Review Summary: Incubus hit their stride.
Incubus’ 1999 effort Make Yourself is an album that screams out against conformity and begs the listener to take a look around at what exactly it is that we’re all so caught up doing. The spectrum that Incubus explore and flesh out that message ranges from humored observations to declarations of individuality. “Pardon Me” likens spontaneously bursting into flames as a liberation from society, and “I Miss You” acts as a simple love song; nothing more, nothing less. “Battlestar Scralatchtica” gives the bands’ DJ, Chris Kilmore, a specific song to shine on, while still showcasing the rest of the bands’ excellent funky instrumentation. The album is about the individual vs. an oppressive society, it’s about trying to make yourself even though you’re on an assembly line.
“If I hadn't made me, I would've been made somehow
If I hadn't assembled myself, I'd have fallen apart by now
If I hadn't made me, I'd be more inclined to bow
The powers that be, would have swallowed me up
But that's more than I can allow”
The music is technically simple, but performed and produced in such a way that speaks well of the musicians’ vision. Each member delivers in a way that is both tactful and forceful, while being controlled but explosive. Mike Einziger handles his guitar and --almost more importantly-- his pedalboard with genius professionalism, adding texture and nuance when it’s required of him while still maintaining a powerful distorted presence if the song calls for it. The band’s bass player, Dirk Lance, provides a key component of the Incubus recipe. His technique is admirable and creative, and the way Einziger’s guitar dances with and around Lance’s excellent bass lines gives the album a lot of its direction. Jose Pasilla’s drumming --like the rest of the band’s contributions-- is skillful and controlled, he offers drum lines that enhance the cohesive nature of each track on the record without taking over the track with intense fills or abrasive rhythms. Brandon Boyd’s voice and words are cynical, good humored, love-sick, angry, honest, and vulnerable; he narrates the group’s music with sharp, clever poetry and impressive vocal ability in both rapping and singing.
Mainstream rock is rarely this intelligent. In the looming post-grunge catastrophe and rising popularity of nu-metal that dominated the rock stations of the late 90s, Incubus found sturdy, smart, and creative ground to stand on while creating Make Yourself. “I Miss You” is a vulnerable and simple ballad that lives up to the cliche of its name, “Stellar” creates a spacey soundscape that utilizes the tried and true quiet (verse) to loud (chorus) dynamic that came into prominence when Nirvana blew down the doors to alternative music in 1991. “Make Yourself” is jaded and furious. Brutal verses are hammered out with Einziger’s cutting guitar riff and distorted vocals from Boyd that yell out against society’s influential claws. Boyd paints “them” (anyone trying to make you adhere to them, in this case) as a leering enemy. “Make Yourself” is a ferocious cut, and one of the album's highlight moments. The bubble of the previous tracks intensity pops and blossoms into “Drive,” a relaxed and thoughtful radio hit that channels the rage of “Make Yourself” into a more mature and collected tune. “The Warmth” opens with whale-calling weirdness (literally), “Clean” features a driven bongo beat complemented by building instrumentation, and “Pardon Me” has Boyd shooting off rapid fire lines that culminate with an explosive chorus. Make Yourself is eclectic but cohesive; Incubus experiment but somehow hold onto the reins enough to steer their vision safely into refined and accessible modern-rock. The production of the album captures the band well at times, and fantastically at others; only occasionally does the album dip in sonic quality, even if the songwriting itself isn’t necessarily as consistent.
“Isn't it strange that the man standing in front of me
Doesn't have a clue why he is waiting, or what he's waiting for"
Maybe it's me, but I'm sick of wasting energy
Maybe if I look in my heart I could find a backdoor”
In 1999 Incubus broke into the mainstream, but never stopped being weird. It’s true, their 1997 album S.C.I.E.N.C.E. makes Make Yourself look like an obedient puppy. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was an insane record, and Make Yourself sees Incubus calming down and collecting their creativity in order to tactfully parse it out into a series of tight, controlled songs that sound like they were written by guys who have had some time to think, whereas their previous records came across as drug-laden teenagers raging against society in the only way they knew how: hectic, eclectic, funky, electronic flavored rock songs. Make Yourself has some moments of their past insanity, but overall it sees Incubus settle into a more comfortable, easy going style. That’s more a testament to how nuts their previous work was than anything else, because Make Yourself still rocks.