Incubus has had an incredible arc over their career. The funky, turntable-heavy S.C.I.E.N.C.E. turned heads in an era of mu metal bands like KoRn and Limp Bizkit while Make Yourself did that one or two better. I certainly have my favorite albums from the California-based rock quintet, but each one is its own individual adventure as the band tackles different styles and dynamics. It’s been almost five years since Light Grenades landed, ending up as my favorite album that year, and the well of new music has been nearly bone dry since then. So, how does a refreshed, mellower Incubus come off after half a decade on hiatus?
If Not Now, When? is intended to be a romantically-themed compilation and it shows. The tone here is mature, not just in the sense that these guys were rapping and scratching tracks at a point, but their sound is much more studied and textured now. Vocalist Brandon Boyd’s lyrics have always been intriguing (“To resist is to piss in the wind, anyone who does will end up smelling.” from “Out From Under” on Make Yourself), but it’s here that is vocal presence is probably at its greatest. He soars over the opening title track, which sounds like an idyllic theme for the Great American Movie. There’s a cinematic feel all around as they experiment with a galaxy of instruments and compositions. Also a highlight is the back half of “In The Company Of Wolves”, which is nested on a catchy hook that sounds pulled from a groovy Transylvania party. Typically, Incubus singles are usually some of the weakest on the disc, but after the impressive “Dig”, and “Love Hurts” from their last disc, “Adolescents” doesn’t disappoint. Incubus has always been vaguely political, so it’s interesting to hear Boyd’s rant against the WASP power base that runs the country on “Thieves”.
It’s been interesting to see the band go on these angular juts toward musical maturity, something that really came across when Brendan O’Brien took over production duties starting with 2004’s A Crow Left Of The Murder. There are no heavy, head banging songs here, there’s no strong “play this on loop forever” track. No “Megalomaniac”, no “Anna Molly”, no “Pardon Me”. They said they were doing something different and, well, here they are. As a result, the middle of the album comes off as uniformly mushy (as opposed to the random-ish “Earth to Bella” tracks on Light Grenades) with some tracks failing to register in my memory as I’ve had the album on loop for hours. There are points where they aim for a classic rock feel between the acoustic guitar plucks and wall of vocals from “Tomorrow’s Food”, “Promises, Promises”, and “Friends and Lovers”. Incubus is a band that’s far more Coldplay now than the angsty kids we knew on Make Yourself. While this isn’t their best disc, it’s great that they’re experimenting, trying new things, but couldn’t they have rocked out a little bit more?