aspect of the lyrics. Incubus has gotten to the point to where they have produced a lot of albums, made a lot of money off of these albums, and has every right to try out different things. Because of course, if not now, when?
If Boyd wants to be creative with his vocals and share personal thoughts and stories and the other band members (Mike Einziger, Jose Pasillas II, Chris Kilmore, and Ben Kenney) are willing to be a part of this creation, then they have every right. And coming from a fresh perspective, they do a pretty solid job of it. However, it does seem that fans appreciate when instrumentation is a bit heavier and there is a stronger focus on guitar and drum solos. Incubus fans should appreciate the band wanting to grow together. If Not Now, When? may not be your favorite approach, but this album definitely has a lot of positives with tracks that clearly possess the elements that make Incubus who they are.