*Writer's Note: Though you can see from the rating, a slight spoiler alert is that I have more negative things to say than positive about this album. But please, take the time and read about the creation process from the perspective of lead singer Brandon Boyd. I believe he deserves his say as well.
When a band achieves that coveted notion of longevity, it is inevitable that they will always be compared to the sounds of their past (see: Green Day). The problem of trying to do that with Incubus over the band's near double decade career is that their sound has never been clearly defined.
From the rap-rock sounds of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. to the beach-inspired tracks found on Morning View to the arena-pleasing Light Grenades, Incubus has always peppered their studio albums with dashes of different genres to create a diverse plate. And it's the lack of appetitie that is the ultimate reason If Not Now, When? fails to succeed.
The title track opens things up with a slow-building song that reflects the same kind of lyrical positivity as "Drive." It's classic Brandon Boyd with the vocal work and because the album is starting off slower, you expect that something big is about to happen soon. But there lies the problem: the album never takes off.
This release has been described as "boring" and a different first impression that came to mind was "lazy." The lyrics are head-scratching in "Friends and Lovers" while "Defiance" has the potential to be a good track, but ends up being a throwaway. Elsewhere, "In The Company of Wolves" is a nice idea in theory, but goes on way too long while "The Original" almost seems like it's being done by an Incubus tribute band on Broadway.
While "Promises, Promises" is a fair enough radio single, "Thieves" is a bright spot early on with a focus on the instrumental work. It's also an example of one of the most surprising elements to If Not Now, When? in that Boyd is almost overshadowed by the rest of the band at times. Some tracks would have done well to have extended some of the non-vocal parts, a la "Sick Sad Little World" from A Crow Left of the Murder.
As the album nears the end, "Switchblade" provides a breath of fresh air as the group finally shows some life, but it comes too late. The lead-single "Adolescents" (good choice - it's the strongest track on this release) comes next and gives a rare chance to turn up the volume, even if it is a modest jam at best.
Bottom Line: If Now Now, When? is not terrible (hence the 2 stars), but it's far from great. In fact, if it stood alone and wasn't compared to previous releases, the tracks can be enjoyable. This also might be a case where the songs become better through repeated listens, but here is where the title is appropriate. If they don't grab you now, then when?
Hits: Adolescents; Thieves; Switchblade; Promises, Promises
Misses: The Original; Friends and Lovers; In The Company of Wolves
*Reminder: I have to urge you again to check out this commentary from Brandon Boyd. I believe there is nothing like hearing an artist's viewpoint on releases, especially an unusual one such as this.