Review Summary: Shockingly lethargic, bewilderingly mediocre.
Oh dear. Just as surely as Coldplay did, just as surely as Kings of Leon did, and just as surely as Audioslave did for a couple of singles, Incubus have turned into U2.
Perhaps you might not think of that as a bad thing. U2 aren't anywhere near as bad as their haters make out, after all, and it's only natural that Incubus are maturing - anybody expecting another S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
from a band that formed 20 years ago and that has an average age of 35 is kidding themselves. Yet it's hard to defend If Not Now, When?
any more than that, and it's not much of a defence.
The biggest problem this record has is that Incubus have two major creative forces in their ranks, and neither of them sounds comfortable here. Brandon Boyd is a wildly inconsistent lyricist, and occasionally a pretty dumb one, but that's exactly what makes him so charming as a singer - he gives the impression of somebody that's just throwing every idea they have at the nearest wall and seeing what sticks. He could just as easily come up with a blinder of a lyric as one that makes you cringe, and seeing how he gets on and how good his hit-to-shi
t ratio is has always been one of the main appeals of an Incubus album. The problem that the material on If Not Now, When?
presents him with is that it forces him to be more demure, more restrained. That struggle between what Boyd does naturally and what he feels like he needs to do for the good of the song plays out throughout the entire album, and never does so with satisfactory results - either he cuts loose with his words and sounds completely out of place, or he reigns himself in and renders himself utterly average, losing everything that made him so charismatic and entertaining in the first place.
Mike Einziger, the other creator in this band, has similar problems, yet his are even more damaging to the album and to the band's sense of identity. While Boyd is still out front, struggling in open view, Einziger is completely anonymous; the guitars lines on this album could have been written and played by just about any guitarist in the world. Again, the charitable way to explain is to say he's 'playing for the song'. Yet in doing that, Einziger seems to have mistaken subtlety for meekness. He leaves no audible imprint on this album - and if you don't think of that as unacceptable, try comparing his contributions here to John Frusciante's work on Californication
, Stadium Arcadium
, and By the Way
- all albums that If Not Now, When?
seems desperate to emulate, and all albums that Incubus should have paid much more attention to before attempting this. It's tempting to say Einziger's lost his touch, but I doubt that's the case. It sounds more likely that he just didn't think these songs and this sound were worth wasting any effort on - he's so disinterested that he barely even turns up on "Switchblade", the one track on the album with any energy, and the song is left sounding like a complete mess as a result.
I'm all for the idea of Incubus going 'soft', because ultimately they went 'soft' on Morning View
and ended up writing their best album. It's because of this that any criticism of If Not Now, When?
that bases itself solely on the lack of "Redefine" or "A Certain Shade of Green"-esque riffs is missing the point entirely - it's much more important to wonder why there aren't any songs here like "The Warmth", "Just a Phase", "Echo", "Southern Girl", "Drive", "Love Hurts", "Aqueous Transmission", "11AM", or "Mexico". Those were all 'soft' songs, and they all had more atmosphere, emotion, and power than anything on this album - and crucially, they all still sounded like Incubus
It's just a bewildering album, really. Why make this album at all? Why make it now
? Who is the target audience? Where is the new fanbase they're aiming at that are going to replace all the fans they'll lose? I honestly can't imagine the kind of person that would really enjoy these songs; they're devoid of any personality, they have none of the appeal any other Incubus song provides (even the bad ones), and the same sound has been done much better by plenty of other bands. I can't in good conscience give a rating lower than 2.5/5, because it's just too inoffensive for me to hate it - but isn't that just another brutally damning flaw? This is Incubus we're talking about. Even at their worst, they were always interesting. If Not Now, When?
can't even offer that.
Maybe it's a shade too melodramatic to say this, but I honestly feel like there hasn't been an album by an established rock band that misjudges the mood of their fanbase, and of rock as a whole, as badly as this since St. Anger