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New bassist sparks Incubus' creativity

If the state of mind of a band has anything to do with success, Incubus should have known its latest CD, "A Crow Left of the Murder," was going to be a hit before it ever reached record stores.

"I think that with this record, one of the reasons it took so much less time is that all of us are sort of at the top of our game at the moment, too, whether it's the age we're at or it's the level of motivation we have toward this band," singer Brandon Boyd said of the disc, which was recorded in just two and a half weeks. "The excitement about this band was just very, in the right space psychologically and emotionally to make this record."

The Los Angeles-area band certainly had not been suffering commercially coming into "A Crow Left of the Murder." Its two previous CDs, 1999's "Make Yourself" and 2001's "Morning View," both were multi-platinum hits that spawned a string of hits including "Drive," "Pardon Me," "I Wish You Were Here" and "Warning."

"A Crow Left of the Murder," though, could be headed to greater heights. It went platinum within its first five weeks on the Billboard magazine album chart — peaking at No. 2 — and Incubus just now is beginning its first run of American concert dates in support of the CD. The excitement that Boyd said fueled "A Crow Left of the Murder" is palpable throughout the CD.

"Megalomaniac," the CD's popular lead single, opens things with a rush. Fueled by the hard-charging drums of Jose Pasillas — plus some effects work from DJ Chris Kilmore — and the urgent guitars of Mike Einziger, the song is as hyper as it is catchy. The title song is another taut rocker whose verses simmer, while its chorus burns. A third rocker, "Beware! Criminal," accelerates into a hooky, harmony-laced chorus. "Pistola" charges forward with a punky pace and some inventive guitar work from Einziger.

And while "A Crow Left of the Murder" also has its more restrained songs — such as pop-tinged tunes like "Talk Shows on Mute," the current single, now at No. 3 on Billboard's modern-rock chart, and the ballads "Southern Girl" and "Here in My Room" — the CD widely has been perceived as more aggressive and hard rocking than "Make Yourself" and "Morning View." Boyd agreed, saying the band's renewed enthusiasm probably helped raise the energy level of the songs.

"It was something that wasn't necessarily like preconceived in any way. We weren't like: 'It's time for us to rock again,'" Boyd said. "It was more along the lines of we all get together in a room and we see what happens. I know how boring that probably sounds, but creatively we're a very fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of band. We always have been. We've had times when that worked better. We've had times when that didn't work at all. This time in particular it just so happened to all meet up in the middle."

One of the main reasons Incubus felt so fired up, Boyd said, was the arrival of bassist Ben Kenney. A former member of the innovative hip-hop group the Roots, Kenney replaced original bassist Dirk Lance. Kenney, Boyd explained, has a wider range of influences in his playing than Lance, and his understanding of R&B in particular, lent a fresh groove to the Incubus sound and also opened up room within the songs for guitarist Einziger to display his instrumental talents.

"It was exciting to play with somebody who was coming from a completely different world," Boyd said. "He likes to play simple and fast, and he when does do sort of showy-type things, they become events of sorts. It's really cool to play with somebody like him."

Boyd also is pleased with the musical and thematic range of "A Crow Left of the Murder," calling it the group's most diverse effort to date. In particular, the CD brings out a topical side of Incubus that hasn't always been so obvious on earlier albums.

For instance, "Megalomaniac" rails against self-serving people in positions of power. "Talk Shows on Mute" tweaks Americans for their worship of television talk-show hosts, while "Zee Deveel," focuses its attacks on materialistic lifestyles. "Made for TV Movie" is an anti-war rant.

"I think it covers sort of the most ground that we ever had as far as, everything down to its lyrical content," he said. "Like musically, it covers the most ground, but lyrically it sort of, it covers a lot of space as well. There are topics everywhere, from social observation to love to heartbreak and betrayal, renewal. All the things that I've been observing over the past couple of years sort of find their way into things that I write down. So this record became a very colorful photo album for us of sorts."

Incubus plays Tuesday, July 20, at the Savvis Center, 1401 Clark Ave. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. show, which also features opening act Sparta, cost $32.50.

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