The nu-metal era was a crazy time for the music scene. CD sales were exploding, rap-rock was dominating the airwaves, and bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and many others were packing the clubs nightly for their brand of music. Incubus, to me, always seemed the ones most likely to break free of the nomenclature of the nu-metal genre, as they had a more polished sound, an ultra-talented vocalist in Brandon Boyd, and a rock sound that with the right help of a producer would launch them into the stratosphere of notoriety. Fast forward to 2022, and Incubus’ second album has turned 25 years old. Much like how Boyd laments on the penultimate track on S.C.I.E.N.C.E., I feel like shouting, “I know exactly where we are…where the fuck are we?” How did a band as talented as Incubus break free of the chains of nu-metal and still leave a lasting legacy of this record that so many longtime fans adore, yet the band feels shy to talk about? The answers can be found in looking to the future that seemed to be a little uncertain for these California-based rockers searching for their own footing and identity.
The album kicks off with a very “on brand” nu-metal tinged song in “Redefine” that features some near-rapped verses by Boyd before exploding into the chorus of, “I’m sick of painting in black and white / My pen is dry and I’m all uptight / So sick of limiting myself / To fit your definition.” The chorus features plenty of DJ scratches from DJ Lyfe (this would be their last record with him before replacing him with DJ Kilmore), as Boyd explains his frustrations of being locked into certain norms. Much like the scene Incubus were slowly, but surely, breaking away from the band were suddenly becoming even more polished and poised for breakout success. The record was produced by veteran hitmaker, Jim Wirt, and he does his best to reel in the band’s tendencies to create strange sounding tones and creative beats on this record. As guitarist Mike Einziger put it back in 1997, “he helped us come up with strange stuff and he likes it when we do. He doesn’t try to change what we do, he tries to enhance it.”
”Vitamin” follows the raucous opener, and remains one of the few remaining songs that Incubus continue to incorporate in their live sets to date. The song features a stellar beat, and even features a drum breakdown near the bridge, that the band tends to extend during their live performances. “New Skin” was one of the singles to be released during the promotional cycle and it rocks with steady purpose and aggressively lets Incubus breathe a little bit of new life into funk-based rock. On the lyrical material, Brandon Boyd shared, “In ‘New Skin,’ I attribute a scab to the present state of society. The way the scab looks in its worst state is gross and chaotic and horrible, that’s now, but when it breaks away, there’s a brand new piece of skin that’s stronger than before. It’s like creation out of chaos.” Boyd’s forward thinking pays off widely, as this song still hits its intended target listening back on it today.
Unfortunately the middle of the album does have a few small misfires in a jazzy “Idiot Box,” that finds Boyd showcasing his incredible vocal talents over some power chords by Einziger, as well as the DJ-based interlude, “Magic Medicine.” However these small missteps don’t outweigh the good coming forth in the speakers, as songs like “Glass” are immediately punchy and well thought out. In the first verse Boyd explains, “If I had a dime / For every time you walked away / I could afford to not give a shit / And buy a drink and drown the day / But your pockets, they are empty / Yeah, and mine are times two / So why not make an about-face / And accept the love I send to you?” His vocal cadence is extremely on-point and still leaves plenty of room to belt out in the chorus.
”A Certain Shade of Green” opens up the second half of the record with a great and super-charged guitar riff that was destined to be made into a single, whether the label wanted it to be or not. Incubus have breathed new life into this song live by usually playing it slowed down, or a “lounge version” that I’d highly recommend everyone check out on YouTube at some point soon. “Favorite Things” is another gem of a track in the back half that finds the band channeling the best and most creative parts of their sound in a NIN or industrial-type of song that features fuzzy guitars in the verses paired with Jose Pasillas frenetic drumming. “Summer Romance (Anti-Gravity Love Song” is another one of those songs that you never knew the band had in them at the time, and yet they created it at just the right moment in their career. It truly is a lounge-type song that still feels like Incubus, and may have led the band to the “exit ramp” altogether of abandoning the safer nu-metal path that was welcoming them.
”Nebula” is still one of the strangest songs that exists in the band’s discography, and that’s saying something after the crazy as shit Fungus Amongus album that preceded this one. “Deep Inside,” on the other hand, continues to explore the Alt Rock lounge that the band were experimenting with on this record, and it does a pretty damn good job of delivering. Boyd’s vocals continued to transcend what other vocalists were attempting at the time in the alternative rock landscape, he was just that much better at those dreamy high notes. The album comes to a close with the spacey “Calgone,” a song that’s roughly about being abducted by aliens. The song features an even-more aggressive mosh pit breakdown, and gives everything that nu-metal fans would have wanted from this young band.
Overall, if you were wanting to point to a certain record in Incubus’ discography that showcased their incredible musical talents, creativity, and aggressive guitar tones, you’d likely come to the same stopping point here with S.C.I.E.N.C.E. The band would take their unique style of alternative rock several steps forward on Make Yourself, which I still look back fondly as my favorite Incubus record to date, and yet you can’t help but appreciate the vastness of creative juices flowing on this sophomore effort. While the band may not like to talk to much about their humble beginnings, it’s still much worth appreciating.