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Given that "Drive," Incubus's signature ditty, was a typical mid-tempo sensitivity showcase, "Megalomaniac," the first single and lead number on the latest disc, comes out of Left's field. In a direct affront to instant gratification, the cut takes a full minute to build tension and steam before erupting in a fulsome riff orgasm that foreshadows the song's overall structure. Quietly menacing verses are snapped in half by a chorus whose lyrics feature a so-wrong-it's-right equating of iconic figures: "You're no Jesus/Yeah, you're no fucking Elvis." Better yet, this couplet is delivered by singer Brendan Boyd in a vicious whine that slices through current radio like a band saw. For these five minutes, Incubus shrugs off its status as yet another interchangeable combo to stake its claim as a great modern-rock hope.

Too bad the optimism engendered by this offering peters out over the course of the next thirteen tracks. Granted, Crow is no disaster. In particular, guitarist Michael Einziger and new bassist Ben Kenney demonstrate significant rapport, creating an intricate, sometimes jazzy foundation upon which the steady title track and the likes of "Smile Lines" are built. But while the disc as a whole is competent and professional (terms unlikely to provoke fist-pumping among members of Teen Nation), Boyd and company never again transcend their limitations in quite the same way that "Megalomaniac" manages. Buy this disc, or download its peak achievement for a buck? The answer is a click away.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts