In 2001, Incubus was at something of a crossroads.
Like a lot of bands that were kicking around the mid-90s, they had made their bones playing heavy, chunky rock songs. The band’s singer Brandon Boyd didn’t rap, which separated them some from the pack but the vibe was kind of the same, thus lumping them in alongside the next wave of rock bands following in the footsteps of bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Disturbed. They were never really nu-metal, but the mid-90s were a weird time. For all intents and purposes, Incubus was yet another nu-metal band politely thrashing their way through the countryside.
Yet as the decade came to a close, Incubus created some space between themselves and their supposed contemporaries with their third album, Make Yourself. The album still rocked, but a softness had crept in, most notably with the acoustic track “Drive,” which helped the album go double platinum. These Incubus fellas seemed to have something more up their sleeves than it appeared and as they approached their fourth album, the honus was on them to show it.
The first step they took was deciding to pass on the idea of recording in a studio and instead, they elected to use the means and wherewithal they now had at their disposal to rent a house on the ocean and set up shop there. For six months, the band lived and worked in a rented mansion in Malibu, a quaint little spot right on the water. By cutting out distractions and left to their own devices, the band ended up producing an album that would be their high watermark. For Incubus, everything leading up to Morning View felt like bread crumbs found on the way to a major discovery, and everything after felt like remnants of a quality kickback that would live on forever.
Twenty years later, Morning View lives on, both as a great rock album but also as a prime example of a band making the right decisions when faced with near-impossible choices. The band had been around for ten years by the time they settled in to record Morning View and for the majority of that time, they had played loud California sun-infused hard rock. Yet it was “Drive,” a song that was as mellow as “A Certain Shade of Green” off of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. thrashed that had helped bring them into the mainstream and brought them legions of fans they had never had before. There were two versions of Incubus kicking around by the time a new decade had dawned and it was up to the band to figure out which one was going to embark on both a new decade and a new century.
The band could have been forgiven for choosing to follow one path or the other respectively. If they elected to keep doing the big rock thing or lean into the mellow moods of acoustic bliss, who could really blame them? One path was the one they had forged from the jump and was warm and familiar while the other no doubt led to a cushier lifestyle, albeit one maybe not as inspiring as they would have liked. But they had to make a choice. It couldn’t be both. They had to pick one future or the other.
Or did they?
The genius of Morning View was that Incubus figured out how to thread the needle and travel both paths at the same time. Morning View can sound like a cousin of their earlier work while also coming off as a close friend of the sounds they dabbled with on Make Yourself. And that coupled with some experience under their belts allowed Incubus to approach the album with a sense of confidence that let them go hard and soft with clear eyes and a clear heart and yep, then you can’t lose baby. They could let it all hang out on a track like ‘Warning” and dial it back some on “Mexico.” They could open the album with a hell of a three-song combo and then close it out with a nearly eight-minute-long trance-like song that featured Chinese instruments and frogs. On Morning View, Incubus could successfully be all things to all people and not feel the least bit cheap about it.
When a band is lucky enough to get to the uncomfortable point where their past comes face to face with a future that looks different, it can break a band. It can crush their soul and send them out in the mist with empty songs and full cash registers. It’s a deal with the devil and it’s hard to turn down. You work so hard to get to the point where everything is gravy but more often than not, the gravy is generic and lumpy and it’ll do, but it’s not great. How do you say no though? Especially when you know that if you do, another chance will likely never present itself and you’ll be dogged by the what-if ghosts for the rest of your days.
Morning View is a testament to the third option, the one that says you can go with all of the above and not look like you’re taking the easy way out. It’s an example of a band saying that they see what is in front of them and fondly remember what is behind them and electing to grab both and plunge headfirst into the uncertainty that lies ahead. Morning View is commercial but experimental, sleek but raw, grimy but sun-kissed.
And it ends with the sound of frogs.
Ten years in, Incubus cracked the code and made their best album. Perhaps we should all spend more time staring out at the ocean?