I’m having a lot of feelings, you guys, and y’all are gonna have to bear with me while I sort them out. Two things are true, both of which make me feel equally conflicted. One is that I hate the new Incubus album. Oh my god, it’s awful! I’m SO MAD! And the other thing is that I like pop music now. WHAT THE HELL WHO AM I?!??!
So here’s the thing: Incubus has been my favorite band since basically the turn of the millenium. I was but a wee angsty tween when I first heard “New Skin,” the track they included on the 1998 Family Values Tour Compilation. I remember being struck immediately by their melodic sophistication and rhythmic complexity, especially compared to the rest of the artists on the album, like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rammstein, and… Orgy? Was Orgy on that tour? Lol, Orgy.
A couple of years later, I bought Make Yourself, Incubus’ third full length album, more or less on a whim. I don’t really remember my initial impressions of the album, but I suspect it took me a few listens to really get it (I was 13 after all, and was probably really into, I dunno, Staind? Gross). The more I listened to Make Yourself, the more obsessed with it I became, and what I appreciated the most about them was that they didn’t sound like anyone else. Incubus’ sense of adventure, and their ambition to push themselves to grow as artists and make truly unique music is what always drew me to them.
Every subsequent album they put out showed a complete reinvention of their sound. The excitement leading up to a new Incubus record has always revolved around wondering what they will do next. I even loved 2011’s If Not Now, When?, their highly critiqued, and certainly poppiest album, for precisely that reason; it was nothing like anything they had ever done before. The release of If Not Now, When? was met with many a cry of, “Ugh! Incubus is selling out!” but I disagree. Simplifying and experimenting with pop music was the most Incubus thing they could have done at that point.
Which leads me to the second thing I am feeling a lot of feelings about: liking pop music! (Aaah!!!!) The day I opened myself up to this reality was when I was listening to music on the T, and put on Taylor Swift’s 1989 ON PURPOSE!!! And furthermore ROCKED THE ABSOLUTE FRICK OUT to it!!! I have since gotten into Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion (Which, yes, you absolutely must listen to it. It is so 80’s and so wonderful), Rihanna’s ANTI (this album is just stupidly good), and I definitely didn’t get mad when “Uptown Funk” was being played literally everywhere I went. I honestly couldn’t tell you if pop music is actually getting better, or if my tastes are changing, but anyone who has known me for more than a year or two will know… this is odd.
So, okay, why do I hate the new Incubus album (which is just called 8… because it’s their 8th album… and yes, the title mirrors the amount of creativity therein)? My initial takeaway was that it was too poppy (“But Jack! You literally just said people were wrong to write off their previous album for that reason! Also you like pop now, so wtf?”) wtf, indeed, gentle reader!
I think when I used to use the term “poppy” derogatorily, what I actually meant was “generic,” or “predictable.” There is definite overlap in the use of the terms “poppy,” and “generic” because the two very often coincide, but that said, a lot of indie/alternative music is also incredibly generic. We have gotten to a point where punk and alternative have been reappropriated into mainstream culture so much that it isn’t rebellious anymore.
My problem with 8 is not that it is poppy, but that it is generic. It sounds like 5 bros at a frat party got together, formed an Incubus cover band, and then drank too much Natty Ice and ended up making up something that sounds vaguely like Make Yourself, but without all the interesting parts. Really what it all comes down to is this album is boring, and that’s a word I never thought I would use to describe Incubus.
And I am inclined to blame Mike Einziger. I know he has written some white-bread-ass pop songs for other artists over the last few years, and I suspect he is trying to make Incubus marketable. I am clinging to this belief, because I have too much respect for Brandon Boyd as an artist to believe that he would write such flat and uninspired hooks of his own volition. I mean, look at Sons of the Sea, the self-titled album of Boyd’s side project released in 2013. That record was unapologetically pop, but was also interesting and unique in its own way.
I think that’s what bugs me the most about 8. It is mass-produced, commercial garbage wrapped up and marketed as Rock n’ Roll, a genre that is supposed to be about disrupting the status quo. 8 is a betrayal of everything that it means to be Rock n’ Roll, and how dare they try to pass off their new music as such.
But I’m not mad. I’m gonna go listen to the new Kendrick album instead.