Album Review: Incubus, “Morning View” (2001)

I’ll admit it now…few of the CDs that I purchased when I was 14 or 15 still remain in rotation in my CD player. One of the exceptions is Incubus’ fourth album, Morning View. I purchased the album sometime between those teenage years, and fell in love with it almost immediately, and my fond feelings towards the disc still remain now.

The Calabasas-based band (which was composed of lead singer Brandon Boyd, guitarist Michael Einzinger, bassist Dirk Lance, drummer Jose Pasillas II, and Chris Kilmore on the turntables) created an album full of what could best be described as melodic rock; songs with stunning melodies, well-crafted lyrics, strong vocals, and great musicianship in general.

The album starts off with Nice To Know You. The song begins quietly enough; with a gentle synthesized wave which then leads into some soft beat boxing from Boyd. After the hushed intro, the song kicks into full gear with heavy drumming and a memorable guitar riff. Boyd’s vocals are always nice to listen to, and even though he screams his way through the catchy chorus (“I haven’t felt the way I feel today/In so long it’s hard for me to specify/I’m beginning to notice how much this feels/Like a waking limb, pins and needles/Nice to know you…goodbye”) his vocals still remain pleasant, instead of moving to the “annoying” or “grating” territory that some of his contemporaries tend to end up in. The best part of the song, however, is the break before the last chorus; scratching from Kilmore and a beautiful guitar solo from Einzinger gives the song a soothing and relaxing vibe.

Circles follows and has a harder sound than its predecessor. This time around, it’s the lyrics that appeal to me (“You saw me lost and treading water/I looked pathetic/I looked as helpless as a stinger without a bee/But underneath my presentation (yeah)/I knew the walls were coming down/And the stones that fell were aiming away from me”) rather than the tune, which unfortunately comes off sounding a bit unoriginal and uninspired (save another break towards the bridge, which is again the best part of the song musically). The song’s meaning of reciprocity also continues on with the album’s trend of being hurt and wanting revenge; it seems that Boyd or the other band mates were a bit bitter when writing the album.

The disc’s lead single is up next with I Wish You Were Here. The song bares no relation to the Pink Floyd song of the same title, though I think I’m a bigger fan of this Incubus number, anyway. A light melody plays off sentimental lyrics (“I dig my toes into the sand/The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds/Strewn across a blue blanket/I lean against the wind/Pretend that I am weightless/And in this moment I am happy…happy/I wish you were here”), and while some Incubus fans point to this track as proof of the band “selling out”, I simply see it as a positive sign of the band’s versatility.

One of my favorites on the album is Just A Phase. The song opens with an electronic effect that’s supposed to mimic the sound of waves crashing on a beach, though it’s always reminded me of windshield wipers sliding across a window. Either way, the song’s intro is more than two minutes long, with soft guitar work and Boyd quietly harmonizing. Finally, the first real lyrics are sung (“I am bottled, fizzy water, and you are shaking me up/You are a fingernail, running down the chalkboard/I thought I left in third grade/Now my only, consolation, is that this could not last forever/Even though you’re singing and thinking/How well you’ve got it made”) and I am again in love with the band’s songwriting ability. However, the song’s best quality is the change between tempos; throughout the track the instrumentation and vocals build up and decrescendo several times, making the song a bit of a roller coaster ride, but a fun one.Incubus at HQ Live

The excellency continues with Blood On The Ground. The violent title is only a hint of the anger expressed in this song, but the lyrics are again extremely well-written and highly relatable (“From now on, gonna start holding my breath/When you come around/And you flex that fake grin/’Cause something inside me has said more than twice/That breathing less air beats breathing you in, oh…/I don’t wanna talk to you anymore/I’m afraid of what I might say/I bite my tongue every time you come around/’Cause blood in my mouth beats/Blood on the ground”) to anyone that’s ever had someone under their skin. Boyd’s vocals are appropriately loud and angry, and so is the music. I’ve listened to this song on top volume on several occasions, especially after having a stressful day at work or disagreeing with someone; turns out to be a great stress reliever ;).

The only thing close to a ballad on the disc is Mexico, which is another favorite. The song is entirely acoustic- just guitar and vocals- but the stripped down production is one of the track’s strengths. The despondent lyrics (“You could see me reaching/So why couldn’t you have/Met me halfway/You could see me bleeding/But you could not put/Pressure on the wound/You only think about yourself/You only think about yourself/You’d better bend before I go/On the first train to Mexico”) manage to come off as touching and emotional, rather than whiny, and Boyd’s vocals are exquisite, especially during the bridge when he sings in falsetto. Another almost-ballad is the mid-tempo tune, Echo. An Eastern-sounding riff brings us into the song, which is…, well, about being in love. The sentimentality is a bit surprising to find amidst most of the other edgy songs on the album (save Wish You Were Here), but the sweet lyrics (“There’s something about the look in your eyes/Something I noticed when the light was just right /It reminded me twice that I was alive/And it reminded me that you’re so worth the fight”) are again superbly written, and the track is another highlight.

Unfortunately, the album falters a few times as well. 11am has a memorable riff, and the lyrics (about regretting a breakup) aren’t bad (the line, “Forgive my indecision/I am only a man”, is a favorite), but the song tends to drag after the second verse and is usually a skip for me. The same holds for Warning, which is actually a good song (another catchy tune and nice lyrics), but got played out far too much upon its release as a single. Still, Boyd’s vocals are particularly lovely on the track and I sometimes listen just to hear him sing. Have You Ever is a loud rock song that sounds like something from the Red Hot Chili Peppers but lacks the charm that Anthony Kiedis and the gang would’ve injected into it, had it been their song. Similarly, Under My Umbrella boasts another heavy guitar riff, which unfortunately leads into a pretty dull track. The song’s only saving grace is the lyrics in the bridge- “If this is right, I‘d rather be wrong/If this is sight, I‘d rather be blind”.

Are You In? appears towards the end of the album, and finally brings the disc back up from its current slump. The sound is mellower, and almost has a reggae-flavor to it, that ends up working quite well. Kilmore returns to the turntables for some more scratching effects, and Boyd’s breezy harmonies towards the end of the song just add to the fun of the track.

The disc comes to a close with Aqueous Transmission. The song is noted as being one of the band’s biggest musical experiments, and within the first few seconds, it’s easy to see why. The Eastern influence returns with the pipa (a traditional Chinese string instrument) being used for the song’s main riff. Flutes and other wind instruments are added to the song, giving off a highly calm and peaceful sound. Though Boyd’s hushed vocals seem to fade away into the lush instrumentation, the lyrics are again extremely well-written and should be noted (“Two weeks without my lover/I’m in this boat alone/Floating down a river named emotion/Will I make it back to shore/Or drift into the unknown?”). The song is the longest on the album, coming in at 7:46, but the last three minutes or so is all instrumental. A chorus of frogs croaking ends the song on a mellow vibe, and makes for the perfect end to the album.

As I mentioned earlier, Morning View was the album that many Incubus fans pointed to as when the band “sold out”. However, I think the disc is a reflection of the group’s creativity, versatility, and musicianship. And nearly six years later, the CD is still one of my favorites, which is something I can say about very few artists/albums.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Nice To Know You
2. Circles
3. Wish You Were Here
4. Just A Phase
5. 11am
6. Blood On The Ground
7. Mexico
8. Warning
9. Echo
10. Have You Ever
11. Are You In?
12. Under My Umbrella
13. Aqueous Transmission


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