Incubus: Every Album Ranked From Worst To Best
Incubus released their new EP Trust Fall (Side B) recently. The sequel to 2015’s Trust Fall (Side A) has got fans of the Californian rockers rather hot under the collar. It’s an excitement tinged with a sense of surprise, though, which makes sense given the critical drubbing sometimes unfairly meted out on Incubus, a band saddled with the successes of their past, and often begrudged for deviating from what they’ve done before because of it. Moving on and changing direction has always been what Incubus do, though. And while it’s taken them in a variety of directions over the years – some successful, others less so – they’ve remained true to the pursuit of their muse, resulting in a fascinating (and, yes, often frustrating) back catalogue…
8. If Not Now, When? (2011)
A period of creative re-energising for Incubus – and the continuation of their relationship with producer Brendan O’Brien – couldn’t save this dreary seventh album from the doldrums. Named in recognition of frontman Brandon Boyd’s constant reassessments of life – pertinent given it was made after an extended hiatus – it could easily be called ‘If Not Riffs, Why?’. Mike Einziger, an architect with a guitar and fundamental to the band’s sonic blueprint, is oddly muted here and it shows. The excellent In The Company Of Wolves notwithstanding, it has a warm sound but its lack of tunes left fans cold.
7. Fungus Amongus (1995)
Just like their friends in Deftones, Incubus are still erroneously mentioned in conversations about nu-metal. It’s not too difficult to see why in the latter’s case, though, listening back to this full-length debut album. While the young Californians’ tongue-in-cheek style was at odds with their more po-faced peers – singer Brandon Boyd being listed as Happy Knappy in the liner notes – the rapped vocals were present and correct. In truth, in those days they had more in common with fellow funk disciples Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus, but little with the band they would become. Reflecting upon Fungus Amongus with Kerrang!, a cringing Brandon suggested he’d like to “bury it forever”.
6. 8 (2017)
It’s as obvious as calling your eighth album 8 to suggest that following up your worst album means the only way is up. And while this is a vast improvement upon the dismal If Not Now, When?, that doesn’t make it a return to form in any profound sense. In fact, 8 found Incubus in a strange limbo, caught between sounding too much like themselves (State Of The Art) and not enough (Love In A Time Of Surveillance). It was perhaps this identity crisis that led to Sonny Moore (aka Skrillex) being hired late on to bring his Midas touch to proceedings. Sadly, not even he could jumpstart an album with emptiness in its heart.
5. Light Grenades (2006)
Rather than mixing styles on each song, Incubus compartmentalise them on Light Grenades, which fails to maintain the brilliance of its first half. The opening double-header of Quicksand and A Kiss To Send Us Off illustrates hitherto unseen sides of Incubus, characterised by dreamy soundscapes and scattered rhythms. Perhaps showing signs of the burnout that would lead to their five-year hiatus, Light Grenades implodes shortly after its title track, with what remains – the sprightly Paper Shoes aside – proving loose to the point of listless. Given how close it comes to greatness, it’s the biggest missed opportunity of the band’s career.
4. Make Yourself (1999)
As something of a fan favourite this placement is likely to put the cat amongst the pigeons, but with the benefit of hindsight, it’s the singularity of Make Yourself that costs it a higher ranking. Possessing neither the eccentricity of the band’s early days or the airy atmospherics to come, it stays in its lane a little too religiously. And while, admittedly, that lane yields some of the biggest Incubus songs to date (Pardon Me, Stellar, Drive), those blockbusting ambitions come at the expense of diversity and unpredictability. Incubus would make more of themselves further down the line, though.
3. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (1997)
For fans of the band’s heavier, zanier leanings, this remains the high bar against which Incubus releases are now measured. Given the subsequent departures from this template, however, it’s likely those early adopters have been left disappointed. You could therefore argue that S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is something of a creative albatross around the bands’ necks. Superb though its high points are – the hyperactive surge of A Certain Shade Of Green, the funky soul of Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song) – it’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-plus-a-didgeridoo approach lacks the refinement that comes with maturity. As an illustration of youthful ambition and an excess of ideas, though, it’s a kaleidoscopic wonder.
2. A Crow Left Of The Murder... (2004)
The musician’s choice, A Crow Left Of The Murder… is the sound of Incubus maturing; finding ever-subtler applications for their melting pot of styles. It’s an exercise in balance, too, not just in terms of songwriting and style, but between vocalist and guitarist. While the gorgeous elasticity of Brandon’s voice had been the main focal point on previous albums, here Mike’s compositions shine, melding with the vocals rather than simply backing them, pushing the power and nuance of both in fascinating new directions. And with Ben Kenney, formerly of The Roots, replacing Alex Katunich on bass, the likes of Agoraphobia and Made For TV Movie brim with freshness.
1. Morning View (2001)
Having achieved mainstream success with Make Yourself, it would have been easy for Incubus to dole out more of the same for its follow-up. Instead the band decamped to a beautiful house in Malibu for six months, got some sun and jammed – a group of friends just hanging out and making a masterpiece. What makes Morning View so special? Its combination of great songs and peerless musicianship shot through with a tangible sense of where it was made certainly helps. Even more than that, though, is how boldly the band express themselves from their newly elevated platform, blending genres like an artist mixes paints on their palette. Boasting, though it does, some of the band’s most famous and successful songs (Wish You Were Here, Are You In?), it’s in the deeper cuts that the gold really lays. Circles and Just A Phase, for example, display a proggy, unhurried mastery of dynamics. To hear them is to picture waves breaking on a California shoreline – some brashly, some gently, but all beautifully.
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