Drowned in Sound: Incubus: Light Grenades

Drowned in Sound
Incubus: Light Grenades
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92
kodimckinney@gmail.com

Longevity does not come easily in the music business, but Incubus have it. So far, they have managed to evolve with each new album and mostly maintain their mainstream popularity. They are that rarest of beasts: a mega-selling rock act with serious credibility. Light Grenades bolsters their reputation yet again with adventurous songs, though the album itself is somewhat uneven.
When Light Grenades connects, the result is a home run. The opening combo of "Quicksand" and "A Kiss to Send Us Off" is the best intro I've heard to a mainstream rock album in a long time. As synthesized textures approach infinity under Brandon Boyd's voice, the first track morphs seamlessly into a combination of bombast and the ethereal. To put it lightly, the musicianship on this album is incredible. Virtuosity may not be apparent at first, but the band's compositional skill and fiery soundscapes are fresher than anything U2 has tried since 1991. Mike Einziger is especially creative on guitar, eschewing flash for the most baffling sounds. If you want to hear a mainstream rhythm section teach everyone short of the Chili Peppers a thing or two about cohesion, look no further.
Unfortunately, the band's proficiency does not outweigh this album's weaknesses. The biggest problem with Light Grenades is how overdone it is. First of all, so much effort got put into pacing that the track placement feels mechanical and forced. Aside from "Quicksand," the strongest songs are even-numbered. Good stuff happens in the odds too (just listen to the percussion in "Paper Shoes"); however, Incubus and their songs are most consistent at full bore. The production is the other body of evidence, as it is excellent except for all the vocal effects on Boyd. His voice is over-processed enough to instantly raise questions about digital pitch correction. Hopefully this is not the case, but his tracks have a suspiciously wet mix.
In fact, Boyd himself is the album's other fatal flaw. Though gifted with an ear for melody and impressive range, his lyrics are merely okay at best. "Rogues," the album's best track, shows how powerful Incubus are when Boyd's lyrics come up to the music's level. In contrast, "Light Grenades" is a burner that can be instantly ruined with one glance at the lyric sheet. It's anyone's guess as to why Boyd's writing is so hit-or-miss at this point in his career.
Then there's the abrupt end to closing track "Earth to Bella Part II," which is anti-climactic and underscores the frustration found in listening to Light Grenades. In some aspects, this is a fantastic effort that shows signs of continued growth for a band now on their sixth release. In other ways, it proves Incubus still have yet to realize their full potential. If Boyd sharpens his writing a bit more and the band makes one start-to-finish great album, they will be worthy of the utmost acclaim. For now, they're not quite there.
Rating: 3 out of 5