According to my little Webster’s Pocket Dictionary, incubus is defined as “a male demon that disturbs sleeping women by engaging them in intercourse,” thus resulting in nightmares. Sex with me falls along those nightmarish lines, but I digress; I’m not one with the incubi.
Unless we’re talking about the So-Cal rock outfit of the same name, then yeah, I am and have been since 1998’s breakthrough Make Yourself, which featured the star-making singles “Stellar” and “Pardon Me.”
So here we are, nearly three years after Incubus’ last release, the well-selling but personally underwhelming A Crow Left of the Murder—and for the most part, things haven’t changed much. Vocalist Brandon Boyd, guitarist Mike Einzinger and drummer Jose Pasillas, with DJ Kilmore on turntables and “new” bass player Ben Kenney, return in full form on the spankin’ new Light Grenades, and it’s a mixed grab bag of blessings.
The presence of producer Brendan O’Brien (of Korn and Audioslave fame, among many others) adds a slicker production value missing since 2002’s excellent Morning View and subsequent departure of bassist/co-founder Dirk Lance. But this material bounces back and forth, sometimes giving the impression that they have hit a new stride in their career, kind of like a divorcee getting back on their feet and finding love again. Other times, it comes across as forced filler, making it seem like outtakes or B-sides from the Crow sessions.
The push and pull groove of “Anna Molly,” the first release from Grenades, sets the pace for most of the album. In this vein, the title track and “Rogues” are the anointed rockers of the bunch and, along with “A Kiss To Send Us Off,” give a hint of the band’s humble beginnings. One of the Incubus’ strengths has always been its melodies, as “Dig” and “Earth to Bella” (parts 1 & 2) have ‘radio friendly’ written all over them. Out of line with the usual material come the almost danceable “Diamonds and Coal” and the catchy hand clapping of “Pendulous Threads,” both of which showcase the band’s diverse songwriting talents and sounds. The rest of the tracks? They’re the ones damned to filler status, in my book.
Another band strength is the near poeticism of its lyrics, although this time around it seems as is Chief Wordsmith Boyd took the safer route, in taking the guesswork out of the song subjects. “Love hurts/but sometimes it’s a good hurt/ and it feels like I’m alive” from “Love Hurts” follow this rudimentary path, but get the point across. Doesn’t really have that punch in the gut that “Get out from under thumb/resist, unlearn, defy/get out from under precipice/get out and see the sky” has for me from Make’s “Out From Under”; luckily, “Dig” gives the more traditional wordplay to keep me happy.
The end result of Light Grenades is a very good one, and a better offering than A Crow Left of the Murder, but it still seems slightly off the mark—mainly because when Lance split, the bottom (literally) fell out from the band’s music. Not to bad-mouth Ben Kenney; his hip-hop flavored basslines, no doubt inspired by his time with The Roots, add a more spacious element to the music and take the band into a whole new direction. Lance however, was one of the main creative voices in Incubus and had a signature sound that added balls to the songs that are sorely missed. In a way, that’s good—it shows this band can’t have interchangeable members and get the same result (like so many of the Plastic Bands out there now) and shows a level of musicianship not present in most of today’s so-called “rock bands.”
My advice? Buy Light Grenades and the whole Incubus-back catalog and listen to a truly talented band mature with fantastic hooks and heavy-hitting songs. Light Grenades does a great job of showing where Incubus is in its career, and although I know going retro on themselves would be a disservice, here’s to hoping they keep pushing forward and continue to grow without ignoring what got them here in the first place.