A lot of my friends who swear up and down that they have the best taste in music are probably going to give me shit for this, but I’m a fan of Incubus. I actually think that they’re one of the best, most consistent bands in the last dozen years or so. Every magazine did a list of the best albums of the decade and how neither Make Yourself nor Morning View made a single one was beyond me. Their discography is just as highly-rated as The Killers’.
There are only about a dozen artists in my entire iTunes library (of something like 60,000 songs) with more than three albums, and Incubus is one of them right there with the likes of Dizzie Rascal, Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Miles Davis, Nick Drake, Outkast, Radiohead, RJD2, The Black Keys and The White Stripes.
Why? Because they have a distinctive sound that is lyrically-potent, filled with catchy melodies and loaded with cross-over appeal. You can’t say that about too many artists, which is precisely why a guy like Danger Mouse will always be successful…he knows how to make catchy tunes be it with Cee-Lo in Gnarls Barkley or James Mercer in Broken Bells.
If I were to make a list of the most successful bands in the last dozen years with the criteria being that you had to produce at least four new albums over that span with at least one having come out before 2003 and at least one after 2007 (ruling out bands like Muse, Outkast and LCD Soundsystem), Incubus would without a doubt make the list and here are the others:
Radiohead, The White Stripes and Wilco are just legendarily good. No doubt about that.
Dave Matthews Band, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Spoon, The Flaming Lips and The Roots, much like Incubus, can possibly say that their best albums are behind them yet still keep trucking along with high quality music.
Bright Eyes, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Iron & Wine, LCD Soundsystem, Linkin Park, Muse, My Morning Jacket, The Killers, The National, The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs…all bands that have earned their seats among the music festival titans by pumping out at least one critically-acclaimed album in the last decade and backing it up with solid studio work and busy tour schedules.
So why doesn’t Incubus get a seat at the table?
I have a theory. I believe that Incubus were the victims of poor timing.
I know a lot of people say they don’t like Incubus because they kicked out original members and changed their sound, but I’d argue that what Brandon Boyd and Co. did in the late ‘90s is no different than what Jay-Z has done throughout his career. Jay-Z once rolled with Amil, Beanie Sigel and Dame Dash, but they’re nowhere to be found today. Jay-Z once rapped about “Big Pimpin’” yet today he’s rapping about how “30s the new 20” and his wife Beyonce.
Why can’t a band and its sound continue to evolve and mature?
Some people say Incubus “sold out” when they had songs like “Drive”, but I’ve heard the same argument made against The Roots for joining the Jimmy Fallon Show. And no one should ever question whether or not The Roots are real hip-hop when Black Thought and ?uestlove continue to lead the group as they did before their cross-over appeal was cemented in recent years.
The real issue people have with Incubus is timing.
My friends and I were Incubus fans in high school and college. I remember very clearly how many of my friends used to sing a long to “Wish You Were Here”. The problem is that something happened in the music industry at the end of our college years…MTV died as a music source and illegal downloading was proliferated to an entire generation of students as the iPod was launched.
As a result, the things that made Incubus a leading band in the early part of the decade evaporated. No more MTV. No more radio. No more Incubus love.
No one illegally downloaded an Incubus album because they made the kind of album that record labels still wanted to protect on the shelves. None of the major music festivals could afford to book Incubus because it was too much of a risk to get a modern-day bestseller when you could get the (safer) greats from the ‘60s/’70s/’80s and ‘90s and it was easier to book the ‘00s up-and-comer like The Killers and Yeah Yeah Yeahs than a band that already had hit records and an arena tour of their own.
Eventually what happened is two-fold: 1) Incubus was being removed from the live music conversations that would ultimately drive the entire music industry and business side of things in the last few years, and 2) Incubus was being replaced from the young music fans’ mindset because they didn’t have the longevity of bands like Dave Matthews Band and Green Day yet lacked the buzz factor of bands like Wilco and The National since they actually sold a shit ton of records in stores.
Sure, no one is going to say Brandon Boyd is as musically-gifted as Jack White or Danger Mouse or Kanye West, but are you willing to say Incubus as a band isn’t better, more consistently good than Vampire Weekend or Modest Mouse?
My ultimate question is this: Why must you pretend to have never liked Incubus?
While bands like The Fugees, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers become highly-sought after novelty acts at festivals due to their inability to put out quality new music, Incubus has a new record out this month. While artist like Lady GaGa (who played Lollapalooza last year, mind you) represent the over-complicated, over-commercialized state of music today, Incubus represents the simplicity of commercial music we once knew and loved.
While you pretend to have never liked Incubus, they’re still busy evolving while doing what they’ve always done best: making melodies for you to sing a long or take a road trip to.