Between 1997 and 2001, Incubus released a triumvirate of albums that, while stylistically different and evolving, helped put the California rock band in the spotlight relatively quickly. In retrospect, it’s still pretty hard to compare them to any of their specific peers. 311? Incubus’s occasional forays into alternative metal made that comparison faulty rather quickly.
Rising up alongside other bands of the era like Korn, Deftones, and Limp Bizkit (just to name a few), the band was quickly lumped in with their nu-metal brethren. However, Incubus had plenty of ways they managed to differentiate themselves from the pack. Vocalist Brandon Boyd was the main draw to the band, with his versatile and smooth vocals immediately becoming the catalyst for the band’s later success with Make Yourself. Seriously, “Drive” and “Pardon Me” were just huge crossover hits, they were pretty inescapable for many years, and still remain great songs. However, it’s the band’s second album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (I really hate typing that) that remains the favorite for many fans. And it’s easy to hear why. It’s a very interesting album that, if you listened to their later work first (which is understandable, given they found fame soon after), might see foreign to you in some way.
The early material of Incubus, especially the band’s debut album Fungus Amongus, was more indebted to funk/alt-metal bands like Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers than anything else. In fact, many early reviews of that album compared them to something akin to a RHCP knockoff, which was pretty unfair considering how young and untested the band was at the time. The band had just graduated high school when this album was released, so they were more of a product of their influences in 1995. S.C.I.E.N.C.E., however, is a quantum leap in musical and songwriting quality. It’s a huge difference what just two years can have on musicians, especially when the band was as young as Incubus was at the time. Not every band of this genre got off to a fast start, of course. Korn did, but Limp Bizkit experienced a second album leap in the same way as Incubus, though the former sold a ridiculous amount of albums. So did Deftones, Taproot to an extent, and others. Most of these bands had members that were around 20, give or take a few years, and often you tend to grow at that age, if you have gifted talents.
The music is pretty fantastic. It’s a little accessible to newer Incubus fans or even the average music lover. Tracks like “Summer Romance (Anti Gravity Love Song)” show off very interesting almost jazz-rock sounds, with an obvious emphasis on Brandon Boyd’s voice and excellent bass guitar. The whole band shines, of course, but it’s the positive and upbeat (but realistic) nature of the band’s lyrics that made them accessible as well. That’s not something that always comes to mind first when you think of a band, but it can be a powerful marketing tool as well. Of course, that’s a topic for another day – Incubus simply writes what comes out of their hearts.
This album is really exciting, though, when it starts running all over the place. In fact, it’s still inspired by bands and albums that came before, like Mother’s Milk and Faith No More’s Angel Dust. That doesn’t mean Incubus don’t blaze their own trail, though. In fact, most of the album is pretty heavy, but not ridiculous – it’s rather fun. Especially tracks like “Deep Inside”, which morph effortlessly from jazz/rock hybrids to some pretty heavy and aggressive nu-metal at the drop of the hat. In fact, that’s a big reason why Incubus never quite fit in anywhere. Too heavy for one scene, too soft for others, and compared to much of the doom and gloom that occupied nu-metal (not on all counts, of course, and dark subject matter provides great lyrics too) the band had difficulty with that.
The other thing to note is that the album really does flow well. If you like music that can and will turn left at the drop of the hat, most songs here do that for you. There’s even mellow trip-hop and electronic sections like “Magic Medicine” which have this effect. With the heavier, progressive, and diverse nature of the album, though, the fun part is the first half. “Redefine”, “New Skin” (which is a top 5 Incubus track, full stop), and especially a song like “A Certain Shade Of Green” make the album a blast to listen to. Huge choruses, great vocals, and a rhythm section that just smashed it over and over again.
That’s not to say this is a perfect album, necessarily. But it’s hard to find fault with most of it – it’s part of an era where disparate styles turned out to be commercial cash cows. Could you imagine if they had written “Drive” and put it on this album? If they were ready for it, it could have blown up in a similar way as Sugar Ray did. Incubus did have much more room to grow as songwriters, though. But this was quite a second record that merged disparate genres and styles to create something fantastic. Even the second half is good, with most of the songs diving between fun and funky and heavy at a moment’s notice.
Whether or not the nu-metal tag applied to Incubus here is a matter of spirited debate. What’s certain, though, is that the album’s blend of alternative metal, jazz influences, funk metal, hip-hop, and electronic flourishes – and the band’s musical talent – was on the right track. While Incubus never made an album quite like this again, 1999’s Make Yourself took much of what worked on S.C.I.E.N.C.E. – mainly the sharp-edged alt-metal riffs and emphasis on positive (but realistic) lyrical matter, they managed to carve out a huge and long lasting fanbase because of it.