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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Brand X: Manifest Destiny


1) True To The Clik; 2) Stellerator; 3) Virus; 4) XXL; 5) The Worst Man; 6) Manifest Destiny; 7) Five Drops; 8) Drum Ddu; 9) Operation Hearts And Minds; 10) Mr. Bubble Goes To Hollywood.

A fairly ambitious title — particularly for an album that went by practically unnoticed, disap­peared in a flash, and was not followed by any new Brand X record ever since. Of course, if the intended intention was to manifest that Brand X's destiny is to fade away and never come back, then everything is perfectly correct. Especially because the record kinda sucks.

Well, no, I guess it doesn't exactly «suck» as such, but compared to XCommunication, it does not offer even the same kind of «moderate thrill». Obviously, Goodsall and Jones wanted, once again, to show that the old rocking horse could still learn new tricks. So now, instead of continu­ing to work in the nice and concise trio format of XCommunication, they puff up the band, re­cruiting two additional bass and keyboard players (Franz Pusch and Marc Wagnon), one more drummer (Pierre Moerlen of Gong fame) and even a flautist (Danny Wilding) — and proceed to reinvent their sound in this configuration.

The results are... well, it seems as if they finally have decided to modernize their classic sound, but do it gradually, so that, despite being recorded in 1997, much of the record sounds like it was done in the Eighties. Now they have some New Wave influences, some adult contemporary, some pop metal, some Prince-style electrofunk, some Belew-style electric guitar, and the overall tone of the album is more robotic, stiff, and harsh than it had ever been in the past. And this is not really a good thing, because making stiff robotic records prevents them from exploiting their biggest strengths as guitar- and bass-playing musicians.

For one thing, Goodsall's guitar here frequently sounds atrocious — already on the first track, he goes into overdrive and starts shredding all over the place, sending off metallic blasts that would rather be enjoyed by fans of Joe Satriani, and occasionally invade the particularly corny turf of Yngwie Malmsteen. Fortunately, this is not an all-pervading problem, but he does display this new penchant for finger-flashing in «virile metal mode» quite a few more times, and he never really did that before. For another thing, with this heap of new players, Percy Jones' fundamental role in the band is diminished — he still gets to have some great bass parts, particularly on his own compositions such as ʽThe Worst Manʼ and ʽDrum Dduʼ, but they are buried in the mix.

Finally, there is a serious lack of memorable themes: it just seems like they are so happy to test out this new lineup of theirs and the new groovy sound effects and playing styles that they forgot to write meaningful tunes. The only composition here that produces the immediate impression of «well thought out» is ʽXXLʼ, a «cool-sounding» funky dance number that has a sharp groove, some awesome fretboard finger-running from Percy, and even some vocals mixed deep in the background — but its «sexy» sound is hardly what we come to expect from Brand X, nice as it is to know that they have a fondness for James Brown and Prince.

Overall, the most memorable aspect of Manifest Destiny is its relative weirdness — as if the band were trying to change lanes on the highway and ended up swerving off the main road and finding itself lost in the middle of nowhere. This is a very subjective judgement, because, after all, we are dealing here with a fusion album from 1997, but it does sort of objectively agree with what would happen in the future for Brand X — nothing, that is. As of 2015, when this set of reviews is being finalized, the band has kept quiet for eighteen years: I guess Goodsall and Jones are still trying to come up with a good answer to the question «what should ʽunorthodox be­haviourʼ look like in the 21st century?», and until they believe they have found one, we're rela­tively safe from Manifest Destiny Vol. 2.

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