There are weeks when you’re totally switched on and everything clicks and you get through six new albums in a day and tell everyone about them on social media and then there are those other ones when you don’t even get a chance to put on your headphones, let alone figure out what you want to listen to. It’s at those instances that a vast music library seems like the most horrible thing compounded on a spate of other horrible things that have made up the last few days, and so you head for your comfort song. Now I’m not saying that these are in a playlist or even that you’ve even told anyone what they are, but everyone has comfort songs. They could be loud and abrasive, quiet and introspective, funky and swaggering or something completely different. Chances are you’ve known this song for most of your life and it now no longer makes contextual sense as your tastes have changed. But when you put it on, everything gets better. You can listen through the song, without really having to hear it. That’s because you understand this piece of music, this three and a haf minutes, so deeply and spiritually that it’s probably become part of your molecular biology. I don’t know what it is for you. It could be something cool and old-school, like Nina Simone. It could be something naff, like Snow Patrol. For me, it’s Incubus.
My childhood love for this Californian five-piece has been well-documented over the years on One A Day. Whether it’s their acoustic tributes sex-funk or blood-curdling fuzz-rock, I had the whole back catalogue filed and ready to go in my heady teenage years. But as it turns out, the song that broke them to a mainstream audience is one of the few that survives on my current iPod, which I affectionately label ‘Number 117’, because I have seriously gone through that fucking many. I can tell you how many chords there are in this song (six, four if you’re cheating and just trying to impress a girl) because it’s the first thing I learned to play on guitar, the precise moment Brandon Boyd opens up his embouchure on the word ‘wine’ (third verse) so it becomes its own animal and what the hell is happening in that chorus harmony (Boyd doubles himself, then splits into thirds) and all sorts of other useless junk about this track. What counts is that the core message and the original intent are indisputable, despite what Incubus and the entire genre they belonged to may have become. It’s about guys who make rap-rock with DJ scratches and lethal amounts of guitar effects writing a song so disarmingly simple that if you sing it to a woman even vaguely in tune she will fall in love with you for at least 23 hours. That’s powerful stuff.
It’s often been said that it’s easy to write a pop song full of ammo and extra features, but getting a basic chord and melody arrangement down is far more difficult. In the case of ‘Drive’ I tend to agree. There are so many places Brandon and guitarist Mike Eizinger, as chief songwriters of this band, could have taken this song. I mean, these are the same guys who once wrote an eight minute meditation jam using rare Japanese string instruments borrowed from Steve Vai just because. The key they were in allowed for any number of deviations, yet they realised that by altering the melody and not the backing, they retained a sense of familiarity that would bring listeners back to the song again and again. Listeners like me, who may have had a terrible week which is almost entirely their fault, but can find comfort in that E-7/C/D7/A combo. Everything works for this one time in the band’s career that they probably don’t want to be what they’re remembered for but it doesn’t even matter. By trying not to be the generation after Nirvana, they reached a different sort of Nirvana. And so with a slight flourish and a pedestrian metaphor, Incubus drive me headlong into a long weekend I so desperately need.
Incubus – ‘Drive’