Incubus’ sixth major label album, If Not Now, When?, is already shaping up to be the band’s most polarizing effort, and it hasn’t even officially been released yet. It is that album the band chose to play front-to-back to close out its weeklong Incubus HQ Live, a special web streaming event that saw the band interacting with both fans and press in a variety of creative ways. The shindig took place in a converted storefront in the middle of Los Angeles, where a makeshift practice space was assembled amid pieces of artwork and a reggae soundtrack. Each day closed with an impromptu performance, whether jam sessions from the band’s deep catalogue or run-throughs of well-loved albums Morning View and Make Yourself.
Which brings us to the present and aforementioned album, If Not Now, When? The group has always prided itself in how each album is its own entity with its own unique sound, and that is certainly true here on its boldest departure yet. Gone are the crunchy guitars and monster choruses that have made Incubus a modern rock staple for the last decade plus. In their place is a mellower and more delicate sound, relying less on guitars and hooks and more on space and tone. Lead singer Brandon Boyd referred to it as a headphone album at one point during the show, and he is right on the money.
It should come as no surprise, then, the album is a grower and needs time to digest. The record leaked three months ago, terrible news for Incubus, but at least it means many have had ample time to personally soak it in. I had mixed reactions upon first listen but have definitely come to appreciate it more and more, and there’s no question it has more spark in a live setting. Mike Einzinger, the band’s not-so-secret weapon, had his guitars somewhat muted on the record. Live, however, they are much more pronounced and he is given more room to operate, which obviously plays to his strengths. The entire band, in fact, has always excelled in a live setting, where its high-grade musicianship and Boyd’s unparalleled voice truly shine, so it only makes sense the album sounds stronger as a result.
If Not Now, When’s liveliest moments, such as the second half of “In the Company of Wolves,” the bass-funky “Switch Blade” and lead single “Adolescents,” should fit right at home in a greatest hits set list and are sure to become live favorites. Other tracks I’ve come to love, like “The Original” and “Isadore,” were in fine form as well, and you’d never guess that a handful of songs were making their live debut. Nevertheless, the two lackluster songs on the record, “Friends and Lovers” and “Tomorrow’s Food,” come across better live but still amount to little more than filler, especially when compared to what the quintet is capable of.
Throughout the evening the band was clearly loose and relaxed, constantly joking around while being surrounded by family, friends and even a dog, and being mere feet from the performance was an experience in and of itself. To those who thought If Not Now, When? was a boring record, give it another chance, especially if you have the opportunity to see the songs live. While it still might go down as the band’s weakest release to date, it is worth seeking out for its own merits.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk