Incubus Re-examines Adolescence

Photo Courtesy of Epic

For this critic, Incubus has been like the Harry Potter series was for a lot of people in our generation; the first album I ever really latched myself onto was 1997’s “S.C.I.E.N.C.E.,” and from there our relationship only grew. As their sound refined and changed from funk metal craziness into the sweeping tidal waves of effervescent sound that it is today, so I changed as well. And now, as I move through my fourth year of college, they have bestowed upon us both their seventh studio album and a question that seems to plague the everyday lives of many college students: “If Not Now, When?”

An astonishing five years after their last release, 2006’s “Light Grenades,” this newest album shows a side of Incubus seldom seen in the past. Almost all of their past albums had at least one song rooted much deeper in emotional expression than the others, though the real core of their albums’ merit always consisted of solid jams and fast, consistent rock tunes. With “If Not Now, When?” the band has taken their focus in a different direction. Most of the songs reflect a slower, more paced feel; as a result, the album as a whole seems much more emotional. In other words, it’s the make-out album of the century.

Though it isn’t fair to dismiss the entire album as a romantic deviance from the band’s usual formula, the first three tracks of the album certainly embody a change in direction. Whereas Incubus’ earlier albums may have used the first tracks as the exploding gunshot to signal the start of the album, the first three songs on “If Not Now” gently steer the listener into reminiscence and romance.

“Promises, Promises,” the second track of the album, beckons an old lover, while the third track, “Friends and Lovers,” commiserates the differences between the platonic and romantic. Both are tributes to a lover, as is the sixth track of the album, “The Original.” This song praises a lover who is “the original / Always were / Always will be.” At the end of this exaltation comes an eruption of halftime brilliance, a broken down rhythm like the slow-motion playback of a teenage romance.

But underneath those upfront tones of emotional articulation are a backbone of messages geared toward the past. To call this album reflective would be a gross understatement of just how rooted in the past these songs are. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the 10th track, “Adolescents.” With lyrics like “I know I’m not alone / Just adolescents, you and I,” and “Out of sight, out of mind / We’re out of time / We’re out of mind,” the song is clearly a look back on careless times, perhaps with nostalgia at the loss of the freedom that youth left behind.

The overall message of the album isn’t one specifically geared toward that forlorn nostalgia, though. Much like reminiscing about one’s own past, thoughts of a happier time are always accompanied by those events that transformed euphoria into depression: breakups, hurt, loss. These moments of transition from what could have been the happiest times of one’s life into the most saddening are embodied in one song in particular, “In the Company of Wolves.”

At over seven and a half minutes long, “Wolves” is the longest track on the album, though it’s no wonder why Incubus chose to keep this behemoth in its entirety. The song starts out almost choral in the light, brightly lit ballad of the boy inside left behind by an aging man. Halfway through the song, however, the mood turns dark as the shrill call of strings pulls the listener down into the dark cave of this metaphorical wolf den. From there, a nightmarish dusk descends and we are left with a disturbing reality: What turns a boy into a man is not always beautiful and idyllic; here, youth is torn out of him. Instead of being raised by wolves, his innocence is savagely devoured by them.

Despite what would seem like a destitute conclusion, the first and last tracks form a much different conclusion than the torn innocence or romantic nostalgia that the rest of the album embodies. While the title track extends the quintessential question of whether to move on or stay dormant, the last song on the album, “Tomorrow’s Food,” concludes the album in a beautiful but sparing tune with a clear message. “We are all tomorrow’s food today,” Boyd croons into an ascending harmony, before the song fades into a sweeping string denouement.

Although the explosive gunshot is missing from the beginning of the album, perhaps it is this trigger that the band means to pull in the future; while a haunting question on the precipice of the rest of one’s life, “If Not Now, When?” is only the beginning of what comes after the album.

Rating:  4.5/5 Stars