Album Review: Incubus, “Light Grenades” (2006)

When I think of my favorite groups, Incubus is usually quite high up on the list.  I fell in love with the five-part, Calabasas-based rock band when I was in middle school, but their music has guided me past those angst-ridden years (oh, and were they angst-ridden) and to adulthood. I suspect I will always be a fan of Incubus’ rock sound (it’s hard and angry at times, but never quite hard or angry enough to compare to, say, a metal band), and lead vocalist, Brandon Boyd’s powerful vocals and lyrics.

The group’s sixth album, Light Grenades, was released in 2006, and is a wonderful combination of Incubus’ current “nu-metal” sound, Boyd’s vocals and songwriting; all brilliantly displayed in a heavy handful of songs.

The album begins with Quicksand, an almost ambient-sounding song.  The backing music has a sort of space-agey feel to it, and so do Boyd’s vocals as he begins to sing.  The short piece is more of an intro, but still the lyrics should be noted, as Boyd sings of a twisted relationship.  My favorite part is the “chorus” and the lyrics, “Some people fall in love and touch the sky/Some people fall in love and find quicksand/I hover somewhere in between I swear I can’t make up my mind.”   Describes plenty of relationships I’ve witnessed and even been a part of.

The intro fades seamlessly into Kiss to Send Us Off, a fast paced number that starts off somewhat quietly and then builds up by the first chorus with a thrashing of guitars and drums.  This seems like the ultimate song to play on Rock Band; then again, I’ve been saying for a while that Rock Band and Guitar Hero need to release a game exclusively of Incubus songs, but I digress.   The appeal of this song lies mostly in the loud sound; the lyrics are mostly a repetition of the title, but the guitar work and drumming gives the song a frantic, upbeat feeling that creates the perfect beginning to the album.

Up next is Dig, which is high on the list of my favorite Incubus songs, as well as my favorite songs, period.  The pace is several times slower than the song before it, but the guitar riff that plays along the entire song is a nice one.  The genius here definitely lies in the lyrics, as Boyd sings of what basically encompasses a perfect, eternal friendship/relationship (“If I turn into another/dig me up from under what is covering/the better part of me/Sing this song/remind me that we’ll always have each other/when everything else is gone”).  I think the best part about Dig, is that it’s such a relatable song.   Even if you don’t have a friend or lover in your life that will be there for you as completely as this song portrays, everyone yearns for one.   I know I’d like to think that I have someone in my life that will be there for me “when everything else is gone”.

The tempo picks right back up with Anny Molly, another loud rocker.  I wish I knew the story to this song- if perhaps there is a real person named Anna Molly, or it’s just a clever play on words that developed into something more (say Anna Molly really fast and you get “anomaly”), but either way, the song is a catchy one and another favorite of mine.  Guitarist Mike Einziger seems to be having a blast on the riffs in this one, and Boyd’s vocals are at top form as he screams out the lyrics, “I picture your face in the back of my eyes/A fire in the attic a proof of the prize/Anna Molly, Anna Molly, Anna Molly”.

The album seems to be going up and down in tempo with every other song, and this trend continues with the mid-tempo ballad, Love Hurts.  I first heard this song by means of an acoustic cover performed by MySpace artist, Marie Digby, and fell in love, though Incubus’ version is even better.   Boyd sings yet again of a twisted relationship (which seems to be a common trend on this album in particular), and the quieted melody gives way for more focus on the reflective lyrics (“Sometimes when I’m alone I wonder/Is there a spell that I am under/Keeping me from seeing the real thing/Love hurts/But sometimes it’s a good hurt/And it feels like I’m alive/Love sings/When it transcends the bad things/Have a heart and try me/’cause without love I won’t survive”) and Boyd’s melancholy delivery.

Speaking of which, Oil and Water is yet another song in the same vein; though, this time Boyd compares the two lovers to oil and water (“You and I are like oil and water/We’ve been trying, trying, trying/Oh, to mix it up.”).  The melody is a bit subdued, but again, it’s the lyrics that really stand out here.  The song perfectly conveys a couple trying so hard to make a relationship work, though they are clearly not compatible (“Babe, this wouldn’t be the first time/It will not be the last time/We tried to believe everything would get better/We’ve been lying to each other/Hey Babe, let’s just call it, call it/Call it/Oh, for what it is.”) and again, just about anyone can relate to this experience or at least directly knows someone who can.Brandon Boyd of Incubus live 2004

Diamonds and Coal is another song about a relationship going awry, though this time, the outlook is actually positive.  Boyd makes a point to compare the relationship to diamonds and coal, saying, “Give us time to shine/Even diamonds start out as coal”. The melody is slower paced than some of the other tracks on the album, but the lyrics are again what keeps me coming back for repeated listens (“We’re both aligned in frame of mind/But circumstance got us good/And now you’re seeing a side of me/I wish no one ever would/Yeah if it’s right to pick a fight/We’re fingers in a sugar bowl/Love isn’t perfect/Even diamonds start as coal”).

Right when you start to believe the album is going to be nothing but mid-tempo ballads, Rogues comes in, and kicks things back up a notch.  The lyrics aren’t the stereotypical ones of a relationship, and end up being quite interesting (“Hats off and applause to rogues and evolution/The ripple effect is too good not to mention/If you’re not affected, you’re not paying attention”), and Boyd sings the song with appropriate spite and conviction.

However, for every amazing song on the album, there seems to be an equally lackluster one.  The title track, Light Grenades, is another loud rocker which is only notable for the highly catchy chorus (“Survived the plague, floated the flood, just peeked our heads above the mud/No one’s immune, deafening bells, my God, will we survive ourselves?”).

Paper Shoes is an unfortunate case of great lyrics being lost on a dull melody. Honestly, I’ve never paid too much attention to this song, because of the slow-paced tune.  But a glimpse at the lyrics just now made me realize that I’d actually love this song had I given it a fair shot. The lyrics deal with- you guessed it- a relationship gone wrong, but the lines are uniquely written and clever (“I fly/I soar/This I adore/And then like a locomotive/The sound of your sorrow comes/I’m tired of the way that it feels/I only apologized to you to make you feel better/I think I’ve outgrown that horsehair sweater/I’d rather be alone/You’re ’bout as reliable as paper shoes in bad weathers/But pain will roll off like water on feathers”), and it’s really a shame that the lyrics were paired with such a bland sound. Pendulous Threads is another song I’ve overlooked on the numerous times I’ve listened to the album. This time around, the sound is loud and almost obnoxious, especially during the opening when your ears are greeted to the sounds of numerous guitars and feedback.  I do like the lyrics (“On a burning bridge your/Options are minimal at best/Depending on where you’re standing/And how much breath is in your chest/If it came down to it, would you hightail home and hide/Or dance on fire, enjoy the ride?”), and in fact, I even like the sound after the ear-splitting opening, but the song definitely looses steam towards the first chorus and falls flat.

Earth to Bella is split into two parts, one inserted in towards the middle of the album, and the other tacked onto the end.  Both parts are slow ballads and both are a bit boring to listen to.  The first part does have a bit of a pickup after the first verse, but the second part remains downtrodden.  The lyrics are actually a bit interesting, as Boyd gives “Bella” some worthy advice for living (“Earth to Bella/You think you’ve got it all figured in/Earth to Bella/Everything you know is wrong. Well, almost/Earth to Bella/I’ve seen when you are not listening/I bear the burden/Of being the voice that lets you know/We all grow old/And before you swim you gotta be okay to sink.”)  The part two has a nice bit of harmonizing towards the end with an electric guitar solo, but the whole thing goes on too long for me to handle.

As a whole, Light Grenades is a great Incubus album.  Some of the bands best songs to date are present on this disc, and Boyd and the others reach new territory in regards to both lyrics and sound.  I can only hope that they’ll call off their hiatus soon and get back into the studio with a new album soon.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Quicksand
2. A Kiss to Send Us Off
3. Dig
4. Anna Molly
5. Love Hurts
6. Light Grenades
7. Pt. 1 Earth to Bella
8. Oil and Water
9. Diamonds and Coal
10. Rogues
11. Paper Shoes
12. Pendulous Threads
13. Pt. 2 Earth to Bella

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA_xjBaXor0]
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