Incubus, one of my favorite bands of the past two decades, will be releasing If Not Now, When? on July 12. If Not Now will be the seventh studio album of their twenty-year career. Two songs from the new album, “Adolescents” and lead single “Promises, Promises” have already been released. Together, they represent the second time in the last eight months that I’ve been let down by a guy I once considered one of our last true rock stars.
Last October, I reviewed lead singer Brandon Boyd’s first solo album, The Wild Trapeze. To summarize: while the album did not lack for creativity, I thought Boyd cluttered the album by experimenting with too many different sounds. I worried he was losing some of the edge and the taste that let Incubus – and pretty much nobody else – seamlessly merge hard rock and power pop. A return to the band has not solved that problem. In fact, “Adolescents” and “Promises, Promises” make me think his best days are permanently behind him.
The two new songs share two troubling qualities. The first is that they’re terribly written. And the second is that they’re shockingly, inexplicably soft.
Since Boyd’s naturally dramatic voice can turn pretty much anything into a soaring chorus, I’ve never really cared about Incubus’ lyrics before. Now that I think about it, though, I’ve never cared because the lyrics have never been embarrassingly bad (well, almost never – but that was in 1995). This time there’s no question about it: Boyd embarrasses himself on the new songs. I can’t believe that Boyd, to whom choruses come easier than anyone in the world not named Anthony Keidis, chose this stanza to tie up “Adolescents”: “Out of sight, out of mind/we’re out of time/we’re out of mind/out of mind/out of mind/yeah.” Or this gem, as “Promises, Promises” comes to a crescendo: “So promise me one thing, would you?/Just don’t make me any promises”. This guy.
As bad as the lyrics are, I find them no more depressing than the general sound of the songs. The rhythm section inexplicably stops playing about halfway through “Adolescents” on the tail of an uninspired guitar solo. Even Boyd’s trademark “oooh”s sound hollow. ”Promises” is a power ballad that lacks the edge and genuine emotion that made “Dig” and “Drive” such great songs. Fifteen years after it would have been acceptable, they’ve turned into the fucking Wallflowers.
I’m writing this way about Incubus because I remember and appreciate how awesome they once were. If I had to play “Pardon Me” to defeat The Accuser in battle for the sake of the human race, I’d feel pretty good. But until I forget I ever heard these new songs, Incubus’ classics will merely represent the unrecoverable past of a band that made one album too many.