Incubus' Light Grenades is a dud
David Jackson
12/27/2006 8:44:03 AM

I could say that Incubus' new album, Light Grenades[Epic/Immortal], fails to explode – but that's not quite true. It does have that punchy, frantic, distorted funk sound that has always defined Incubus' heavier tracks. The problem, maybe, is that Light Grenades does blow up: into razor sharp pieces, flying in every direction at once. It feels aimless and uncertain. More importantly, it lacks that special magic and motivation of the last few Incubus records.

There are two major divisions of Incubus fans – those who prefer the super-jagged funk rock of Incubus' early material (if you're not acquainted, think “Give it Away”-era Chili Peppers) and those who like the ballad-rock of the band's sound as redefined on their breakout album, Make Yourself. As my first experience with Incubus was Make Yourself's “Drive”, this reviewer falls pretty securely into the latter category, though the early material is fun too. Some fans feel that the band has sold out by producing radio-friendly alternative songs with a big, distorted sound, but it's a criticism that ignores one essential fact: Incubus is (usually) really, really, good at that. They know how to write a good song packed with emotion, one you can sing along to that also really seems to mean something.

The problem with Light Grenades is not that it panders to fans of the band's early material. In fact, if it did that, I would feel more comfortable with it. This album that will actually disappoint both sects. Sonically, it has that post-Make Yourself feel, with big crunchy guitars and drawn out vocals, but there just isn't enough melody to make it fun to listen to. The songs go too much in that discordant direction that used to be just punctuation – now it has completely taken over. There's nothing memorable about the choruses. The guitars don't soar like they used to. Everything is half-melodic: there are definitely notes there, but they don't fit. Simply put, this album doesn't have any catchy songs.

Lyrically, it's erratic as well. While not a concept album band, Incubus has a history of sticking to a rough theme on each disc. Make Yourself was an individuality record. Morning View meditated on isolation, separation, and lost love. A Crow Left of The Murder was a political and social commentary on the sad state of America. But what is Light Grenades about? We start with an “awakening monster” on “Quicksand”. “Anna-Molly” and “Earth to Bella” are songs about girls. The title track has a broad political bite, but it's too little, too late. Some bands can play the variety card this way, but variety has to be musical as well as lyrical. Otherwise, it's just confusing.

I love Incubus. And I really wanted to like this album. I started it three separate times, convinced I just “wasn't in the mood.” But the fact is, it falls short of the expectations fans should have of this brilliant alternative band. Where is this album's “Wish You Were Here”? Where is its “Talk Shows On Mute”, or its “Warning”? What happened to emotive jabs like, “You're no Jesus – yeah, you're no fuckin' Elvis”? Light Grenades may explode, but it burns out where it counts.


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