Sound — 6
One can't reminisce about the days when people still primarily listened to music on the radio without recalling least three Incubus songs. But having been nearly twenty years since the California quintet's breakthrough period of 1999's "Make Yourself" and 2001's "Morning View," Incubus have been less active as of recently. After 2006's "Light Grenades" brought a few more smash hits to the band's successful catalog, it would take five years to follow it up with "If Not Now, When?," where Incubus traded off some of their tried-and-true alt rock qualities in favor of a more ballad-driven pop rock vibe, which didn't resonate as much as their material from the decade before.
Once again, Incubus took their time to release new music after 2011, but that recent activity has shown them heading back to their alt rock ways. Their 2015 EP, "Trust Fall (Side A)," wielded more guitar power in its four tracks than "If Not Now, When?" did in its eleven tracks. But while their initial plan of releasing a series of EPs never made it past the first one, the EP did indeed forecast what was to come.
Now on their eighth album, "8," Incubus mix in a few new things with the familiar sound of their heyday. Despite the widely publicized news that Skrillex helped produce the album leading to predictions that Incubus would attempt dubstep rock a la Korn, Skrillex's electronica influence only comes in passive amounts, like the extra dash of sub-bass added in the middle-gear alt rocker "State of the Art," and the contemporary pop rock ballad "Loneliest." Mike Einziger also taps into a bluesy demeanor with his guitar, whether in the soft likes of "Make No Sound In The Digital Forest," or the loud blues rock fuzz in "Love in a Time of Surveillance," but more than anything, the band bring back the alt rock guitar distortion that powered "Morning View" and "A Crow Left of the Murder" in songs like "No Fun," "Nimble Bastard," and "Throw Out the Map."
But even though Incubus recalibrate back to their alt rock home range, "8" doesn't feel like the band is applying itself to their best capabilities. Einziger's guitar playing doesn't reach for the skillful heights he set in "A Crow Left of the Murder" or "Light Grenades," Chris Kilmore's role as the turntablist/keyboard player feels very back-seated, and while his vocal power is still a force to be reckoned with, Brandon Boyd's melodies can be hit or miss (compare the strong hook in "Undefeated" to the nasaly one in "Glitterbomb"). Furthermore, the band's choice of writing every song in a standard 4/4 measurement comes much less ambitious compared to the trickier songs they're written in nearly all of their prior albums.
Lyrics — 7
Boyd's lyrics in "8," while not adhering to a traditional concept, are connected by revolving around a theme of naiveté. This is most obvious in Boyd's moments of romance gone awry ("I was your friend and ended up a victim" in "Glitterbomb"; "I'm inspired by your proposition but I don't trust my intuition" in "Loneliest"; "But love is like a blind archer / Trying to shoot an apple off my head" in "Undefeated"), though he also critiques the foolishness of an inescapable digital world in "Love in a Time Of Surveillance" ("Love in a time of surveillance / Is in such a fuss at the Voyeurs-R-Us"), as well as admonishing fresh faces in the pop music scene in "State of the Art" ("You're new, you're young, your blissful ignorance / Is everything they like / But the years have teeth / And sometimes they bite"). And while most of these cases read like curses, Boyd also indulges the cases where naiveté can be a blessing, from cherishing failure as a necessary step for growth in "Nimble Bastard" ("I gotta trip before I can see the finish / How else would I learn?"), to enjoying the rush of flying by the seat of your pants in "Throw Out the Map" ("I want to lose my mind / I want to shed my skin / Dive into the deep end head first").
Overall Impression — 5
Given how their previous album and its direction was received, "8" is a clear reaction to that by going back to the style Incubus know better. But while the album certainly succeeds in its goal of throwing down loud and energetic alt rock, "8" only backpedals to the band's fundamental sound, and doesn't really make another step forward. Because of this, it's hard not to feel the album's output being a weaker emulation of the band's sound in its prime over a decade ago, and leaves much to be desired.