Seether – Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray & Incubus – If Not Now, When?
Ordinarily, I’d review two highly anticipated releases separately, but the similarities here kind of make it easier to do it all at once. While neither band has ever been heavy metal, once upon a time they both used to rock pretty hard (even if you don’t remember this). Seether started with the underground classic Fragile under the Saron Gas moniker and Incubus had Fungus Amongus and S.C.I.E.N.C.E which were both heavy, catchy albums. After that both bands hit the mainstream in a big way with Seether’s Disclaimer and Incubus’ Make Yourself. For much of the past decade you couldn’t listen to an hour of radio without hearing one or both of these bands. The problem with both bands is that with each following release the albums have turned into watered down, mainstream alternative rock and gotten progressively worse. Personally, I’ve had an allegiance to both bands and I always have to keep giving them another chance and hoping they don’t disappoint me. It’s safe to say that I’m disappointed right now.
I’m convinced that Seether has a tradition of putting their catchiest song as the first track on each album. They get you in the door with the opener and hope that you’re not disappointed after that. While ‘Like Suicide’ was the catchiest song on Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces, ‘Fur Cue’ is possibly the catchiest song on HOTSBLTF. They open up with a nice post-grunge feel that reminds you of the Karma & Effect days, but they digress from there. ‘No Resolution’ starts off with some nice guitar work but immediately dives into the whiny radio ready vocals alternating with a short catchy chorus. ‘Here and Now’ sounds entirely too much like a 3 Doors Down song crossed with generic rock to me, and I just can’t get into it at all. ‘Country Song’ serves as the first single for the album and has a pretty unique, catchy sound to it even after I tried not to like it. (Even if you hate the song, I suggest you watch the video for nostalgia’s sake) ‘Master of Disaster’ goes for the edgy it’s not a ballad if three words of the chorus are heavy sound that Seether has been diving more and more into with each release since ‘Broken’ was such a breakthrough for them. ‘Tonight’ is a disappointment with a cheesy chorus about yelling from the rooftops that makes me wonder if Shaun Morgan’s angst ridden lyrics are a thing of the past and now it’s just about the money. ‘Pass Slowly’ is another slow song that makes you miss what used to be. Here you realize what this album is identical to; Staind’s 14 Shades Of Grey abomination where the first song was heavy and the rest of the album left you wondering why nothing else sounded like ‘Price to Play’. ‘Fade Out’ and ‘Roses’ are decent tracks although neither recaptures their old charm by any means. I’d even throw ‘Down’ in that category as well except it’s a bit too repetitive and cheesy sounding to take seriously. ‘Desire for Need’ picks up the intensity a little bit which is good because it hides some of the subpar songwriting here. The album ends with ‘Forsaken’ which is another mediocre track at best that you’d enjoy if you liked their ‘Careless Whisper’ cover. Overall, I will listen to three or four of the tracks once in a while but I’ll probably listen to the album from top to bottom once in never. Unfortunately, this is a release that will lose them more of their fans than they will gain. The coolest part of the early Seether releases was how they were the heaviest thing that mainstream radio would play so it was hard to root against them. Now much like Stone Sour they’re just another pop rock band.
Incubus has really outdone themselves on If Not Now, When? By outdone themselves, I mean they’ve made an awful album that sounds like the douchebag hipster at the coffee shop with the mustache tattoo on his finger got a record label. While singer Brandon Boyd forewarned us a few weeks ago that the album was going to be different, this is too drastic to be taken seriously. This is a lot like a solo album that needed the mainstream push of the Incubus trademark. The album opens with the title track and upon first listen you figure it’s a soft intro like ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Earth To Bella (Part I)’ were on Light Grenades. Then you realize that this is a song they want you to take seriously because it’s over five minutes long. But much like the interludes on Light Grenades you can skip through the filler to get to the stuff that rocks so the soft song is no big deal, right? Wrong. ‘Promises, Promises’ sounds like the bastard child of Elton John and The Counting Crows, just worse. ‘Friends and Lovers’ sounds like a guy at a coffee shop reciting his poem over a piano and the sound of a thunderstorm. ‘Thieves’ sounds like it was rejected as replacing ‘Southern Girl’ as the worst song on A Crow Left Of The Murder. ‘Isadore’ is just another one of the many love songs on here apparently which just seems to keep repeating itself over and over. This is where you get truly terrified at Boyd’s statement that the band is searching for a new direction and sound that is unique to the world. ‘The Original’ leans a little towards the older songwriting techniques of the band minus the instrumental work, which honestly leaves them with Starbucks background music. ‘Defiance’ is a little over two minutes long and it’s pretty much the best singing on the album unfortunately and the acoustic guitar is actually noticeable for once. ‘In The Company Of Wolves’ is seven and a half minutes long, which doesn’t really matter because unfortunately most people who liked any of the prior albums will have already turned this off by now. It begins with church organs and then turns into the most experimental thing they’ve ever created. It goes to a jazz fusion sound and is actually pretty cool sounding by about four minutes in. To call half of a song the highlight of an album is a pretty shitty compliment to pay a band but this would be it. ‘Switch Blade’ is the closest the band comes to the funky sound that we came to love from them; however the song is repetitive and annoying which negates that sound. The first single, ‘Adolescents’ is mired as the tenth song on the album. It is the worst single they’ve released to date and the “out of sight, out of mind” in the chorus could be a bit of a premonition for the band here. ‘Tomorrow’s Food’ is the closer with another subliminal message of “there’s no such thing as the good old days”.
While I’m all for bands evolving before their sound goes stale (ahem, Disturbed), I disagree with an already successful band completely alienating their fan base in an attempt to reinvent themselves. That’s what side projects are for if you ask me. At least Seether is still at times unmistakably Seether on Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray even if over half of the album is generic and for marketability only. Incubus is arguably one of the two or three largest rock bands of the past fifteen years and they always sounded undeniably like Incubus. To completely deviate from that sound permanently for an even more ‘unique’ sound that will appeal to a very small percentage of the modern rock world is a baffling decision to me. I could let this slide as a failed concept album that many bands have been guilty of if it weren’t for the comments about this being the new Incubus sound we need to get used to that most of their fans won’t embrace without the hard rock aspect. With both bands making the same slide, I’m left hoping that they each get some sort of wake up call without hitting the bottom and fading into the ‘Where Are They Now?’ category of music.