Like that annoying freshman in your political science section, Incubus feels like they have something to prove.
Due to the timing of their 1999 breakthrough record, Make Yourself, and their affinity for hip-hop and loud guitars, the band has been unfairly lumped with rap-rock schlock like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. But the band has more to offer, a fact evident in songs like Drive, the hidden gem of Make Yourself and unquestionably one of the best rock singles of 2001.
Incubus’s blend of funk, hip-hop and rock is more than enough to separate them from the nu-metal explosion of the late 90s. So why the hell aren’t they content?
Morning View, the band’s fourth full-length album, finds them experimenting even more with strings, sparse arrangements and even bizarre Chinese instrumentation. Incubus have become the cliched football player who can play the entire James Taylor catalogue on acoustic guitar: they’re tough on the outside but go out of their way to make sure the world (read: the girls of the world) knows just how sensitive they are.
This is not to say that Morning View is bad; in fact, it’s quite good. Incubus has a natural feel for melody that shines through in all the songs, even those dominated by Mike Einziger’s crunchy guitar. This sound is exemplified in the album’s opener, “Nice to Know You,” a song reminiscent of what Creed would sound like if they didn’t suck so terribly. Ditto for “Wish You Were Here,” the album’s first single and the second best song to bear that title.
What separates Incubus from most other young rap/metal bands is their intuitive sense of arrangement. They know when to let a song deflate after a testosterone-fueled explosion of hard rocking (take a hint, Fred Durst). They intertwine complicated rhythms and time signatures without making it feel unnatural (take a hint, System of a Down). In addition, the band’s turntablist DJ Kilmore actually contributes to the music (gasp!), layering spacey sound effects over the solid foundation laid by bassist Dirk Lance and drummer Jose Pasillas.
Though often dismissed for his pretty-boy looks, vocalist Brandon Boyd is truly the band’s secret weapon. Boyd, equally comfortable when screaming or whispering, has one of the best young voices in rock. This is most evident in “Are You In,” a smooth R&B number that could easily become the band’s next Drive.
Sometimes Incubus’ ambition gets carried away, as in the meandering “Aqueous Transmission,” an eight-minute track that sounds like the music playing over the loudspeaker at your local Chinese buffet. Many of the tracks also sound alike; by the end of the album, one wonders if they have any minor chords left for their fifth album.
If anything, Morning View reveals the potential Incubus have for making great music. If they can find a way to let their influences come more naturally rather than forcing eclecticism, they could become a serious musical force in the next few years. We’ll have to wait and see whether inner football player of Incubus will make it to the big leagues or become the latest in a wasteland of bloated armchair quarterbacks.