http://www.avclub.com/live/charly-bliss ... /entry/542
On album 8, Incubus revives the power chords, but not the personality, of its heyday
Even before the heavy-rotation balladry of “Drive” drove them up the charts and out of the mosh pit, the sensitive California rockers of Incubus didn’t quite fit the nü-metal profile. They were lovers among fighters, wedged uncomfortably onto the undercard of traveling aggro package tours, warming up crowds of sweaty teenagers with soaring self-actualization anthems. Over the two decades that have elapsed since the band’s major-label debut, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., every new album has inched further away from the seething thud of late-’90s mook rock—an evolution that culminated, in 2011, with If Not Now, When?, closer in mid-tempo sound to late R.E.M. than anything you’d ever hear at Ozzfest.
8 walks that sonic progression back a little. From the FM-courting, one-two punch of openers “No Fun” and “Nimble Bastard,” Incubus announces renewed arena aspirations. Big riffs snake their way through various tracks, like the fuzzy dystopian waltz of “Love In A Time Of Surveillance,” which commences with some shredding straight out of a lost Rage Against The Machine rager (or, okay, at least an Audioslave outtake). Returning to crunchy alt-rock isn’t the worst move for Incubus; these guys may be big softies at heart, but they never seem more confident than when setting their breakup blues or carpe-diem affirmations to power chords. But if 8 puts a little muscle back into the band’s sound, it lacks the constellation-sized hooks that made 2001’s Morning View a singles machine that kept on giving.
Too many songs get halfway there, starting promisingly, then petering out quickly. Both “Familiar Faces” and “Glitterbomb” squander guitarist Mike Einziger’s earworm intros, building something bland around the bright, shimmering blast of the former and the isolated desert reverb of the latter. Elsewhere, the hard-charging opening track stops cold for a woozy interlude, killing its own momentum. What’s missed, unusually, are the elements that used to feel like affectations, but might have given these songs a little personality: the spacey sound effects, the stray appearance of a bongo or a didgeridoo, the DJ showboating that once superficially linked Incubus to rap-metal. (Given that Skrillex mixed and co-produced 8, the general lack of electronic flourishes is perhaps especially surprising.)
The band’s greatest strength and liability remains its frontman, ab-flashing surfer loverboy Brandon Boyd. Time has been kind to his powerhouse pipes; the best song on 8, “Undefeated,” builds its reasonably stirring chorus around his passionate yelp, to the point where it scarcely matters what he’s singing about. That’s fortunate, because Boyd hasn’t outgrown his weakness for clichés (“I swing and I miss”), tortured metaphors (“You’re a payphone on a 1-a.m. sidewalk”), and goofy political commentary (“Please, do explain to me brother, why all the spying on each other?”). At minimum, he should be more careful about inadvertently arming his critics: “You’re no fun / You’re a song I never want to hear again” is a pretty ballsy chorus for a song plenty won’t want to hear again.