Top positive review
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Ignore the hits; these b-sides are far more interesting...
on 24 July 2009
I won't do you a disservice here and review the first disc, `Monuments'. So, a brief overview then: it consists primarily of the hit singles the band have had since their inception in 1991, although it omits anything from the bands second album proper, `S.C.I.E.N.C.E.'. This makes sense; it was the song `Drive' (from 1999's `Make Yourself') that scored the band their biggest hit and launched them into the big leagues. Anything before said period (`Fungous Amongous', the `Enjoy Incubus' E.P. and aforementioned `S.C.I.E.N.C.E.') shouldn't technically be on a greatest hits package as it didn't really HIT anybody, bar the underground metal scene. However, including something from the bands funk-metal days may have helped to illustrate how much they've grown as musicians and song writers. They're not peddling sub-Mr Bungle or Primus anymore. These guys have grown up. So along with two new, strong compositions (the anthemic `Black Heart Inertia' and `Midnight Swim'), that pretty much encapsulates the first disc.
The second disc, `Melodies', is far more interesting. Consisting of b-sides from the bands back catalogue, this disc illustrates, like Smashing Pumpkin's `Pisces Iscariot', that an album of throwaways doesn't necessarily mean a throwaway album. Songs like `Neither of Us Can See' and `While All the Vultures Feed' cleverly reverse the typical Incubus formula of hummable-verse into epic chorus by featuring genuinely thrilling opening bars of music with verses that, in my opinion, are stronger than the choruses that follow. `Look Alive' is played with such spirit that you can't help but be sucked along for the ride, whilst `Punch Drunk' starts off slowly, hypnotically, before descending into the kind of organised noise the band explored in `Sick, Sad Little World' from `Crow Left...'. The odd one's out, `Martini' and `Pantomime' are deliberately playful, Brandon's voice dancing around the guitar before moving to centre stage in each chorus. `Anything' is the kind of alt-rock song the band perfected during the `Morning View' sessions, but the fact that it's not as immediately catchy as said album makes it more worthwhile when the hooks do sink in. `Admiration' and `Monuments and Melodies' are perfectly pretty songs, even if they suffer next to the infectious energy of the first half of the disc. All that's left (a ridiculous cover of the Prince song `Let's Go Crazy' and the frothy acoustic version of `A Certain Shade of Green') gets by purely because it sounds like the band is having so much fun. So it's a strong collection, if not all encompassing (it should be noted that with the special edition of this album, you are given a link to download hundreds of Incubus b-sides at your leisure, increasing the value for money represented by this collection and also providing a more comprehensive overview of the bands history).
I can think of better albums to buy if you're just getting into Incubus (start with `Make Yourself', see if you like it, and work your way up). If you're a fan already, see if you can get the album at a cut price because the second disc doesn't justify the price tag (personally, I'd have preferred the b-sides album by itself with the two new songs but...y'know). If you just want the hits, hey, you got `em, plus a disc full of songs you might not like. However, sour grapes aside, this double-disc set does a good job of showcasing Incubus as a band with fantastic song writing skills, as adept at writing popular rock songs as they are performing more intricate, less accessible work. They just keep getting better with age (not least Mike Einziger, whose riffs keep getting sharper and sharper). More pre-`Make Yourself' would have illustrated this point even better, but on the strength of the music found on these two discs...well, it's gotta be a four-and-a-half out of five.