Incubus are one of those bands that have a select (although extensive) group of fans that believe they are the best to have ever existed. To the uninitiated, the name conjures images of thrash and death metal. This album is proof that those assumptions are entirely wrong.
Despite being placed in the Metal sections of music shops, Incubus have always focused on melodies over noise. Each album has shifted the sonic arrangements towards a softer sound, If Not Now, When? the most extreme example of this.
The 5 year hiatus they took in between albums has also been significant. Guitarist Michael Einziger went to Harvard to read Music and Physics, drummer Jose Pasillas had a child, bassist Ben Kenney worked on solo projects and toured, DJ Kilmore spent time honing his skills on a Hammond B3 Organ and vocalist Brandon Boyd fell in love and spent time reconnecting with his visual artistic side.
Each of these individual pursuits are reflected here, with Einziger composing calmer, more measured riffs and playing more piano, Pasillas’ drum beats are an example of restraint, the basslines tight and subdued, Kilmore inserting melodic keys throughout, giving the sound a more textured feel and Brandon Boyd’s lyrics being more overtly concerned with romantic notions.
Musically this album is near faultless, every song a pleasure to listen to, but entirely against most fans’ expectations of a return to a Morning View/Make Yourself sound.
As always Brandon’s vocals are phenomenal, showing the range and depth few rock singers can dream of, carrying this slower and softer sound in a way others would most certainly struggle with. The opening title track is a showcase in searing vocal ability and a beautiful introduction to this new sound. Such a strong intro ushers the new approach in subtly. What is surprising however, and slightly disappointing, is the lack of depth in some of the lyrics.
It would be easy to say that the overly romantic leanings are to blame, but throughout Incubus’ discography are examples of beautifully written love songs, Admiration, Southern Girl, Echo and many more. So what gives?
It seems to be a reliance on cliché and simple imagery; “I was lost, and now I am found.” Choruses lack the punch of former efforts too, but are solid.
Despite this disappointment, the songs as wholes are enjoyable. Thieves evoke comparisons to mainstream Kings of Leon, but infinitely better. Friends and Lovers is the most successful example of the simplified lyricism, the sentiments relayed are believable, earnest and fulfilling and sung with conviction. Michael’s guitar work is also reminiscent of In Rainbows era Radiohead which is most certainly a compliment. In the Company of Wolves has a first listen wow factor, due to the inclusion of a Portishead-esque breakdown, giving the bass and keys room to flex and impress in ways not so overtly given throughout the rest of the album. The standout track however has to be lead single Adolescents, pleasantly harkening back to the Morning View sound with a new edge. The organic song structure gives the song a natural energy, harnessed and projected by Brandon’s vocals.
If Not Now When? suffers from a mix of expectation and the comparison to previous releases. This is not a poor album, nor is it disappointing. Quite simply it’s just different from everything Incubus fans are used to, maybe even want, despite the strong indication of this sonic shift throughout the years. As a standalone album, it’s hard to fault it and first time listeners of Incubus will undoubtedly derive much pleasure from it immediately.
If anything, this albums symbolises the maturity of a band comprising late 30 year olds, but long time Incubus fans can’t help but feel that they are too young to feel old. Despite this, whatever negative initial response they may have, will, in time, be replaced by appreciation, when the finer and more complex elements bring themselves to the fore.