To be honest, I don’t really want to write this review. I’d rather write a review of, say, Dairy Queen’s Triple Chocolate Blizzard. At least then I could complain about how it was way too sweet, how it melted too fast, and how it tasted like a cheap carnival treat.1 Basically, I’d be able to piss and moan and whine like a prissy little bitch. It would be cathartic, liberating even, to write a violently negative review of that disgusting abomination of soft-serve ice cream and dollar-store-quality chocolate.

There would be no such catharsis in writing a similar review of If Not Now, When? An outright negative review would in fact be disingenuous. There’s nothing horrible about it. It’s too innocuous to be bad. The music is just sort of…there…and it’s okay, I guess. I mean, it’s not great or anything, but… You know what? Screw the intro. Let’s talk about the songs.

Lead singles can be deceiving. When “Adolescents” hit the airwaves a few months ago, it seemed like the quintessential Incubus song. It was heavy and energetic enough to please fans of the band’s rock side. It had enough pop sensibility to appeal to crossover audiences. It featured enough complex touches, like time shifts and an East-Asian-inspired breakdown, to satisfy fans of the band’s experimental side. The only people who wouldn’t be happy about it were fans of the bands early funk metal days. (And we all know that they’ll never be satisfied.) To me, “Adolescents” was one of the band’s best singles, and it showed that the band had achieved an unprecedented level of mastery and refinement of their sound. It’s too bad that when you listen to If Not Now, When? you have to sit through nine relatively bland soft rock songs to get to it.

Okay, that’s not totally fair. “Thieves” is positively brimming with energy and interesting guitar work. “Switchblade,” while irritating and clumsy with its white-boy rapping, is at least lively. And there are a number of softer tracks that work quite nicely, particularly “Friends And Lovers,” “Promises, Promises,” and “Isadore.” The problem is that there are so many of these softer tracks that they disappear in a sea of generic adult alternative murk. They’re so unmemorable that they kind of blend together in my head.

And that’s perhaps the biggest problem with this album: none of it sticks. I can barely hum any of the tunes because they’re just that forgettable. For every strong or unique soft song, there’s another one that’s just plain boring. The band does their best The Joshua Tree-era U2 impression on the album’s opening title track, but the song feels too slow and derivative. “The Original” and “In The Company Of Wolves” aren’t interesting enough to be as lengthy as they are, and they overstay their welcomes.

But they’re not bad songs, per se, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard just to write off this album. It plays like a set of pretty decent B-sides, songs that work pretty well on their own, but that don’t fit together as a coherent sequence of tracks. As an Incubus fan, I’m happy to have heard all of these songs. I’m just displeased that they were all placed together in such an insipid, innocuous release. The other reasons that I don’t want to dismiss If Not Now, When? completely are that the musicianship (especially the singing) is pretty impressive, and Brandon Boyd’s lyrics tackle diverse topics, such as politics and love, with surprising ease and with no pretension. Incubus is a bunch of talented musicians, which is why it’s such a shame that their abilities were wasted on such a bland, inoffensive album.

I really can’t bring myself to write anything more about this album. If Not Now, When? isn’t a bad release by any means. The worst thing that can be said about it is that it’s alright. Too bad that’s also the best thing that can be said about it.


1 Is that libel? Whatever. Fuck it. I don’t care.

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