Southern California's Incubus emerged from the rap-rock pack in 2001 when its hit single "Drive" revealed front man Brandon Boyd to be the kind of guy who might come back to his high school nine years after he graduated to give a motivational speech and award one lucky essay-writing girl an unforgettable dance at the senior prom. Before that the band played warmed-over funk-metal and made CDs with really awful covers. A Crow Left of the Murder, Boyd and his bandmates' new album, is pretty much power-ballad-less, and though its not-as-awful cover boasts some very dramatically rendered roses, its appeal to senior-prom-attending girls is seriously compromised by its general air of rehearsal-room myopia and wanky art-rock drama. (Apologies to all you Limited-shopping 2112 fans.)

In this way it reminds me of Pearl Jam's totally underrated Yield, which I'm fairly sure only I think is better than Ten. Well, not better maybe, but more interesting: Boyd freaks his falsetto a lot, giving "Smile Lines" and "Beware! Criminal" a supple, sensual curvature that's anathema to most rap-rockers; there's a defanged Tori Amos/Trent Reznor pulse to "Sick Sad Little World"; "Pistola" is almost post-punk in its compact fury (even though Boyd sounds like he's singing, "My panties are a pistola"). Despite that highlight, the singer's lyrics are rubbish throughout: "You're an exception to the rule/You're a bona fide rarity/You're all I ever wanted/Southern girl, could you want me?" Still, no biggie, since no-fun-to-look-at guitarist Mike Einziger steals Crow's best moments anyway, mellowing Tom Morello's air-siren attack to a sort of surfer-dude sizzle and giddily flummoxing tablature writers at every pass. Save the last dance for him.

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Mikael Wood

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