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The First Underwhelming Incubus Album
on July 31, 2012
When I asked a friend what he thought about IF NOT NOW, WHEN?, he replied "I've always wondered when Incubus would release a bad record, and it looks like this album's title gives me the answer."
Incubus has made a healthy career of trapping forward thinking alternative rock music into digestible melodies. Before this album, the band's 2006 release LIGHT GRENADES ranked among the band's best. Incubus showed no signs of slowing down. Five years after the release of LIGHT GRENADES, the band followed up with IF NOT KNOW, WHEN? While Incubus's albums have all largely deviated from one another, this album represents a stark change in the band's sound. The creative hallmarks that framed past albums have been replaced with a more "adult alternative" sound. It's certainly a more mature move, but it's one that doesn't always pay off.
To initially promote the album, Incubus released "Adolescents" as their first lead single. The song is decidedly one of the heaviest on the album. The biggest risk that Incubus has taken with this record is that they've not taken any risks. Many of these tracks are straight-forward, down-tempo ballads. The majority of these songs, especially in the first half of the album's run time, sound like sedated versions of A CROW LEFT OF THE MURDER outtakes; there are several points in the album where the music feels as if it is moving in slow motion. Some of these more mellow songs are quite good, the first two tracks "If Not Now, When?" and "Promises, Promises" begin the album with considerable promise. Unfortunately, the formula introduced here isn't improved on through the album's run time. Gone is Mike Einziger's manic guitarwork, gone is Ben Kenney's noodling rival bass, gone is Brandon Boyd's lyrical wordplay. In the five years since LIGHT GRENADES, Incubus has put on their serious faces.
There are a few interesting points on IF NOT NOW, WHEN? though. "Switchblade" sticks out like a painfully sore thumb -- the vocal melody doesn't suit the song, and the song doesn't suit the album. "In the Company of Wolves" edges towards progressive-rock territory, and it ends in a fantastic and energetic climax. Unfortunately, the ending of "In the Company of Wolves" feels like one of the only moments that Incubus is feeling anything at all. The most frustrating thing about this release is that Incubus's new sound has potential -- it has so much potential. They aren't able to capitalize on it here though.
Ever since Incubus's initial FUNGUS AMONGUS LP, I haven't been let down by an Incubus album -- until now. I will repeat: it's not because I don't like the direction the band has taken; the songs here just don't seem to have received the same attention-to-detail that past releases have. Instead, the band sounds to be honing in on one precise, mellow sound, as opposed to their usual willingness to experiment and play in the studio. Essential tracks to sample/download: "If Not Now, When?" "In the Company of Wolves," and "Adolescents." IF NOT NOW, WHEN? certainly isn't a bad album, but it's a bad album for Incubus.