When I finally finished counting down my 100 favorite albums six months ago, I felt terrible. I mean, I loved doing the list, but I was pissed when I finally got to my #1 pick — Make Yourself by Incubus — because I realized that to put that album number one and leave its follow-up Morning View completely off the list didn’t make a whole lot of sense. When I created the list itself, I had made that decision easily enough; after all, Make Yourself‘s impact on my music-listening development was massive, to the point where it completely overshadowed any effect Morning View had also had. At the time of Morning View‘s release, I really loved it, but in the years since I have kind of come to view it as more of the same. It wasn’t until I started reviewing Incubus’ live bootlegs on The Attack Zone that my love for it was rekindled at last.
I was actually listening to a show recently — I forget which one — and I found myself absentmindedly counting the time on “Nice to Know You,” but for some reason I kept messing up. I had always assumed the song is in 7/4 — except for the pre-chorus and bridge, which are just in 4/4 — but I noticed there was a downbeat in the middle of the riff, which kept screwing up the count in my head. Sure enough, I looked at the sheet music in the Morning View guitar tab book I have, and “Nice to Know You” basically oscillates between a bar of 3/4 and a bar of 4/4 throughout most of the song. They did this a couple of times on Make Yourself, as well — the title track similarly swings between a measure of 7/8 and a measure of 4/4 and the closer “Out from Under” also alternates between bars of 5/4 and 3/4 during the verses, while the chorus is just in 4/4. (“Clean” is pretty cool, too. It’s in 12/8 — itself not an uncommon time signature, though most rock music is in 4/4 or 3/4 — except for the bridge, which is made up of three bars of 9/8 followed by a bar of 6/8, repeating twice.)
But the way they introduce the time signature changes on Morning View is a lot more subtle. For example, “Mexico” employs the same alternating 3/4 and 4/4 dynamic as “Nice to Know You,” but there are no drums on “Mexico,” so it’s barely noticeable. Apart from a bar in 3/4 towards the beginning of “Circles,” the entire song is in 4/4, except for the riff that guitarist Mike Einziger casually tosses in before the first verse, which lasts just two measures, one in 5/8 and one in 7/8. It’s actually pretty cool how sneaky they are with the meter on some of these compositions; the only song that structurally is a little more overtly daring is “Just a Phase,” which sports a lengthy preamble in 4/4 before slipping into 6/8 for the verses. (The pre-chorus oscillates between 6/8 and 4/8, and the chorus and coda are in 4/4, as well.) Anyway, enough time signature talk; my head is getting dizzy. (I feel like I’m talking about a Tool or Soundgarden album or something.)
The real feat of Morning View is its sound. It’s a really well-produced record; I don’t care much about the Grammys, but Morning View did score a nomination for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical), which is pretty cool. The more sci-fi-ish sounds/noises that lent a distinct character to Make Yourself have been quietly replaced/altered here with more Earth-based accents like lush strings, and the genuine fierceness of Make Yourself‘s lyrics has been dialed back considerably. Even though Morning View has its share of aggressive tracks, this is a considerably more relaxed — and indeed, at times almost meditative, like on the tranquil closer “Aqueous Transmission” — record than Make Yourself. It’s important to keep in mind that Make Yourself and Morning View are very much two sides of the same coin; they’re almost like nocturnal and diurnal versions, respectively, of the same band. The albums are even paced in much the same way, with lots of doppelgängers: “11am” is an electric rewrite of “Drive,” though acoustic guitars add to the rhythm considerably; “Echo” allows for some tender romantic exploration in the style of “I Miss You,” trading zippy, spacy electronics for grassy, meadow-y textures.
Even “Are You In?” finds the band jamming to the kind of carefree funk that yielded “Battlestar Scralatchtica,” and it consequently features one of the most distinctive bass riffs in recent memory. “Under My Umbrella” stands out as slightly underwritten compared to what else is here, and its placement towards the back of the album results in the momentum losing some steam, but Morning View is an album that, functionally, finds the band refining their sound. It captures Incubus coming home, so to speak, really for the first time in their career. Their uneven debut S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and breakthrough Make Yourself were more about exploration and forming an identity; in the process they toured the world and as a result of some really hard work, scored a top ten hit in “Drive” back in early 2001. Make Yourself actually only peaked at number 47 on the album charts, but it sold over two million copies over the course of two years.
Incubus spent most of 2001 holed up in the rented mansion of Stern House on Morning View Drive in picturesque Malibu, California, writing and recording this album named after that street, knowing that this would be a make-or-break album for them. Make Yourself was a sleeper hit, yes, but there was a zero percent chance its follow-up would be a sleeper hit, as well — that’s simply not how it works. Make Yourself was a sleeper hit because it took two full years to establish the band in the mainstream. Now that everyone was familiar with them, Incubus found themselves at a crossroads: either this new album was going to be a hit, taking them to the next level of stardom, or it would be a dud, and they would have to regroup. Fortunately, they delivered. The lead single “Wish You Were Here” was a perfect follow-up to “Drive” and it propelled Morning View to number two on the album charts.
I actually haven’t thought about this in a long time, but in the fall of 2001, some pretty awful music appeared on alternative rock radio that Incubus had to compete with. Nickelback’s breakthrough single “How You Remind Me” — a song I liked quite a bit at the time — was absolutely huge. The only songs since that, in my mind at least, have compared to that song’s omnipresence are Eminem‘s “Lose Yourself” and Adele‘s “Rolling in the Deep.” Another incident that has been all but forgotten: Creed’s album Weathered surfaced toward the end of 2001 and sold a shocking five million copies in its first eight weeks of release. It wasn’t a great time for rock music or even alternative music, which, to most music consumers at the time, were one and the same; the rabid popularity of nü metal left a horrid aftertaste as its presence quickly waned in the new century, but the slick, ultra-commercial arena-grunge of Nickelback and Creed wasn’t much better.
Like Make Yourself, Morning View went double platinum, which is excellent but is by no means the blockbuster territory Creed and Nickelback (and before them… Limp Bizkit) enjoyed. It’s been interesting, actually, to watch all of these bands come and go. I guess Nickelback is still kicking around, but they’re not exactly relevant. I’m probably not the only person who frankly is embarrassed I bought Silver Side Up back in 2001. (Though to be fair, I didn’t know back then that every single one of their songs over the next ten years was going to be the exact same god damn thing. Never did buy a Creed album though.) Seriously, how many bands from the early 2000s can you actually remember now? Many bands were more popular in the short term, selling more records than Incubus — though seriously, that Creed statistic just defies any logical explanation, other than that it was the follow-up to the diamond-selling Human Clay — but looking back at it now, more than a decade later, does another band on alternative radio from the early ’00s actually stand taller than Incubus?
Most bands get forgotten with the passing of time because their audiences simply outgrow them. (Does anybody still listen to, say, P.O.D., another band that was popular in the fall of 2001?) Well, when Incubus delivered A Crow Left of the Murder… in early 2004, they basically outgrew most of their audience — seriously, how often does that happen in 21st century mainstream music? — after opting to work with Bruce Springsteen/Pearl Jam/Rage Against the Machine producer Brendan O’Brien to take their sound to a more progressive direction by incorporating elaborate solos into the mix. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Make Yourself/Morning View producer Scott Litt. The guy produced a lot of amazing R.E.M. records like Document and Automatic for the People and also remixed “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” on Nirvana‘s In Utero album. It’s why those songs sound cleaner and a lot less noisy than the rest of the record.)
Even though their music developed considerably with Crow, Incubus found themselves less relevant in the (increasingly less relevant) alternative mainstream. But I think — and I have to preface this by pointing out that I really don’t know this for sure, since I don’t know the band members — they also discovered that they were okay with that, since fans like me that have stuck with them all of these years have remained interested in their work to observe how they’ll develop as artists. Most music listeners, whether they realize it or not, just want more of the same; indeed, many Incubus fans, for example, frequently clamor for them to make another S.C.I.E.N.C.E., which has never made much sense to me. (As a debut from a bunch of kids just out of high school it’s okay — actually, it’s pretty good, from that point of view — but it’s ridiculous to call it anything other than their worst album.)
Limp Bizkit, for example, resurfaced last year to make another album — which, it should be noted, nobody bought because their audience had outgrown them — in the style of their debut Three Dollar Bill, Yall$, which, like S.C.I.E.N.C.E., was released in 1997. If you’re one of those Incubus fans who wants them to turn back the clock to 1997 and pretend the past decade and a half hasn’t happened to make a nu metal-ish record when nu metal hasn’t been popular in more than ten years, ask yourself if that’s really what you want. I have always been especially mystified by the sentiments of the legions of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. fans because Morning View, not S.C.I.E.N.C.E., was their pop culture peak; it encapsulates the era when Incubus had the most appeal. Critics wrote off the album (and the band, whom they have never respected for reasons I have never understood), but Morning View has turned out to be possibly Incubus’ most enduring work, which makes sense — it’s easily their most accessible album.