Review Summary: Plain and simple- this is mainstream rock done right.
I don’t really like posters all that much; they’re kind of a waste of money, especially for me, because I don’t spend any time in my room. However, my brother loved posters in his adolescent years, and he had an Incubus poster from the Make Yourself days. To him, Make Yourself was one of the best albums created in mainstream music, and for a short time I agreed with him. How can you go wrong with a band that possesses a tight, accessible rock sound with the ability to take everything down and lay down a sweet groove, all while keeping an intensity and never losing sight of what they are trying to achieve with this album? Not to mention Brandon Boyd’s unique lyrics, which he sings near perfectly, and the fantastic bass skills of Dirk Lance. Make Yourself may be Incubus’ finest work, the perfect blend of their aggression and their funk-rock roots. I understand why people find this a mediocre album in the grand scheme of things. It’s not technically challenging. It didn’t change the face of modern music forever; although it finished the 20th century off well by producing some singles with some real staying power (Drive
, Pardon Me
, and Stellar
). But this might just be the most well executed blend of everything going around in the modern rock scene in 1999.
That poster I mentioned in the opening is in my room now. It features that Transformers like artwork found in the album jacket, with a robot composed of all different parts. This represents the amount of influences and sounds incorporated into Incubus’ sound. It isn’t immediately apparent because it is so well blended, but there are the funky grooves from bassist Dirk Lance, the punk energy of drummer Jose Pasillas, the clear DJ cuts screaming from DJ Kilmore, and guitarist Mike Einzinger’s ability to switch styles on the fly. Although a hybrid of many different things, Make Yourself is a cohesive album, with a defining concept of non-conformity and acting upon ideas. The album’s message, one of resisting oppression and “seeing the sky”, is a break from the sarcasm and humor often used by singer Brandon Boyd in his earlier days.
All of those ideas are great, but there are plenty of bands that have tried it and failed, just creating a strange, ineffective sound. But even greater than the mix of sounds and the great album ideas is the execution. The album brews in its intensity and still, it comes down in intensity and rises back to its normal height in the blink of an eye. Never before Make Yourself had Incubus tried to be subtle. To this point, they were anything but. However, The Warmth
serves as the first Incubus song ever where they took the time to slow things down and make something subtle. And it worked, maybe better than any other song on the album. The song begins with sampled whale cries, definitely an atmosphere setter. As the bass and drums sets in and the Smashing Pumpkins-esque guitar line sings, the song brews in its quiet, laid back groove. There is a good sense of growth, making sure that the longest song on the album does not drag. The simple rhythmic bridge offers a change of feels, as the rest of the song relies on the same groove and chord progression, just different articulation. Brandon’s lyrics are uplifting and depressing at the same time, singing that most of the world is a cold, heartless place, but there is a small section of life, “the warmth” that is a calm place.
is an anomaly on Make Yourself. The definitive sound to the album is much more aggressive and generally heavier. Pardon Me
, a single that found immense success, still finding time on the radio airwaves 8 years later, best describes that sound. It features a rocking riff, simple yet still perfectly executed and written. The verse brings things down and Brandon does more of a rap than singing. With the typical quiet verse-heavy chorus structure, the song works out perfectly as a single. DJ Kilmore’s turntable work on the song adds variety and substance, enough to keep things interesting throughout. Pardon Me
is the best single to come off of Make Yourself, with its catchy riffs and execution. Elsewhere on the album, the sound is executed with less success, such as Privilege
, Nowhere Fast
, and Out From Under
. Nowhere Fast
is the worst of these, simply not executing the catchy hooks the way the other songs do.
Whether it’s the acoustic Drive
, the spacey Stellar
, or the ethnic percussion-filled Clean
that gets you, something about this album appeals to just about everyone. It just so happens that I love just about all of it, which makes me have a higher opinion about this album than most. It isn’t the most technical or challenging album ever, it’s definitely a step up from the general mainstream rock scene. Dirk Lance is the best bassist in mainstream music, challenged only by Flea, but even Flea does not have the big bass tone or the creativity of Dirk Lance. As proven in the jam Battlestar Scralatchica
, he blends better with his guitarist as well. Einzinger and Lance had a chemistry between them seen in few guitarist/bassist combos. Make Yourself, as a whole, is a true mainstream rock album. It has great singles, it branches off into new territory, and it derives from musical and lyrical clichés. Don’t throw it off just because it is mainstream, take a listen.