Rewind for a minute back to 1999. Nu-metal looms large with bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn dominating the airwaves and record sales. RollingStone magazine is saying for the millionth time that rock is dead, or at the very least, on life support. Little did that magazine realize, a small yet remarkable movement was taking place. Incubus had started to establish a good career for themselves on their sophomore studio effort S.C.I.E.N.C.E. , and were slowly but surely getting rock fans to turn their heads towards the Calabasas-based band. Enter the third studio album, Make Yourself that has just turned 20 years old. Produced by veteran hit-maker Scott Litt, Incubus made a conscious effort to leave the nu-metal bands they built a scene with scratching their heads in disbelief as the band would evolve their sound into an alternative rock powerhouse that would go on to sell over two million records in the United States alone. While Incubus had grabbed my attention on S.C.I.E.N.C.E., they became my new favorite band on Make Yourself.
Led by three top-three alternative rock singles in “Drive,” “Pardon Me,” and “Stellar,” Incubus seemed destined for greatness on this set of thirteen songs that remain in my regular album rotation to this day. The aggressive opener, “Privilege,” kicks the record off on the right foot and cemented front-man Brandon Boyd as one of my generation’s best vocalists. From the grunge-inspired guitar licks courtesy of Mike Einziger, to the breakneck beats from drummer Jose Pasillas, this band was firing on all cylinders. The band seemed poised for their time in the spotlight as the record unfolds brilliantly around each of their best-known singles from the L.P.
“Nowhere Fast” finds Boyd with both introspective and reflective lyrics as he croons, “I take a look around, it’s evident the scene has changed / And there are times when I feel improved, improved upon the past / And there are times when I can’t seem to understand at all / And yes it seems as though I’m going nowhere really fucking fast.” These lyrics may be based on both Boyd and the band realizing they were in a scene that no longer made sense for them. Instead, Incubus left nu-metal looking at their taillights as the group would go on to become a household name by the end of the decade.
“Consequence” features some cool samples and scratching from D.J. Kilmore, and his presence and role in the band became much clearer on this record. Incubus has always been at their best when they let a song organically flow through them, and discover as a unit what direction they should take each track. The song itself features some powerful guitar chords and one of my all-time favorite opening lines of, “Blink, and you miss a beat, keep one of your eyes open at all times / You think that you’re on the brink, the shit hasn’t even begun to hit the fan.”
Incubus began to catch steam on the fourth song, “The Warmth,” that is built around another unique Einziger riff and Boyd’s powerful vocal delivery. The storytelling in the verses showcased how far Boyd had come as a songwriter and the serious tones that are mapped around the concept of Make Yourself are all construed together into an intricate spiderweb. Each of these songs tells a little bit more about what the band meant by making yourself into something you aspire to be, and their fans appeared to be with them every step of the way.
“When It Comes” could have been a slow burner of a track that never really took off, but the pre-chorus that blends into the hook of, “Just when you thought, it was safe to think / In comes mental piracy, and know / What I’m looking for.” The brilliance of the band to tell a story of being fed up with the bullshit of the world and still living to tell the tale comes across just as powerful today.
“Stellar” comes right after that track and showcased the softer side of Incubus for one of the first times in their career. It was a natural choice for a second single by the label, as it has the ultimate feel of a nighttime summer song as we reminisce under the stars. Boyd reflects on a relationship that has him all turned in knots as he sings on a memorable chorus, “How do you do it, make me feel like I do / How do you do it, it’s better than I ever knew.” It’s charming, to say the least, as Boyd opens his heart to this person who makes him feel like he’s floating towards the heavens.
It only makes sense for the title track to be wedged precisely in the middle of the record. During the production of the track, Boyd and Litt experimented with the vocal effects at the beginning of the song by having Boyd sing directly into an electric guitar to see how the feedback would sound. Whether or not that “take” was used at the beginning of the song, it made for an interesting production note when the accompanying DVD was released documenting the recording of their now legendary album.
And then there’s the massive hit, “Drive.” Built around the acoustic guitar, it remains one of my favorite melodic elements from Incubus. From the harmonies in both the verses and the chorus, everything clicked at just the right time on this number-one single. This song arguably changed the entire trajectory of the band as they became the new leaders of the pack in the alternative rock movement in the late ’90s. Many fans from all over the world have these lyrics tattooed all over their bodies as a mantra to being able to take on “whatever tomorrow brings.”
Fans of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. , that felt that the band had gone too soft on this record, certainly got a taste of what came before on “Clean.” From the nu-metal style riffs of Einziger, to the scratching of Kilmore, Incubus proved that they more than capable of rocking out with the best of them. The track features a lot of what made funk-metal fans gravitate towards Incubus, and showcased a band at the top of their game both creatively as well as musically.
It’s not until the instrumental tenth track, affectionately titled “Battlestar Scralatchtica” that the listener has a chance to catch their breath and reflect on everything that has come before it. Far from a throwaway song, Incubus was showing off at this point at just how accomplished each of the members were as musicians and artists.
“I Miss You” follows this with some more campfire moments from Boyd and crew as the band tells an affectionate story of missing the person that means the most to them. Lyrics such as, “I see your picture, I smell your skin on, the empty pillow next to mine / You have only been gone ten days, but already I am wasting away,” paint a group of artists as vulnerable and human as the rest of us. We all need to belong to something, whether it be a purpose or a person. The concept is not lost upon the band on this song and remains one of my favorite ballads in alternative rock.
“Pardon Me” is really what kicked the doors down when Make Yourself was released. From the powerful imagery in the music video depicting the band being engulfed in flames, to the story that Boyd read about a person who spontaneously combusted, the song is just fucking massive. To the starts and stops of the verses that showcased the brilliance and restraint of Pasillas, all the way to the balls-to-the-wall vocal delivery in the chorus from Boyd, this song was never not going to be a hit. As much as the song is brilliant in its overall structure and production, the track ties in a lot of earlier floated concepts of the theme of the record as a whole.
If there is a weak link on the record, it comes in the form of the closer, “Out From Under.” From the messy opening song structure to the oddball lyrics, it’s almost a stumper as to why the band decided to include it on the album. The track plays like a B-side of sorts, as it doesn’t seem to fit the flow and mood of the album as a whole. The band rarely plays this song live too, which is usually an indication that the band may also concur that it wasn’t their strongest track. That being said, the song still rocks harder than anything the nu-metal bands from the late ’90s were ever capable of conjuring up during the height of its popularity.
Incubus are currently celebrating the 20th anniversary of Make Yourself in the form of a tour, and they should look back fondly on the memories created on this record. Some of these songs have rarely been performed live in years, and I’m sure longtime fans will appreciate this record getting its due justice through the lens of a band rediscovering what made this record such a powerhouse. From front to back, Incubus delivered an album that not only made them a household name but also led to plenty of self-discovery on what it means to make yourself.