Incubus fans expecting the band's popular brand of guitar rock are in for a shock with the group's seventh album, If Not Now, When?, released today. Listening to all twelve of the slow, concise power ballads here, one might even start to think they were listening to a Coldplay album.
Well, guitarist Mike Einzinger did warn fans in interviews that this record would be very different from anything else they'd ever done, that Incubus was moving away from its rock roots. And there's nary a real rocker to be found on If Not Now, When? The album's dominated by atmospheric, shimmering songs that don't ever flail into "experimental" territory, but do represent a big step in a new direction.
One complaint about this album has been its slow tempos and lack of Einziger's guitar chops. But during the five years since Incubus' last album, Light Grenades (2006), Einziger took classes in music composition, and it's really his attention to overall composition that shines here, particularly on tracks like "Adolescents," one of the most upbeat songs on the record. It's got an overall progressive rock sound boosted by soft psychedelic breakdowns, vocal harmony overdubs, and a refrain of "out of sight, out of mind" over spiraling guitars. Einziger does show his skills with a six-string a bit here, adding a beautifully crisp and clean guitar solo.
Singer Brandon Boyd has said this album's all about love and relationships, and his vocals sound great, even when he's singing "Baby, can I be the rabbit in your hat?" in a slightly tortured croon. That's a line from the album's single, "Promises, Promises," a piano-driven ballad with a deep, steady jazz bass line and a couple melodic breakdowns featuring dreamy guitars, jingling bells, and sprightly keys.
The band brought producer Brendan O'Brien, who's produced all seven of Incubus' records, back in for this album. In addition to Incubus, O'Brien's recorded everybody from Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots to Bruce Springsteen, and he perfectly captures Incubus' new sound -- as well as hints of their old sound on a couple tracks.
Again, there are no bona fide rock songs here, but two tracks will contain a familiar feel for fans -- "Switchblade," which drifts along on a giant chorus until ending with a psychedelic explosion, and "In the Company of Wolves," which boasts a rather gritty groove -- especially in contrast with the rest of the album.
Overall, If Now Now, When? is a good album, even if startling at first. Our suggestion for Incubus fans is to approach it with an open mind; pretend it isn't Incubus but some band you've never heard before. Don't expect anything in particular from the record, and you won't be disappointed. You might even be happily surprised.