After releasing the explosive A Crow Left of the Murder… in early 2004, Incubus released their follow-up Light Grenades in late 2006. Despite opening at number one, Light Grenades fell down the charts quickly and failed to achieve a platinum certification from the RIAA, a first for an Incubus record since their 1999 breakthrough Make Yourself shifted over two million units. They took some time off after touring behind Light Grenades, reconvening in 2009 to release a double-disc greatest hits LP Monuments and Melodies, with a disc of singles and a disc of rarities. It featured two new songs on the singles disc, “Black Heart Inertia” and “Midnight Swim,” which were produced by alternative rock legend Brendan O’Brien, who has produced all of Incubus’ work since Crow.
The new songs were excellent and demonstrated that the band was far from exhausted creatively, but unfortunately, I had to wait another two years to hear its proper follow-up to Light Grenades, 2011‘s If Not Now, When? The band members were busy with individual pursuits in the interim, as guitarist Mike Einziger took music composition classes at Harvard and vocalist Brandon Boyd studied painting and made a record of his own called The Wild Trapeze in 2010. They finally announced that If Not Now, When? was finished in early 2011, streaming the first single “Adolescents” through their website, which I listened to over and over. A couple of weeks after premiering “Adolescents,” a hacker group called Anonymous hacked into the Sony servers, causing them to shut down the PlayStation Network for several weeks.
Unfortunately, included in the heist was If Not Now, When?, which was still three months away from its release when it leaked, effectively destroying its commercial prospects. I had already pre-ordered the album on vinyl for my dad, and I didn’t download the album illegally, but I did listen to all of the tracks on YouTube before the album’s release. It’s really the worst way to hear an album, since you’re hearing low-quality versions of songs out of order, but I couldn’t help myself. In their interactions with fans, I could tell the band was very excited about this particular album, and I’m always pumped for a new Incubus album, so I was extra ecstatic for this one. Unfortunately for Incubus, however, Sony/Epic basically gave up on the album once the leak happened, from what I can tell, since both of the album’s singles were released before the album’s release last July.
Incubus responded by doing a huge promotional event the week of the album’s release, inviting fans to the Incubus HQ in Los Angeles, where they performed each night and did some instrument workshops and Q&A sessions. It was all streamed online live for the whole world to see, and it was beyond cool. The album, I thought, was the best I had heard in years. When I heard bits and pieces on YouTube I was initially unsure if this was really a good direction for them, but once I heard the whole album in higher quality and in the correct order, I was blown away. The songs, which may seem spare at first, are actually very carefully composed, and Brendan O’Brien’s production has many more layers than it initially appears. Furthermore, the mastering is uncharacteristically good/quiet for a 2011 album, even compared to the band’s earlier work, and the wide dynamic range works to the album’s advantage.
It’s easily the most finely textured album in a long while (it reminds me of Steely Dan‘s Aja in that regard), and it takes a lot of listens to appreciate that about it. Which is why the fact that the critics panned If Not Now, When? really pisses me off. How legitimate is the practice of writing a review based on just a few listens, especially given the fact that so many albums that are panned initially are later considered classics? Unfortunately, I appear to be one of very few advocates of this album, considering Incubus’ record label didn’t like it, the critics didn’t like it, and a lot of their fans didn’t like it because it was too different from their early work. It still managed to open at number two here in America, but Sony still refused to put any more money behind it. Now the band is done with their contract with Epic and are officially an indie band.
As for If Not Now, When?, it always faced an uphill battle. Incubus weren’t the young and exciting band to Sony they once were, and when they delivered a risky album that leaked soon thereafter, it’s hard to blame Epic for bailing on it. Still, you’d think they would consider the album to have potential when it opened at number two after leaking three months before its release, but then again, not everything in the music industry always makes sense. Of course, I’m actually leaving out a potentially key detail here: If Not Now, When? fulfilled the band’s contract with Epic, so there wasn’t really any incentive for them to heavily promote If Not Now, When?, since they weren’t going to release the next Incubus album. (A year later, however, Epic did release the HQ Live CD/DVD set for us, which is officially their final Incubus release of new material. But this is more of a specialty release designed for fans that has limited appeal, unlike a studio album, which has the potential to move millions of units.)
Oh, well. If Not Now, When?, rest in peace.