If Not Now, When?
July 12, 2011
Seasoned alternative rockers Incubus recently released their seventh studio album If Not Now, When? last month after a prolonged break. Their previous release, Monuments and Melodies, is half a greatest hits album and half composed of new, unheard of tracks that was kind of a second album in itself. Neither the greatest hits nor the new songs made any real splash. 2006's Light Grenades, their last official studio album, garnered mixed reviews but was generally received well by their fans, if not a little less enthusiastically compared to some older stuff.
In the meantime, Brandon Boyd released a solo album, The Wild Trapeze, while guitarist Mike Einzinger suffered from repetitive carpal tunnel syndrome so severely that he underwent surgery. Unable to play guitar for an extended period of time, he enrolled at Harvard University to further study music and write his own orchestral composition.
Back together this past year playing some shows and working on their new album, Incubus has entered their third decade of releasing albums. It makes me feel old, honestly. (They have a song that was featured on a game for the original Playstation, which is now on Playstation360 and Wii - ha, take it up high on the Wii part when you say it... anyway stay with me.)
Expectations are always high for an Incubus release, and almost always they don't disappoint in one form or another.
If Not Now, When? takes a further step away from the harder edge that Incubus used to carry with them, which may be a disappointment to some of their fans; but this doesn't mean this album is a waste.
I acknowledge that I do like Incubus's harder stuff. I still listen to S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and Make Yourself relatively often, and I found the more time that passes, the more I enjoy A Crow Left of Murder.
First, let me say about this album that the quality and talent is still evident, as is the maturity in composition, which guitarist Mike Einzinger and Brandon Boyd have addressed as one of the driving themes of this album. The title track of If Not Now, When? opens with sweeping melodies and an open, warm feeling as Boyd ascends effortlessly with his voice to a melodic swaying croon.
The sound is fuller as well, since turn-table-ist/keyboarder Chris Kilmore has shouldered more of the musical burden this time around than on any album before. "Promises, Promises" creeps along at a slow pace and gives a feeling as if family reunion clips should be playing on a screen in the background.
Even given it's slower pace and lack of tension, there are still many bright spots on this album. "Thieves" is a wonderfully crafted piece and has a little more fuzz to it than many of the other slower numbers. Boyd serenades over a steady beat, preaching about the woes of the world, staying serious yet sincere. There is a really great breakdown in the middle of "Thieves" that gives it a quirky tone for a moment before it dips back into a chorus complemented by the clean, layered riffing of Einzinger.
"Defiance" sounds like one of their older acoustic songs from a previous album. It begins with just guitars and Boyd crooning effortlessly, as he's always done whether it is hard, serious, light or romantic, but the latter seems to be the driving theme of this album.
The track "In the Company of Wolves" is a very interesting track to me. It's a seven minute long piece that starts out like many of the songs on this album, with sweeping guitars accompanied by keyboards filling in to create a trickling harmonious melody. But something happens around the 3:10 mark; the song takes a surprisingly dark and serious turn. This is my favorite moment, hands down, on the album. An ominous guitar riff starts the shift, followed by brushstrokes of jazz piano; the sound keeps getting darker yet broader in its scope, adding a string section to its bill. The guitars get fuzzier while still keeping a marching pace, and Boyd quietly and beautifully sings just above a whisper, along with the bass and piano, culminating in a harmonic and fantastic piece of music that blew me away. If this type of sound was the dominant new direction, I'd infinitely delighted as a longtime fan.
Another highlight for the album is the first single, "Adolescents," which I'm sure many have already heard. This is actually one of the more serious toned songs on the album, just to give you an idea of how light this album actually is. Boyd has always maintained his ability to craft catchy choruses playing off his smooth croon and soaring voice to guide him above the music, delivering clear and warmly intricate lyrics. Although, the lyrics and theme of this album gets bogged down in love and romance too often for my listening tastes, as I prefer him ranting about people sitting at green lights forever.
Incubus has been around long enough to have the right to go in any direction they want. They knew they were asking a lot of their fans with the album beforehand, as stated by Einzinger in an interview for Noisecreep.com. So at least as we should expect, Incubus is very conscious of their sound and has a deliberate direction, whether it will satisfy a majority of their fans or not. Don't get me wrong: the warmth of this album is open and inviting, and I will bet that those of the female persuasion will gravitate towards many songs.
The talent and musical quality is always evident with a band like Incubus, and they have reached the point in their career where they are all branching out on their own, discovering different sounds as well as the things in life that keep them individually driven. In the end, this is their soft album, not acoustic or like a Led Zeppelin III type record; but a laid back and relaxing album that, if when looking at their catalog as a whole, is a perfectly logical and acceptable fit.
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Reviewer Bio - Tim Rosini is part of the editorial team at Onlinerock team. Having a background in English literature with a concentration in creative writing, Tim found himself working for various magazines and websites after moving out to the west coast last summer. Having the ability to adapt his focus from business writing to creative fiction he has found a great place to exercise his passion for music on the onlinerock website.