The Incubus of 2011 is a very different beast than the one that saturated MTV and alternative radio around the turn of the millennium, with the band putting their giddy genre-bending exercises behind them in pursuit of a more subdued, sober sound. And while If Not Now, When? sounds even more like the mature-sounding album their last two releases tried so hard to be, the group has lost touch with almost all of their best characteristics. Too many of these tracks drearily amble by, leaving little or no impression.
The album’s opening series of songs is most indicative of this shift toward monotony, with the title track and the single “Promises, Promises” proving to be terribly uninspiring. Frontman Brandon Boyd does his best to save these numbers with the remarkable vocals we’ve come to expect from him, but he’s let down by the songs’ subpar arrangements. “Friends and Lovers” and “Isadore” are the kind of squeaky-clean balladry that simply doesn’t suit the band. In essence, it feels as though Incubus has lost their identity in their attempt to conform to dad-rock stylings.
It’s no coincidence, then, that what works on If Not Now, When? almost always finds the band returning to ye olde traits. That is, taking a more rousing approach to their songs and turning up the gain on Mike Einziger’s amplifier. Both “The Original” and “In the Company of Wolves” boast terrific middle-eight sections, fracturing the comparatively docile verses and choruses with some much-needed hedonistic riffing. The latter stands out as one of the album’s most interesting arrangements, a Pink Floyd-esque odyssey with a glut of epic trappings, and a chilling vocal performance from Boyd.
If Not Now, When? is frustrating in many ways, chiefly because it feels like a step in the wrong direction for a band that can still pen enthralling tunes. It’s a mystery as to how Incubus has lost their je ne sais quoi: They’ve gone slow and soft before—namely with “Drive” and “Mexico”—and kept their identity in tact, and these changes in gear also resulted in some of their most fondly remembered songs. For the lion’s share of their latest album, though, the group seems out of sorts, meekly offering what feels like a watered-down version of themselves.