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“Hypocrites Like Us: Incubus and the World of Necessary Caucasian Platitudes”

* “Hypocrites like us / Deserve a little trust along the way” – Sebadoh

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* “If you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody else will, either.” – Ethan Hawke

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Eventually, I think, all music listening artist fields sort themselves out, and only by music’s need, does it manifest, does it propagate: firstly in the mind of the artist, obviously.
So the very existence of Incubus entails the band’s validity. Well, now, you might say, what about really bad bands like those dudes who sang that song “She Likes Me For Me”? Incubus is a special case, because they have been the nominees of an impressive longevity, and, as Rolling Stone once pointed out, not only stylistic variation, but TIMELY and BALLSY stylistic variation from album to album. See the mellow, complacent Morning View contemporary with the throes of rap-rock, see, the voluminous (though slightly overproduced) A Crow Left of the Murder…, sterilizing the mounds of emo albumen. See Light Grenades with the song “Dig” that, well, didn’t suck. There’s no doubt that RS’s point is observant and honorable.
Still, it’s almost impossible to say to yourself that you view Incubus’ music as paradigmatically referent. They’re simply just too erratic with their semantic messages, albeit often organized by album. An example I’ll offer of this, in direct juxtaposition, is the extreme paranoiac caution of Make Yourself’s “When it Comes.” [1] This is a song which presupposes the existence of evil in the world, something to be avoided, something the vulnerable mind could become subservient, if he or she is not careful. Set this next to Morning View’s “Warning,” resident anthemic album centerpiece and invincible arbiter of “cool,” though. It doesn’t sound so nice, does it? One song is preaching precaution, and the other is preaching reckless abandon, much like the titled track to Green Day’s Warning.
Let me backtrack here a bit and mention Stereolab, lest you should think me a professionally compliant rock DJ who gonna slab you with some Saliva or Five Finger Death Punch here in a second. Stereolab has a song called “The Noise of Carpet” on their critically acclaimed Emperor Tomato Ketchup, in which Laetitia Sadler is basically railing against an individual who gives her peeves. A couple of the lines go as follows: “I hate to see your broken face…”; “I hate your state of hopelessness”… “The world will give you anything / If only you will want to.” Like Incubus, she wields incredibly palpable moral indignation, although with her, instead of the message being fashioned against a large whole, such as an evil society, et. al., it focuses just on one person, not too different from Head Automatica’s “King Caesar” or Queens of the Stone Age’s “Everybody Knows That You’re Insane.” [2] To me, and aligned with probably why Stereolab is viewed in a more vanguard lens than Incubus, this works better than an overall indictment of the world at large. One listen to the lyrics of each song will tell you that Sadler delves more into specifics, more into traceable qualms, than Incubus’ Brandon Boyd, whose exclamations seem ostensibly composed just of generic, stock utterances. [3]
Still, to me, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the Sadler case is righteous (flawed we’ve already shown Boyd to be here with his songwriting succession). It could be that “The Noise of Carpet” is a commendable, memorable song which leaves an indelible impression simply for the reason that it is a clear, concise statement: an exacted attack against an assumed adversary. Whether the subject of Sadler’s song indeed breaches some humanistic obligation, or is in possession of some noxious quality, is very hard to determine, though I happen to argue in the contrary, because in this crazy world we live in, a lot of people proffer harm in actual, physical ways, leaving the condition of being so fed up by a person’s tacit demeanor leaving indeed a bit childish.
Nevertheless, this should show that paradigmatic moral soundness and effective rock music are not directly proportional to each other. We can, therefore, abide the message in “When it Comes,” taking it singly, and we can abide the message in “Warning,” taking it singly, but can he abide the both of them in concurrence?
Well, hell, maybe. You see, “Warning” is a breakup song. There has been a change in Brandon Boyd’s life to which he has not been made numb by Zoloft: he has cut someone loose, hurt someone, emotionally. And I mean, if you’re an Incubus fan, can you really imagine the world without these two songs? Hardly.
Lots of the best songs we’ve ever heard are breakup songs: see Ween’s “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” see Built To Spill’s chillingly haunting “Untrustable pt. 2,” to say minimal of Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen seeing fit the following paean in the equally spooky “All We Ask”: “I can’t get out / Of what I’m into with you.” Circa 2007, no mainstream rock song by a band not named My Chemical Romance makes even close to the impression of “Dig,” and to its credit, rather than being a breakup song such as “Warning” is, it is a song of adherent, like a “Stand by Me,” like a “Livin’ on a Prayer.” So Brandon Boyd’s messages contradict. The truth that there is no unwavering path to follow seems to have been unleashed on the unwitting listening populace, and this in fact is just another tenet widely indicated in the music we love, in the music, we think, gives us solace.
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[1] This song comes complete with a rad, RAD, I’m talking rad, guitar part courtesy of the inimitable Mike Einziger.
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[2] I am not making qualitative claims about either of these two songs at this current juncture.
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[3] Of course, you could also read Boyd as simply a cry for help, amidst a world which deluges him with untoward mental images every day.

20 thoughts on ““Hypocrites Like Us: Incubus and the World of Necessary Caucasian Platitudes”

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