Manafest - Fighter as reviewed by the Phantom Tollbooth. Spirited Canadian continues his steady transformation from hip-hopper to pop/rocker.

BEC Recordings
11 Tracks (36:09)

Performers reinventing themselves is nothing new. U2 went from righteously indignant arena rockers to tongue-in-cheek Euro popsters at the dawn of the '90s. David Bowie abandoned his iconic Ziggy Stardust glam rocker character to morph into the funk- and soul-loving Thin White Duke persona on his 1976 Station to Station album. Even Michael Bolton, whose name was a household word among lite rock lovers and soccer moms during the late '80s and early '90s, started off his career fronting a short-lived hard rock outfit that, believe it or not, toured briefly with none other than Ozzy Osbourne.

Over the course of his now decade-plus career, Canadian artist Manafest has perpetrated a transformation of his own. His 2001 debut, Misled Youth, was nearly exclusively entrenched in the same pop-embellished hip-hop that made stars of artists like John Reuben and the Gotee Brothers. The next few releases that followed it interspersed a larger percentage of rapcore numbers amidst the rap offerings. By the time of 2010's The Chase, Manafest was offering up rock, pop and hip-hop in roughly equal measures.

The latest effort finds the intrepid Pickering, Ontario, native in his most radio-friendly mood to date. Indeed, songs like "Pushover" and "Will You Catch Me" are less Korn or Limp Bizkit and more like a slightly edgier version of, say, Sanctus Real's debut album. In the same way "Throw it Away" and "Not Alone," which are sung rather than rapped, wouldn't be at all out of place on the latest Christian Rock charts.

Of course, the migration to that which inhabits the Top 40 isn't a drawback, in and of itself. The problem, though, lies in the fact that far too much of the record is filled with plodding, overly generic material. Indeed, even the majority of the rap-based tracks lack the underlying grit that rendered early projects like Epiphany and Glory so winning. And, by the end of the album, the individual cuts begin to bleed together into an extended, like-sounding mass.

To be equitable, a few of the more rocking songs would arguably get the blood flowing in the live setting, where energy and volume account for a fair percentage of the overall listening experience. On disc, however, where the members of the audience are, at least ostensibly, a bit more sober-minded in their assessment, the tracks lose a significant portion of their appeal. Those who tune their dials exclusively to Christian Hit Radio will likely champion Fighter's comparatively more pop-friendly approach. Listeners whose musical tastes take them down the road less traveled, on the other hand, will probably want to take a pass on its all too familiar – and largely funk-less – format.

- Bert Gangl

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