Rediscovering: Incubus’ Make Yourself

First and foremost, my friends, I’d like to say Happy Freedom. Remember that freedom is not a state your government or any organization above you permits you to live in, but rather a state of being you inspire in yourself. How fitting is it that today’s Rediscovering, lyrically, is the most funky “taking control of your life” seminar you may ever hear. Surprisingly, it’s less preachy than you’d imagine! And it actually caused me to re-evaluate its biggest single in a much more positive light than before.

Incubus' Make Yourself

This’ll be a good one. Let’s talk Incubus’ breakout 1999 hit record Make Yourself.

My previous experience, if any

Would you believe me if I told you I have zero clue when or how I got this one? I don’t think it was a gift, and I would’ve listened to it long ago if I stole it from someone. Either way, you’ve heard “Drive”, I’ve heard “Drive”. I actually didn’t much like it for a long time. I guess I thought it was too sickly sweet, too cloying, too pleasant–I much preferred “Stellar” and “Pardon Me”, two of the album’s other singles, and far closer to how this album actually sounds in practice.

The history lesson

Incubus used to be an aggressive, funky, nu-metal-ish beast, making records filled with heavy guitars, rapping, scratchies–or so I’m told. The move to Epic Records in 1997 produced a record more in the vein of Faith No More than Limp Bizkit, S.C.I.E.N.C.E, which amazingly moved 100,000 units without MTV or the radio helping them out. With that kind of momentum, it became clear that the next one would be the big one–and while it took a little massaging and some acoustic performances, Make Yourself would indeed go double platinum in the years to come.

Well?

Rightfully so! Make Yourself is a strong album. It starts strong, it ends strong, and it really doesn’t flag for more than two tracks ever. And even when it does flag, it’s hardly bad, just less memorable.

This album has three speeds, chunky riffage, soaring choruses, and spare ballady. The chunky riffage is definitely the most one-dimensional of the bunch, but as I alluded to prior, both “Privilege” (which starts the album off) and “Out From Under” (the closer) are of this ilk and are by no means forgettable. Plenty of the songs here have soaring, anthemic choruses, and Brandon Boyd has a fantastic range and the needed breath control for this stuff. Check the six-second booming scream just before the minute mark in “Consequence” or some of the vocal histrionics on the title track if you don’t believe me.

Spare balladry, I think, is where the album is more noteworthy. It’s easy to grind and rage over chunky guitars, but when you get to the unaccompanied, distant whale noises that take up the first fifteen seconds of “The Warmth”, it really stops you and the record itself in its tracks. While the track builds to anthemic choruses, the verses are very sparse, very eerie, and it’s a great shift in the tone of the entire album. It’s like a little signal we’re in Incubus’ second mode, as comes the comparatively more reserved “When it Comes” and “Stellar” immediately afterwards.

The quieter tracks, in general, play to Incubus’ poppy strengths more than the metal tracks do. It’s easy for the invisible floating torso man to belt out proclamations of not taking bullshit anymore, but it’s the quiet morning isolation of “I Miss You” that you take notice to. Sometimes, to jaded ears, it takes a bit to sink in. I never much appreciated “Drive” until recently. It always just kinda sounded like a cheesy “laid-back” acoustic thing, not like the grinding, sky-high “Make Yourself” or something cool like that. But when you zero in on it, when you just enjoy a good vocal line, a good line about water over wine? It works out.

If there’s another thing I can give this album credit on, it’s all the strange noises. There’s plenty of scratching, natch (this was 1999), with an entire track named “Battlestar Scralatchica” (again, 1999) to show off exactly what bassist Alex Katunich and turntablist Chris Kilmore (with fellow DJs Nu-Mark of Jurassic 5 and Cut Chemist of Ozomatli of all people in tow) are made of–the answer of which, is of course, pure funk. And cut up vocal samples! It’s just another layer in a surprisingly complex little lasagna garden of sounds Incubus cooks up here, never straying too far from what’ll grab your ear regardless.

It’s easy to make fun of the occasionally (sample line #1: “I’ll fuck me in my own way”) overwrought (sample line #2: “To resist is to piss in the wind”) lyrics (sample line #3: “Maybe if I look in my heart, I could find a backdoor”), but I didn’t mind them. They add charm to an album that’s downright sunshiny next to all the Stainds, Mudvaynes, and Static-Xs stuck being oh-so-gloomy. It’s what you want out of a band’s major label pop breakout: weird enough to display their personality and warm enough to get everyone else on board.

Really, to that end, I wanna post some lines from “The Warmth”, which is a top three favorite off this thing, if not my absolute favorite. It’s a good sentiment, not to mention a good chorus. Good band! Would happily check out more of what they’ve been up to.

I’d like to close my eyes, go numb
But there’s a cold wind coming from
The top of the highest high-rise today

It’s not a breeze ’cause it blows hard
Yes, and it wants me to discard
The humanity I know, watch the warmth blow away

So don’t let the world bring you down
Not everyone here is that fucked up and cold
Remember why you came, and while you’re alive
Experience the warmth before you grow old

Are you keeping it?

No doubt.

Leave a Comment