I can vividly remember my excitement for the fifth studio album by Incubus called A Crow Left of the Murder… since the band was on a legendary run of successful records. The started to break through in the nu-metal scene with S.C.I.E.N.C.E., established themselves as Alt Rock heavyweights on Make Yourself, and showcased their experimental side on Morning View. Even after the departure of longtime bassist Dirk Lance, in favor of Ben Kenney (The Roots), it seemed like nothing could derail the trajectory of one of my favorite bands of all time. A Crow Left of the Murder… found Incubus working with veteran producer Brendan O’Brien, whose credits include some of the biggest rock bands of all time, and their trust in his style paid off on this record that still sounds as refreshing and exciting as I remember from 20 years ago listening to it in full for the first time.
While some critics thought that Incubus were getting ultra-experimental, for the sake of being adventurous, after the success of their earlier albums, guitarist Mike Einziger clarified in a 2004 interview that, “we’ve never felt we didn’t have that freedom. We’ve always done what we wanted. It’s kind of self-serving, but that’s how we do it. We try not to pay attention to anything but each other.” By putting that trust back into their musical product, Incubus delivered the goods on what I consider to be some of the best work to date.
The albums blasts off with a growling guitar riff on the lead single, “Megalomaniac,” that targets power-crazed individuals and their affinity for destructive behavior. Hmm, sounds familiar…Lead vocalist Brandon Boyd is as captivating as he’s ever been on the anthemic chorus of, “Hey, megalomaniac / You’re no Jesus, yeah, you’re no fucking Elvis / Wash your hands clean of yourself, baby / And step down, step down, step down,” as he makes his and his bandmates intentions clear that they weren’t happy with the status quo of the world. For as strong as a lead single the song is, I found it a tad surprising that their label would only release one additional official single from the LP that is loaded with great material.
The title track follows with a frenetic pace to the instruments, while Boyd goes between soft to loud in his vocal approach to accentuate each lyric based on its purpose. The first verse of, “Unlearn me / Ditch what I read behind what I heard / Look, find, free / Yet? Do you get it yet? Do you get it?” finds the vocalist pondering what needs to be done to get the world to change for the better. “Agoraphobia” showcases their new bassist (Kenney) prominently with a pulsating bass line throughout the verses before gradually building to the chorus of, “I wanna stay inside / I wanna stay inside for good / I wanna stay inside / For good, for good, for good, for good,” that still merits its weight in gold today having lived through a pandemic. What Incubus does well on songs like this is to never rush their hook. They slow-build to their memorable moments and make sure they hit all of their intended targets, much like a painter putting the finishing touches on their canvas.
The only other single to be released from the LP, “Talk Shows on Mute,” is a stunning ballad about the effects that television can have on us all. The refrain of, “Come one, come all / To 1984,” is in reference to the legendary book by George Orwell, which makes us all think about how far we still need to go as a society to avoid repeating unfortunate historical events. Boyd delivers another memorable vocal performance on this single that still stands the test of time in more ways than one.
”Beware! Criminal” and especially “Six Sad Little World” find Incubus leaning into some prog-rock elements, while still remaining recognizable in their Alt-rock roots by featuring uplifting choruses. On the latter, Boyd’s admission that “The world is a drought when out of love,” is as beautiful as it is tragic, and yet it still rings true today. The abrasive, speedy rock of “Pistola” marked a harder-nosed side of the band not often shown on their last two records, while the gorgeous “Southern Girl” is filled with so many heart-wrenching lyrical moments that make you take notice. My favorite lyric comes from the second verse of, “So come outside and walk with me / We’ll try each other on to see if we fit / And with our roots, become a tree / To shade what we make under it.”
The later stages of the LP never lose focus, with more hard-nosed guitar wails found on “Priceless,” and the investigation of the afterlife’s influence on us in “Zee Deveel” that finds Boyd experimenting with his vocal cadence in the verses. “Made For TV Movie” finds the band observing their world crumbling around them on the chorus of, “Hello, I’m trying to focus / But my eyes deceive me / Focus, I’m witnessing / History repeating,” that brings the listener back to the message of “Talk Shows on Mute” brilliantly.
Other late standouts like the guitar groove bliss on “Smile Lines” and a somber take on the Beach Boys’ concept on “In My Room” finds its footing on “Here In My Room” as Boyd admits over a piano-laced ballad, “If the world would fall apart in a fiction worthy wind / I wouldn’t change a thing now that you’re here.” It’s a stunning admission on the fragility of the world around us, and to treasure the relationships we make along the way. “Leech” is a great summation of all the parts found on A Crow Left of the Murder… so it makes for a wise choice in the sequencing to have it be the last taste found on the record. Incubus could have gone in a myriad of directions given the success of Make Yourself and Morning View, yet they made another cohesive LP here that due to its lyrical weight, still rings very true today conceptually.